for Interdisciplinary Assignments
Kathie F. Nunley
again we turn to basic educational psychology. There has been
a lot of research and publicity lately on the brains of babies
and young children. It adds to what we already know about neural
babies are born they have about 200 billion neurons which make
up their brain. As adults we have about 100 billion neurons
in our brain. Why, you may ask, does the number get cut in half
as we grow up? It might make more sense to us if we added neurons
as we grow, not subtract them. What happens to all those other
answer lies in the plasticity of the brain. Think of a young
brain as a lump of clay ready to be sculptured. As we grow and
learn, we use, and thereby strengthen, particular neurons and
neural pathways. Each time we learn something or use a particular
area of the brain, we strengthen that area and make it easier
for us to use it again. As we grow older, areas or neurons that
aren't being used are cleared out, just like someone shaving
away excess clay to make a sculpture.
as an adult, those areas that were developed in your childhood
are useable and their ease of use depends on how often they
were stimulated as we grew up. That's the real reason behind
learning a lot of material and taking a lot of different subjects
in school -- not so we could someday recall the particular information
we were learning, but to strengthen that particular area of
second part of this story lies in the way information is stored
in our long term memory. When we set aside something to learn,
we have to tag it for storage, reference that piece of information,
and then cross reference it. It's the cross referencing of the
idea that strengthens it into something we've "learned" rather
than just memorized.
an example: Take the word "dog". Does it bring something to
mind? Probably a picture of a dog. So under "dog" in your brain
you have filed various pictures of dogs as can be proven by
simply going through a visual list of dogs in your brain. Where
else have you stored "dog"? Under the category of "Animals"
probably. How about "3-letter words"? How about another category
"things with 4 legs"? How about "words starting with d"? How
about "domestic animals". How about "mammals"? What about "pets
I've owned"? The list could literally go on forever.
know a lot about dogs. We remember dogs quite easily because
we've "cross - referenced" dogs in our memories in infinite
connections. So, do we know dogs? Yes, very well.
about "Hannibal". What does that bring to mind? To me, he goes
under the category of "guys who crossed the Alps on elephants".
I can also find him under movie characters and cities in Missouri.
But that's about it for categories.
I know Hannibal? Yes, but not as much as I know dogs.
way we see cross-referencing in our brains is in the phenomenon
known as "Tip-of-the-tongue" or TOT experiences. That's where
you try to remember a word, but you can only find the cross-reference
titles and not the word.
was that man's name?.....It started with a W.......Kind of a
long word......it had 2 or 3 syllables and a double letter in
the middle.....I think it ended with M.....but I can't think
of the name."
had that experience? Sure, we all have and it's quite frustrating.
Hours later the name William may pop into your head. How can
you know the beginning and ending letters and even the number
of syllables but not be able to find the word? It's a retrieval
failure event where you can find all the cross-referencing topics
but not the word. The more cross references you have the easier
it is to retrieve it.
combining what we know about neural pathways and cross-referencing
in memory we have a lot of support for interdisciplinary assignments.
I like to include at least one on every unit. It can be something
as simple as doing an assignment in a foreign language (which
helps both the ESL student and the foreign language students)
or a poem relating to a unit and is one which they have their
English teacher grade.
are some examples:
a historical account of the discovery of DNA structure by Watson
and Crick. Include what was reported in the newspaper at the
the difference between a Monocot and a Dicot. Your description
must be in a language other than English.
a poem describing 5 conflicts in an amphibian's life and how
they've adapted. Have your English teacher grade it for grammar
a poster showing the life cycle of a frog from egg to adulthood.
a song describing the various stages of a lytic virus.
a 20 inch piece of adding machine tape, make a time line showing
the evolution of the vertebrate classes. Your timeline must
be to scale
F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher
and speaker living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the
Layered Curriculum® method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has
authored several books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability
classrooms and other problems facing today's teachers. Full
references and additional teaching and parental tips are available
at: http://Help4Teachers.com Email her:
Kathie (at) brains.org
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