This research has major implications for math for students with special needs…but some of us already knew this!

## Visuals Aid Memory

**Tagged**CRA, memorization, memory, visual

This research has major implications for math for students with special needs…but some of us already knew this!

Here’s a common word problem used for linear functions and equations (y=mx+b):

There are 6 inches of snow on the ground. Snow is falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour. Write a linear equation showing total snow as a function of time (in hours). The equation would be y=2x + 6.

Often the word problems like this are presented on a sheet of paper in isolation as an attempt to make the math relevant and to develop conceptual understanding. For students who have trouble with conceptual understanding, words on paper are likely too abstract or symbolic to allow applications like the one above to be meaningful.

The real life application is useful if presented more effectively. Here’s an approach to use the same scenario but in a more relevant and meaningful presentation. The photo above shows the current amount of snow – call it 6 inches. Students can be shown the photo to allow for a discussion about accumulation and for their estimates of the amount of snow shown. The photo below shows an excerpt from a storm warning. Showing this warning and a snow fall video can allow for a discussion about rate of snow fall and the purpose for storm warnings. Combined, this approach can lead into the above word problem.

Once the application is presented students can be asked to compute snow levels after 1 hour, 2 hours etc. Then they can be asked to determine how long it would take for the accumulation to reach 18 inches (the prediction for the day this post was composed). After computing the answers WITHOUT the equation the students can be shown how to use the equation – the “mathy way.”

The idea is that the student will have to count squares. By doing so the student is more engaged (or less passive) in determining the product and has to engage the visual representation.

Here is a link to the document.

Slope is one of the most important topics covered in high school algebra yet it is one of the least understood concepts. I have two observations about this. First, slope is often introduced with the formula and not as a rate of change. Second, students intuitively understand slope as rate of change conceptually when presented in a relevant, real life context. The challenge is compounded when slope is presented with the y-intercept.

In the photo I present slope and y-intercept in a context students can understand (money is their most intuitive prior knowledge). The highlighting makes it easier for them to see the context, specifically the variables. I have the students work on this handout and I circulate and ask questions.

Here’s a typical exchange – working through problems 11, 12:

- Me: “Look at the table, what’s changing?”
- Student: “the cost”
- Me: “How much is it changing?”
- Student: “20”
- Me: “20 what?”
- Student: “20 cost”
- Me: “What are you counting when you talk about cost?”
- Student: “money…dollars”
- Me: “So the price is going up 20 what?”
- Student: “Dollars”
- Me: Show me this on the yellow” (student knows from before to write +$20)
- Me: “What else is changing?”
- Student: “People”
- Me: “By how much”
- Student: “1 people…person”
- Me: “write that on the green”
- Me: “Now do this same thing on the graph. Where do you start?” (they put their pencil on the y-intercept
- Me: “What do you do next?” (they typically know to move over and up)
- Me: “Use green to highlight the over” (they highlight)
- Me: “How much did you go over?”
- Student: “1…1 person”
- Me: “Now what?” (Student goes up.)
- Me: “Highlight that in yellow.” (They highlight.)
- Me: “How much did it go up?”
- Student: “2…20…20 dollars”
- Me: “What is a rate?” (I make them look at their notes until they say something about divide or fraction or point to a rate)
- Me: “So what is the rate of change?”
- Student: “$20 and 1 person”
- Me: “Look at the problem at the top. What is the 20?”
- Student: “$20 per person.”

I point out that you can find this rate or slope in the equation, the table and in the graph.

This is a screen shot from explorelearning’s Gizmos. This site has various simulations related to science and math. This one shows multiple reprsentations for a system of equations. The site has 5 minute test trials which can be used to present a topic in class. I used the one for photosynthesis for a 7th grader with asperger’s who was collecting data for his science fair project.

One model for memory is called the Information Processing Model or Dual Storage Model.

Here’s the suggested process in this model in a class instruction context:

- Our senses receive
**stimuli**. In the classroom students hear the teacher or a classmate talking, see the teacher’s notes or the note being passed to them, smell various things in class, taste their gum etc. - The
**sensory register**filters out most stimuli which means the teacher’s lesson is competing with all the other stimuli for attention. Most students are either visual or hands on learners yet the majority of instruction is conducted through auditory means. Information in a lesson that is meaningful or interesting is more likely to make it through the register.

- The information that makes it to the
**working memory**is processed. Working memory has a limited capacity. Like a computer, if it is attempting to process a lot at one time it slows down. It is hard for some students to process a lot of auditory information if they are a visual learner so as they are attempting to process they may be missing other parts of instruction. This is why scaffolding and other strategies are important. They help reduce the amount of information the student has to process. The working memory also attempts to organize and make sense of the information -Gestalt Theory. Here are some examples. When I present the image below under “closure” and ask people what they see, the response is almost always “a triangle.” The really is no triangle there but the brain fills in the gaps. The brain wants to make the visual information meaningful. - The information that makes it to
**long term memory**is filed away. Effective learning means the stored information can be readily retrieved. Think of computer files or files in a file cabinet. I have a file for Gabriel’s IEPs so I can easily retrieve them. Contrast that with how a student may stuff his homework assignment into his bookbag but later cannot find it. Effective storage is enhanced when the information is organized and makes sense. This is helped by making the information meaningful or by addressing prior knowledge (e.g. new IEPs filed with old IEPs).

Most if not all educational strategies would address some aspect of this model.

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