Dr. JoAnn Deak talks about memory and how it works

I spent some more time today listening to Dr. Deak talk about memory and how it works.

Main takeaways:

  • Memory should be used sparingly because it is exhausting to the brain and an artificial practice
  • Memory can be useful, but teachers should always check themselves when asking students to memorize

Here are my notes from the session:

  • on gameplay

    • Gameplay depends on the type of game and the purpose of playing it
    •  can get confusing if you are playing games because it is more fun, not because it is better
    • Nintendo DS brain games are well designed by a neurologist
  • Sleep interference means the brain will not grow as well as if it was not interfered with

    • text messages at night are literally decreasing IQ's
  • there are 5-7 things universities/companies are looking for, and we must be looking at

  • Parent education is an essential part of this

    • if you don't train parents they will be scared off and head to other schools
  • Teachers who use too much negative emotion or anger in their voice diminishes the learning of girls


  • the brain tries to forget everything as soon as it is done using it unless:

    • it is meaningful
    • or the brain thinks it needs it to survive
    • or you use extraordinary technique
  • we teach the brain to memorize
  • 1. working (prefrontal cortex) 2. short term 3. long term (hippocampus)
  • to convert from working to short term memory, something has to happen

    • when using someone's strength (big rubberband) they move it to short term memory easily
    • hard part: when do you use a big rubberband and when do you make it use a shorter one?
    • if you enter into visual, auditory, and motoric memory, it will have a better chance of retrieval
    • when using a small rubberband, increase repetitions
    • when stored in long term, the hippocampus knows exactly where to pull it from - orchestrates the answer (might be in many places in the brain)
    • how you put something in the brain is the same way it is going to come out - constraining variable
  • Keys to memory

    • attach emotion to it - make it meaningful
    • repetition - depends on the size of rubberband used - inversely proportional
    • which rubber bands you use
    • mnemonic devices

image by: Jens Langner

Dr. JoAnn Deak's talk on girls brains and learning - my notes

This is the second time I have heard JoAnn Deak speak, and she was wonderful again. I work at a girls school so she talked to us specifically about girls brains and how they work. Much of her talk connected to Carol Dweck's work in Mindset but most centered around specific applications to girls.

My high-level takeaways included:

  • learning works best with 10 minutes struggling/grappling/learning then 2 minutes capturing/processing - "concurrent notetaking impedes depth of learning and long-term thinking"
  • teachers are neurosculptors working on a plastic brain - we must learn how best to sculpt - this is essential in first 20 years of life
  • 80% of girls have female-differentiated brains and 20% have male-differentiated brains - we must learn teaching techniques that work for both and harm neither
  • there are real differences between "girl" neurology and "boy" neurology and we need to be able to use these differences skillfully


Here are my notes from the session:

rules for highest learning outcomes:

  1. ask questions when you have them
  2. disagree with her when you do
  3. if you don't believe teacher has expertise and is a good teacher, it will be an obstacle to learning

"You cannot be as updated as I am or you wouldn't have a life"

  • language-based collection of details does not allow for deep thinking
  • we're having trouble with salience with students - how do they find what is needed or relevant?
  • if you don't stretch all parts of the brain in the first 20 years, those parts start to diminish

    • first 5 years: major neural pathways are developed if they are used
    • 5-15: smaller routes
    • after 15: specialized routes
  • if you teach to learning style too much you develop an imbalanced brain
  • concurrent notetaking while learning impedes depth of learning and long-term learning

    • notetaking works best in clumps - learning for 10, 2 minutes for capturing/processing
    • concurrent notetaking does work for: 1) a-ha thinking or 2) writing down a question that is bothering you
    • 5 universities announced last year no concurrent notetaking
    • many universities require podcasting
  • for most girls she will learn better if she is looking at the teacher; no correlation for boys

    • tells parents: don't tell your sons, "look at me!"
  • after 20 minutes have kids get up, do toe pushups, then 20 arm raises
  • drinking water during class is essential - 1 hour
  • SAT's will go away, and letter grades are right behind them
  • teachers are neurosculptors
  • crucible events (death of a loved one, divorce of parents, molestation) are burned into the hiccocampus
  • crucible moments can be burned in, too - an off-hand comment from a teacher, a roll of the eyes by the 'queen bee'
  • the research does not support hands going up - it interferes with learning - she uses "the magic finger"

    • ask a question, and ask everyone to think about it for 30 seconds
    • purpose of asking question is to get brains to think more deeply; it I allow hands to go up, people stop thinking and prepare to listen
    • after 2 rounds of calling on people, let people raise hands
  • to reduce anxiety allow students 10 seconds to ask a peer if needed and give people time on the front end to think
  • to reduce anxiety give all students one pass

    • we want girls to exercise judgment - even just thinking about whether to use the pass
  • brain is designed to remember mistakes so that it can learn from it the next time
  • set up classroom to encourage, celebrate mistakes
  • attempting, failing is prized - not an incorrect answer

    • ACC in brain goes off when it hears a wrong answers
    • bigger in girls
  • read: Scientific American Mind - Male vs Female brains
  • 80% of dyslexia are male, 90% of autism are male, 80% of OCD are female
  • 100 billion neurons, 100 trillion connections
  • 80/20 rule - need to find teaching techniques that work for both and harm neither
  • when girls are challenged they release oxytocin - makes them not want to take risks

    • cooperative learning
    • use buddies
    • prepare them to do things on their own
  • read: Your Fantastic Brain - children's book on how your brain works/grows
  • "the female neurobiology is designed to be hesitant"
  • stretch is the key word
  • research shows that if parents don't understand the brain research they will fight us every step of the way
  • marathon thinking and sprint thinking - combine these for the best learning

    • we have been giving girls more and more time, and they need more an dmore
  • grades that compare kids to other kids goes against all the brain research

    • they need to compare their scores to themselves - how much did they learn/grow?

my question for JoAnne: how does game play show up in the research? More effective? What about video games?

- I haven't asked it yet, but she mentioned that she plays brain games on her Nintendo DS when she travels

Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning from Edutopia

This is a nice summary of current research on brains and learning. I found the part about girls and boys brains important. There are so many books on this topic right now that it is difficult to distinguish between opinion and scientific theory.

At my school we are doing a lot of work this year on the question, "How do girls learn?" (we are a girls school)