How to revise: retrieval practice

It’s that time of year when revision is moving to the forefront of our minds. It’s a particular focus for our Year 11 and Year 13 students they approach their public exams, but good revision practices are important for all students. If Year 7 get into good revision habits now, they will stand them in good stead for the future!

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Key research paper from Dunlosky et al – how to learn!

Extensive research studies by cognitive and educational psychologists have shown that all revision is not equal. Some revision techniques are more effective at securing learning than others. So, what works? And what is less effective?

Less effective: reading through and/or highlighting your notes

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Highlighting text feels good – but it doesn’t lead to effective learning

Whilst these techniques might make you feel like you’ve spent your time well, the research show that they are not that effective at actually helping to to remember what you’ve read or highlighted at a later point in time. They are generally quite low effort – your brain doesn’t have to work too hard to read through or highlight things. And, because you haven’t had to try too hard, your brain doesn’t retain much of what you’ve done.

More effective: retrieval practice

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Retrieval practice is hard work – but it helps you learn more effectively

Retrieval practice is recalling information to mind from your memory without notes or reminders. Some examples of retrieval practice are:

  • Having a list of key words in front of you, and writing down the definitions or meanings of those key words from memory
  • Having a quotation from a book, play or poem in front of you, and writing down what the quotation implies, demonstrates or illustrates – from memory
  • Having a topic title in front of you, and writing down everything you can remember about that topic without referring to your notes
  • Doing past paper questions without your notes in front of you.

After any retrieval practice, it’s really important to go back to your notes, the textbook or the answer sheet to check which elements you were able to remember correctly, and which you got wrong.

The research shows that even if you can’t remember the answers, or if you get them wrong, retrieval practice still strengthens your recall of the correct answers days and weeks later – provided you’ve corrected your mistakes after the retrieval practice.

Using flashcards is another great way of doing retrieval practice – there’s an excellent blog on how to do this from the psychologists at Inner Drive here.

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Flashcards are a good way to organise your retrieval practice revision

More on how to revise

There are lots of older posts on this blog about revision techniques. You can find them all collected in the Revision category – just click here.

Women in STEM: to the stars

Tuesday of this week was one of those days when the stars aligned and I saw the same issue from multiple angles all within 24 hours. The issue was gender inequality in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

Attitudes to STEM subjects by gender

First thing in the morning, I received an email bulletin highlighting some research which had just been published on attitudes to STEM subjects by gender at KS4. The findings made for challenging reading:

  • Girls enjoy STEM subjects less than boys: The proportion of male pupils who ranked KS4 STEM subjects first for enjoyment was almost twice that for females: 59% vs. 32%.
  • Girls are less likely to say STEM is their best subject: When asked which subject they were best at, the proportion of male pupils who ranked a STEM subject first was 60%, which again was almost twice as high compared to females at 33%.
  • Boys are more likely to think STEM leads to a job: When asked about which subjects were most likely to lead to a future job, 69% of male pupils ranked a STEM subject first compared to 51% of females.
  • Girls and boys both name STEM as leading to highest paid jobs: When asked which would lead to the highest paid job, 81% of male pupils named a STEM subject compared to 77% of females.
  • Girls are less likely to pursue STEM at A level: When asked what they planned to study at A-Level, female pupils made up the minority of those naming STEM subjects. Particularly, in Engineering (14% / 86%), Computing (15% / 85%) and Physics (22% / 78%).

Combating gender inequality is a particular mission of mine, and it is one of the reasons we have named our new Science and Technology building after a prominent female scientist, Professor Dame Athene Donald. We are doing better than the national average at Churchill, where we have a 54% to 46% split of students taking Science and Maths courses in our Sixth Form. But there is still work to do, as there is considerable variation between subjects.

Dr Sue Black and Bletchley Park

 

After school that same day, I was listening to an interview with Sue Black on my drive home. Sue Black is a prominent software engineer, keen to promote women in computer science. She was also instrumental in the campaign to save Bletchley Park, where ten thousand people (including Alan Turing, after whom another of our buildings is named) built some of the first computers and cracked the Enigma code used by the Nazis during World War Two. More than half of the people who worked there were women. No-one had any previous experience of computers. In 2019, there are fewer women working in tech than there were in the 1960s. How has this happened? Sue Black was an inspirational figure, challenging the stereotype of the software engineer and the systems analyst to show that women have a vital role to play in the future, as well as the history, of computer science.

Professor Jo Dunkley and Henrietta Swan Leavitt

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Professor Jo Dunkley, OBE

Later that evening, I was driving back to school for governors’ meeting listening to a science podcast about how to measure the size of the universe. One of the guests was Professor Jo Dunkley, a physicist from Princeton University in America. Her research is in cosmology, studying the origins and evolution of the Universe, and she made this complex and challenging subject accessible and fascinating. She too described how, in her field, women make up 20% or less of the physicists looking at space, the stars, and cosmology, yet the women were every bit as talented and clever as any of the men. And she too had a tale of how, in the past, women made a huge contribution to the field of cosmology, astronomy and astrophysics.

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Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868-1921)

Professor Dunkley told the story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, an astronomer working at Harvard University in the early 20th century. She was part of a group of women known as the “Harvard Computers“, hired to carry out calculations and process astronomical data in the days before electronic computers. In those days women were not allowed to operate the telescopes themselves – this was a male only environment. Instead, they studied the photographic plates produced by the telescopes. It was in doing this that Leavitt, who was profoundly deaf following an illness, made her ground-breaking discovery. She was studying a group of stars called the Cepheid variables. These stars pulsed at different rates, and Leavitt worked out a mathematical relationship between the brightness of these stars and the frequency of their pulses. This relationship, now known as “Leavitt’s Law,” allowed astronomers to measure the distance from Earth to faraway galaxies for the first time. It also enabled future astronomers such as Edwin Hubble to firmly establish that the universe was expanding.

