Sunday, October 7, 2012

Brain Friend or Brain Foe? How Does Your Brain Process Information?

Recently I was taking pictures and just blissfully clicking away.  I was unaware that I was snapping my final few pictures before my camera said "Out of Memory".  I had neglected to erase all the previous photos and my camera reached its limit. This got me thinking about how our brains store information and how the information we keep seems to go in either our short or long term memory banks.  Fortunately, human beings don't seem to have the limits that my camera does!  When someone asks you for your birth date, you'll recite the day, month, and year without a second thought.  Sign up for an online store that you'll use every now and then and it's likely you'll be asking the computer to send you an email reminding you of your password.  Good thing that the computer programmers knew something about human nature and how often our brains forget things!  As we age, our ability to retain new information seems to fall short of what it used to be.

Ask any elderly person and they'll attest to the fact that their short term memory isn't as good as when he was younger.  The fact is, for many of us, our memory skills decline by the time we reach senior citizen status . . . or sooner.  On the other hand, young children can have remarkable memory skills.  Have a young child play a memory card matching game with you and it's likely he'll win.  The young appear to have good short term recall.  As teachers, we want our students to remember for the long haul.  The manner in which material is presented may factor into the brain's ability to effectively retain  information.  These thoughts have prompted me to think about what strategies are used in the classroom setting are most "pleasing" to young brains.  It gave me reason to create my "Brain Pleasing" Numeral Cards.  

I thought it also might be fun to take a "Brain Pleasing" test.  Would you like to have a go at it?  Here's how it works:  Take less than 1 minute and study the nine words from the picture below.  Then look away and write the words down on a piece of paper.  DON'T PEEK!  Were you able to recall all nine?  If so, it may be due to the fact that the information was presented in an organized manner.  A senior citizen looked at the words for less than 1 minute.  She was able to recall eight of the nine words.  (She's over age 80!)  
A senior citizen looked at the words above for less than one minute and was able to immediately recall all but one word. She's pretty sharp for an eighty-something year old. Or was the layout of the words smart as well?
Now look at the second picture (the one below) and ask yourself whether or not you could have recalled the same number of words in the scrambled format.
Obviously, we don't present information to children in the cluttered manner above.  If we think about it, there are times that our presentation of a unit could be improved on.  We can make our lessons more . . . . "Brain Pleasing"!  Did you notice the font styles above?  The mix included bold, large, small, italic, and all caps.  My eyes pick up on the fonts that are bold and large first.  Those are the ones that stand out.  Perhaps we need to present the important information to our students in bold, large font (metaphorically speaking) and the less significant information on a smaller scale of instruction.

If we go a little further in our thinking, perhaps the first picture in not the best way of presenting a list of nine words that someone might need to memorize.  Take a look at the picture below:
Did you notice the difference in the fonts used in each group?  Perhaps our brains can memorize the words just a smidgen faster and with more accuracy by such a distinction within the groups.  As an educator, I want to utilize every "smidgen" I can get!

If you would like a print out more sheets to try the "Brain Test" on others, click on:   "Test Your Brain's Short Term Memory".

As I stated earlier, I created a set of "Brain Pleasing Numeral Cards".  Since the concept of zero is unknown to many young children, I started my numeral set with the zero.  The numeral cards go up to 120 so they could be utilized as teaching tool with this math standard: Common Core Standard for first grade math standard.    To make them "Brain Pleasing", I used a different color circle for each group of numerals in terms of their number of tens. When I arrived at seven tens, I restarted with the same color as used for zero tens. In all, I used seven colors.  The color coding is a helpful visual tool for the children to organize the information presented.  Plus, young children often gravitate toward things that are cheerful and colorful.  These numerals fit the bill!
Here is a close up of some of the cards.
These cards are easy to cut out.  Print on card stock and cut on the black lines.  Laminate for long lasting use.  I really like the font I used for the numerals.  It's very clear and the "nine" has a straight line.  "A circle and a line . . . . that makes a nine."  (No upside down numeral six!)

Easy, straight lines to cut on.

Below are two photos of my "Brain Pleasing Numeral Cards" on a tri-sectioned pocket chart. I prefer this type of pocket chart to the individual fixed pockets. It makes it easier for the children to manipulate the numeral cards. My numeral cards will also fit most educational calendar display charts.  I used a large sized font so that the numerals could be viewed from several feet away.  With some of the numbers, I had to adjust the size of the font in order for it to fit inside the colored circles.

I used seven colors for the circles.  This type of pocket chart holds numerals 0 through 120.
The children can use this as an extra math center or as a game. For a center, I scramble the numeric sequence in a few rows. They love to "fix" the numeric sequences. We also play a little game I call "Find the Missing Numeral". They close their eyes and I remove one numeral. I re-position the cards in the row with the missing numeral so the blank space is not obvious. Then they open their eyes and check through the sequence to try and find the missing numeral. The first one to figure it out is the "winner". There is always high interest in the numeric sequence when we play this game.

If you are interested in purchasing my "Brain Pleasing Numeral Cards", click on the image below to view this product at my Teachers pay Teachers store.
For student take-home or whole group practice, I updated this product to include a set of ink-friendly, black and white numeral cards that are shown below.

Lessons by Molly © 2012  All rights reserved.


  1. How interesting - Memory is such an important topic! Thanks for sharing, Anne

    1. Hi Anne!

      Thanks for commenting. I am fascinated by the human brain. It's such a beautiful creation.