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Reflections on Method of Loci and First Project October 19, 2014

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


Thoughts on Instructional Design October 7, 2014

Filed under: 5210 — S. Michele Holmes @ 3:50 am
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For the past two weeks, my Instructional Design course mates and I have been refining our instructional designs and working towards creating the actual instructional materials. As we review each others’ materials for feedback, our instructor has asked us to stop and reflect upon what we think about instructional design so far. In my last blog I discussed how I am struggling with the differences between the ADDIE model and the current back-planning model used in public education these days. But what I am discovering is that I REALLY like designing instructional materials. Actually, as I reflect back over my academic and professional careers, the designing of lessons and materials is what I enjoy most. This revelation is something to consider as I look to what the future holds for me. Allow me to elaborate.

As my husband is also a teacher, we often find ourselves “talking shop” about better teaching methods and materials. We reflect on our own educational experiences, and he often comments about how little he remembers from his K-12 days and how much I remember. While we both agree the more authentic and hands-on the activities and experiences, the more memorable they are to students, textbooks were the principal source of instruction when we were students, so understanding how to approach them was imperative. In our relationship’s early days, he and I found a commonality when it comes to instructional materials. When asked to recall information we had previously seen in a textbook, we both had a knack for remembering where in the book the answers were located, what else appeared on the page such as diagrams or pictures, and what titles and subtitles appeared on the page. Of course, these were the days of fact-based teaching with basic recall as the primary form of assessment. I had never even heard of a project rubric until I began working towards my teacher certification.

As an undergrad student, I devised study strategies involving interacting with the text because college requires students to be more independent about their study habits and strategies. I developed color-coding highlighting systems, wrote in margins of rented textbooks, reworked and organized notes, etc. in hopes of digesting the content more quickly. I became so obsessed with the idea of making the learning process faster and more efficient, I conducted two major cognitive psychology experiments and wrote research papers on the use of pictorial stimuli and the use of color in instructional materials for some of my senior-level projects.

When I entered the working world at the same time personal computers were becoming capable of more than basic word processing and mathematical computation, I explored the wonders of creating newsletters and flyers for my various businesses, developed staff meeting agendas and training sessions, and basically attempted to improve the appearance of any paper-based product I could get my hands on. I also spent endless hours developing PowerPoints, worksheets, and graphic organizers for my students in my early years as a teacher. As instructional technology advanced, I began to develop more interactive materials through digital formats such as smart board software and web-based content. This evolution and my awareness of it are just one of the reasons I chose to pursue an Instructional Technology degree.

I suppose in some form or fashion, I have been using the basics of the ADDIE model all this time without even knowing what it was. Rarely did I create something without having a purpose or a need, knowing my intended audience, or considering how the materials would be used. Usually the need was MY need, whether directly as a teacher making something for my students, or indirectly such as templates for my staff to create more uniform lesson plans. How involved the design phase needed to be really depended upon how complicated the materials needed to be. A simple flyer or newsletter rarely needed more than layout adjustments, while a staff training required more thought about logical sequencing and prior knowledge. But both of these stages felt very intuitive and informal. I feel I now have a much better grasp of just how thorough and formal these steps need to be, but by far, my favorite stage is still the development of the materials.


Study Tips Article March 27, 2013

Filed under: Personal — S. Michele Holmes @ 10:57 pm
Tags: , ,

Study Tips Article

What a great article!  And when they say science-based, they mean it.  Many of the tips are results of the same studies I’m reading about in my Learning & Cognition course.


The Teacher Was Once a Student March 1, 2013

Filed under: 5300 — S. Michele Holmes @ 4:40 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

This week we are studying short-term and long-term memory as well as encoding and retrieval of memories in my “Learning and Cognition” course.  We have been asked to reflect upon our evolution as a learner from high school to graduate school, our strategies to encode and retrieve information, and techniques we could implement this year.  I must mention just a few highlights from my elementary days because they are pertinent to my evolution as a learner.  First, elementary school was VERY easy to me – I grasped new information quickly and subsequently became bored when teachers needed to repeat information over again resulting in several parent conferences and a great deal of “line writing.”  I cannot recall developing any learning strategies, but certainly skills must have developed steadily over time.  I can remember being in Kindergarten and deciding I wanted to be an astronaut which pretty much drove the next ten years of my education making math and science my favorite subjects.  In fifth grade, I also came to the realization that I was destined to be a nurturer, as my mother had recently had my little sister.

High school was not as easy as elementary school for a variety of reasons, but I was still quite successful.  I already knew math and science were my forte and reading and writing were a struggle, but I had already established effective coping techniques.  I was a slow reader so I avoided it when I could, and the subtleties of literary concepts were not as comfortable as hard facts, logic, and proofs so I looked to my favorite subjects for assistance.  Although writing was a struggle, following the thesis-writing formulas usually produced “A” papers although they were neither creative nor profound.  Much like my current course mates, learning must have been superficial – absorb just what I needed to pass the test only to delete the information once the task was achieved – so short-term strategies were plentiful but no true long-term learning occurred.  In tenth grade, I believe I experienced great strides in overall learning when everything seemed to “come together” into a bigger picture.  My English teacher was amazing!  She taught grammar and literature with a very logical, formulaic approach – just what I needed!  It finally made sense, and grammar actually became my biggest strength on the ACTs.  I also took German that year, and studying the grammar of another language helped me understand my own language more deeply.  My German teacher often said that people who are good at math learn languages very easily because grammar was so formulaic and logical.  Being in band and knowing how to read music, which is also considered another language as well as being very mathematical, really assisted with the synthesis of how everything is related and connected.  The summer between tenth and eleventh grade was when I realized that the plans that drove my last ten years did not jive with my need to be a nurturer.  I had two years to develop another plan before college, and I became lost.  Then distractions came along, which would almost destroy me.  The need to connect with others became very strong; I had never really needed people before, and my family moved around so much that I never made long-term friends.  That year was the first time in my life I had attended school with the same people for more than two years, plus throw teenage hormones and dating into the mix, and BOOM!  I tried to hold on, but I allowed teenage drama to overwhelm me which made the second half of my eleventh grade year a living hell!  I had a lot of family support to get me back on track, and I learned I thrive on stability, routine, and self-discipline.

