These past two weeks have been filled with implementing our instructional designs and exploring the potential of a mnemonic technique called Method of Loci or Memory Palaces. My Instructional Design course mates and I have been asked to reflect on what worked and did not work using the method of loci to learn the process of Wilson’s (1995) Situated Instructional Design as well as how it could be incorporated into our designs. We have also been asked to reflect upon the implementation and evaluation of our instructional designs including if we incorporated or ignored our client and peer feedback.
First, the method of loci or memory palace is a learning strategy which utilizes the visualization of locations to organize and recall information, especially large amounts of information. This method typically involves using a familiar place such as one’s home for a sequence of location points with which to pair information to be recalled at another time. Because the system relies on spatial awareness, some people like myself have a much better advantage over those whose talents lie elsewhere. You see, I moved around a lot as a child. My family moved to a new home, and I went to a new school almost every school year. Sure, it may have been a coping mechanism at the time to be cognizant of the layout of my new schools and homes, but I later figured out that specific memories were also attached to those places. My husband often compliments me for the quantity and detail of obscure memories I can recall from my childhood, but it makes sense because my memories are organized by places making them much easier to recall. For example, I can remember that I read the book Helen Keller’s Teacher about Annie Sullivan in the second half of 3rd grade. All the students had to create a diorama about a book of their choosing, and I can literally visualize all the projects arranged on the window ledges of my reading teacher’s classroom as well as what was in mine. I actually attended two schools that year, so I also remember making Stone Soup during the first half of the year at the other school I attended. After reading the book, each student was asked to bring a different ingredient to class one day to make soup. Carrots were my contribution. Seriously, this is what my mind is filled with . . . the fact that I brought carrots. But ask me to remember either of those teachers’ names, and I am at a complete loss. Funny how the mind works.
As for processing the four components of Wilson’s (1995) view on Situated Instructional Design, I considered and visualized where I usually am when I conduct each of these basic steps in my lesson planning. As it turns out, the physical places where I think and work are fairly consistent, so it made sense to develop my visualization of the “path” based upon my physical locations. I usually begin designing a lesson in the comfort of my bedroom relaxing and pondering how I will execute the goals of the lesson (desired outcomes), my own thoughts about what is essential to understanding the topic (values), and how either I or other teachers have taught the lesson before (acceptable conventions and practices). The next step occurs ideally in the upstairs conference room of my school during a planning day as my department develop our activities together (plans for), brainstorming new ways to teach the same materials (engages in knowledge-generating activities). The next phase of a lesson would take place in either my classroom or lab as the students conduct the activities we have prepared for them. I facilitate the lesson (observe and monitor learning) and alter what I am doing when I see the students are not “getting it” or move along to the next activity if they show me they have already grasped it (make needed adjustments). And then I return to the comfort of my bedroom to prepare for the next day reflecting upon how that day’s lesson went (reexamine goals and activities for improving learning).
So the real question is how this can be applied in the classroom? I considered how I often I have my students visualize their own personal experiences when we discuss certain topics. In fact, I pride myself in assigning homework which involves no paper or reading, only visualizing or observing. So much of the physical sciences I have taught involve basic kitchen activities. Inevitably, the students who spend time in their family kitchen watching pots of water boil, salt dissolve, and oil float in the water already understand the basics. Much of our force, motion, and energy concepts are common playground experiences such as gravity pulling students down a slide, balls rolling faster on the wooden gym floor as compared to grass, or how a simple game of tug-of-war relies on unbalanced forces. My students even get a kick out of taking a mental picture of their dinner plates as we begin our unit on food webs to initiate a discussion about where food comes from. It makes perfect sense that the concepts with which they have the most difficulty are the ones they cannot truly visualize because they have no experience with them. The fact that celestial bodies both rotate on an axis and revolve around another celestial body is difficult to “see” and requires a variety of diagrams, models, and observations. They also struggle with picturing the slow changes of weathering and erosion needed to create canyons and river deltas because such processes take thousands of years and humans do not live for thousands of years. Again, I support these lessons with photographs, models, and even time-lapsed photography. It makes sense that as I ponder how to transform the entire 5th grade science scope and sequence into a video game, the location of where the concepts are observed must been considered. We can begin our journey in a kitchen, then travel to the park, then to various locations on the planet (beach, forest, arctic circle), and eventually into outer space. But the situation is easy with science; reading and math will require more thought.
Now for some reflections on my instructional design. First, because the implementation is still happening – my client and her students are only two weeks into it with four more to go – my evaluations are based only on what my client and I have observed thus far. The copyright security and protection from child predators that a password-protected learning management system such as Edmodo offers are major advantages. However, my client and I were bound by what the program can do. My client would have preferred for the lessons to be more accessible to the students and organized by units or modules for easier access. The students responded positively to the Facebook-style appearance. They enjoyed being able to communicate with each other through their comments and having more control over their own learning, but my client and I both observed that some students are not as computer savvy as other and are struggling with the interface . . . something neither of us anticipated with today’s proliferation of technology in schools. Based upon my client’s needs, I did change the deadlines in the system to meet some issues with student enrollment changes. I would also prefer an easier way to grade/assess each assignment and monitor who has completed what. My client is not as concerned about this issue as she was about giving written feedback to students through the comments. If the system looks like Facebook, it should do a better job of notifying the students of notifications. As for my peer suggestions, I broke up the physical arrangement of the activities in the job aid and adjusted the times designated for the activities per her suggestions, but I ignored the suggestion about giving more time to the introduction and ended up removing some information to reflect what would really be happening.
Wilson, B. G. (1995). Situated Instructional Design: Blurring the Distinctions Between Theory and Practice, Design and Implementation, Curriculum and Instruction. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED383346.pdf.