Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Timeaholics, Part II - The Classroom

[Part I was here. Note that you can find video from that 21 Jump Street episode here. The line I cited is about six minutes in.]

In Part I, I talked about being obsessed with not wasting time, because of the potential of each moment. Here's more proof of what can be accomplished in short bursts of focussed activity - and of the value of "wasting" time in between those bursts:

In a school in England, students are now learning in eight-minute class periods, with breaks in between each class period for sports and games. As reported in an article from the Times Online:

The mini-lessons at Monkseaton community high school are interspersed with frequent breaks for sport or word games. The technique is based on neuroscience research which has found that the memory develops most effectively with short bursts of learning repeated at intervals.
Monkseaton is to extend the method to all GCSE teaching from this autumn after a pilot scheme improved results by an average of half a grade for science pupils.
Paul Kelley, the headmaster, said: “It may seem bizarre to teach an eight-minute lesson, break for 10 minutes to dribble a basketball and then repeat the process, but it works.
“In rigorous evaluation, students show improvement regardless of subject, teacher or their ability.”
Kelley’s technique, known as “spaced learning”, is based on the research of Douglas Fields, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Baltimore. He has found that connections between developing brain cells form most effectively when they are allowed breaks from stimulation.
The implication is that teaching conventional lessons or trying to revise by cramming for long periods fails to take full advantage of a pupil’s potential.

Speaking for myself: I have always felt that I learned better - accomplishing more, gaining better insight, even retaining more - when I studied in quick bursts.

But, interestingly, this research also justifies having "down time" as well. It could re-define the chavrusa-interrupting tangents and small talk we used to call ביטול זמן in Yeshiva. Turns out, those moments may have been necessary in order to help us with our learning. Who knew?

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