Gender Equality

It was a freakish coincidence that, after reading about the inequality in perceptions of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths between boys and girls in 2019, I should then be confronted with these fantastic examples of prominent women in STEM from the present day and the past. The majority of the code-breakers of Bletchley Park were 18 year-old women, just out of school, with no prior experience of computer science – yet they contributed to cracking the Nazi codes and saving millions of lives by shortening the Second World War. The very notion of computer science was, of course, invented by a woman – Ada Lovelace, back in the 1840s. In the present day, women like Dr Sue Black are blazing a trail for women in computer science and technology.

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Ada Lovelace, painted in 1832

In the field of astronomy, cosmology and astrophysics, the foundations of our ability to measure the universe were laid by women – the Harvard Computers who were not even allowed to operate the telescopes. Prominent cosomologists such as Jo Dunkley continue their work today, including estimating the mass of the universe and studying distant galaxies.

Why is it, with this rich history and vibrant present of women in STEM, that so few girls go on to study Physics or Computing at A-level in this country? I don’t know, but I hope with examples like Lovelace, Leavitt, Black, Dunkley and Athene Donald to follow, we will see the trend reverse and true gender equality achieved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Safer Internet Day Tips

Tuesday 5th February was Safer Internet Day 2019. The aim of Safer Internet Day is to inspire a national conversation about using technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively. There are lots of resources available online linked to the day to help with that conversation, including top tips for parents and carers and top tips for 11-18 year olds. Google has also created the Be Internet Awesome resource for young people to help them be safe, confident explorers of the online world.

Here are my top five tips for a safer internet:

1. The internet is written in pen, not pencil

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I can’t remember where I heard this tip. but it’s always stuck with me. When you post something online, it’s there forever. Even on services like Snapchat or Instagram Stories, where posts disappear after their time limit is up, screenshots can be taken and re-shared.

In the future, you could be judged by what you have put online – by prospective employers, business contacts, or even journalists. There have been several high profile cases which highlight this problem: Jack Maynard was forced out of the “I’m a Celebrity” jungle last year in a controversy over old social media posts, and Toby Young was forced to resign his position as part of the university regulator when offensive old tweets resurfaced – even though they had been deleted.

When you put something online, it helps if you have in your mind that you are making a permanent record. Ask yourself: would I be happy for someone to read this ten years from now?

2. Would you say it face to face?

A laptop, phone or tablet screen feels like a shield sometimes: what we put on social media disappears into the ether and we don’t see the impact of the messages we are sending. But just because we don’t see them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It helps to think about communication over social media in the same way as a face-to-face conversation. If it isn’t something you would say to someone’s face, it’s probably not something you should put online. And this isn’t just about young people: there are some terrible adult role models online, who seem to build their reputation on being horrible to and about others.

The most horrific example I have seen of this is the terrible case of Megan Evans; I have spoken about her before in my kindness assembly. 14-year-old Megan was found dead on February 7, 2017. She had been the victim of online bullying, which her mother believes drove her to take her own life. After a long period of bullying by her classmates and peers, one of the other children in her school sent her the message: “why don’t you kill yourself?”

Megan replied saying: “Ok.”

The fact that somebody in Megan’s life chose to express cruelty and unkindness had the most tragic and devastating consequences. Her family and her friends – and the young person who sent that final message – will be living with the consequences of that for the rest of their lives. The heart-rending video below, as Megan’s mother is interviewed on This Morning, shows just how devastating this unkindness can be.

My rule is: if it isn’t right to say, it isn’t right to post.

3. Keep some things back

Sharing personal information online carries risks too. Posting your phone number, your address, date of birth or information about your family publicly on social media opens you up to identity fraud. In the video below, a coffee shop offers a free drink if customers like their Facebook page. The barista asks for the customers name, and a behind-the-scenes team matches the name to the Facebook like and sees what information it can harvest from just these two data points. What could a stranger learn about you from your online posts?

Similarly, be cautious with location sharing on your social media posts. Do you really want strangers to know exactly where you are? Along with your profile photo, this could lead to a risky situation – if a stranger knows where you are, and knows who you are, then it increases your vulnerability.

4. Stay secure

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It’s important to choose strong passwords for your online accounts. Google advises using a mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers, r3pl@cing le++ers wit# sYmb0ls & n^mb3rs 1ike Thi$ to create memorable but hard-to-hack passwords. It’s also really important to use different passwords across different accounts. I know it’s tempting to use one memorable password every time but if one account is hacked, every account you have is then compromised.

5. Be kind online

The internet is neither good nor bad; it’s a neutral platform. It’s the people that use it that set the tone in the online space. If people choose to be kind, helpful and supportive online, that will be the tone that is set – but the reverse is also true. We can all make a contribution to helping the online world be a better place by:

  • Sharing and spreading positive messages
  • Stopping the spread of harmful or untrue messages by not sharing them with others
  • Call out unkind or inappropriate behaviour online: block them and report it
  • Offer support to the victims of unkindness or bullying online – be part of the solution, not the problem.

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With thanks to Google’s Be Internet Awesome project for inspiring this week’s blog. If you have been inspired you can take a Be Internet Awesome Pledge here.