I headed to college with a strong support system, at least I thought so, but I was not at all confident with my direction.  Classes were fairly easy, but for the first time in my life, I actually had to study, and I had no idea how to do so because college required more long-term memory access.  I never needed to develop learning strategies and study techniques in the past – everything just came naturally – so I struggled with relearning how to learn.  Then, like all ambitious students, I began to join extracurricular activities – not the silly stuff of high school when you just show up to meetings and get voted as an officer but never really do anything.  These activities actually required time and effort, all of which I was willing to give, but not on such a wide scale.  I spread myself too thin.  Then my stable relationship began to collapse.   My personal implosion sent an already shaky relationship over the brink; we are both better people now which makes me feel it was after all for the best.  But I lost that stability and support I needed, and my world began to crumble again.  So there I was at the end of my sophomore year of college spread way too thin, still no career direction, with a personal life spiraling out of control.  Then just when I was not looking, along came the person who would eventually force me to put it all back together again.  Chris and I dated for a few years while I stumbled through more college.  I was so frustrated and dissatisfied with my educational experience, and he needed the nurturer that I was, so I dropped out of school to support him while he finished his bachelor’s.  I learned a great deal about customer service and how to be an employee during this period.  We were supposed to marry after his graduation, but so many events out of our control prevented that from happening, but we were committed to following through with the plans we had already laid.  It was his turn to support me now that he had a stable job.  I found a degree program at another university that I could complete in exactly the minimum amount of credits required to earn a degree from there – 45 hours, which I managed to complete in 12 months.  There were no distractions from extracurricular activities, I had the financial support and emotional stability I needed to focus, and the courses were so engaging that I fell into another synthesis zone.  By this point, I was so motivated to focus and finish my coursework, this seemed to be the only real strategies I needed, but reflecting back on that time, I did develop some tactics.  My professors usually provided us with study guides, so I worked through those as I read the textbooks.  When reading, I focused on text organization, major themes, and how the information would be used practically without really knowing what I would do with the degree.  I’d never read so much in my entire life, but it never seemed like a burden because I wanted and needed it.  Once again, I viewed my world as one big interrelated picture because my courses were related and often covered the same material which also enhanced my long-term memory.  I also took notes during lectures; of course, I could not write down everything my professors said, so I had to learn how to summarize quickly what I just heard.  I also developed a color-coding technique for my notes and textbooks – I highlighted vocabulary word in red, their definitions in blue, main ideas and important points in green, and any features or aspects of the main idea in yellow.  As a final research project, I conducted an experiment in color-coding and wrote a paper about it.  I still use this method today with my own students.

It’s been almost fourteen years since earning my bachelor’s, and my life-experiences and on-the-job training have driven my learning during this time.  I’ve worked my way through several “mini careers,” each with their own skills and knowledge sets.  Even becoming a parent was a a subject to be studied and evaluated.  I read as much as I could about everything I already didn’t know but needed to understand. Once again, I realized everything I was studying whether professionally or personally was related and part of a bigger picture.  Working in childcare helps one be a better parent; being a parent helps one be a better teacher.  Having emotional stability and reliable routines again helped me thrive during those years.  I learned something very important about myself too; one of my strengths is having an analytical mind.  Perhaps this is why absorbing as much information as possible and synthesizing it into a whole works well for me as a “learning strategy.”  I also like to experience systems then try to figure out better, more efficient methods to make those systems operate, and I do this with almost every aspect of my life – parenting, teaching, keeping my house, marriage, etc.  I live it, reflect upon it, analyze it for weaknesses, develop and implement new methods, and continuously reflect on progress.  It makes perfect sense that I was often bored in elementary school because I had figured the system out quickly and developed the most efficient strategies available at the time.  Later high school years and college were phases of falling out of sync only to redevelop new, more efficient strategies.  My desire to work on a master’s is the product of falling out of a sync again.  I have been absorbing the profession of teaching for several years now, I’ve observed the weaknesses of the system, and now I need to process these weaknesses with others to develop a better way.  I realize this doesn’t really answer the question of what strategies or methods I use to encode and retrieve long-term memory, but it does for me because I just incorporate new information into what I already know, perpetually reformulating and synthesizing.  I have found that while reading our textbook I again rely on the structure of the text, I always preview what I’m about to read to access my prior knowledge, I pause every few paragraphs or so and reflect back on how I have experienced what I just read in my work or life and look forward to how it could be utilized in the future.  Having stability, routines, and self-discipline are my study techniques; they work for me. But it makes me think about what the vast majority of my students are missing from their lives and preventing them from thriving.



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