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Homeschooling and Teaching with Brain Rules May 3, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son, research, science, teaching.
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As many of you know, the older boy is on a partial homeschooling arrangement.  One of the plans this year was to cover US History and then have him take the relevant CLEP exams.  (What can I say – I’m a cheapskate, and doing this this way is a lot cheaper than having him take classes at the university.)

We started out the year with three books – a CLEP review book, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and a Patriot’s History of the United States.  My thought was that 1) he would see a point/counterpoint in the interpretation of US history by reading the various books, and 2) there would be a decent amount of repetition.

I have definitely been vindicated on the first point.  The older boy has really enjoyed reading the People’s and Patriot’s History books because of the fact that they’re rather politically charged.  But when it came time to do a practice exam, no dice.  He barely passed the exam.

I was nervous about shelling out the money for an exam only to have him fail it (although I imagine that will happen at some point or another), so I tried to think of some way to help.  I decided to order the History of the United States video from the Teaching Company.  (Before you pass out at the price tag, keep in mind that these go on sale at least once a year and I didn’t pay that much.)  The older boy took to them instantly, and it was probably one of the few times this year I didn’t have to nag him about getting his homework done.  After getting through the first part, he took another practice exam and earned an A equivalent.

I have read many times that the textbook for a course is where most students get their information.  I also have argued with people about this point because, while I use them as references, I’ve only been minimally successful and garnering much information from them.  When I have been successful, it’s because I’ve done things like compiled vocabulary lists or extensively used the practice problems…not because I’ve simply read them.  On the other hand, I’m very surprised by the older boy’s jump in test score.

I shouldn’t have been.  I recently listened to the book Brain Rules.  I heard about the book after looking into a class on educational neuropsychology that was using the book for some of its readings.  After reading it, I can tell you that I strongly suggest that anyone who functions in any sort of teaching capacity read or listen to it.  It has a lot of very good information that educators should, but often don’t, know.

When listening to the chapter of stimulating the senses, I found the explanation for the big jump in scores.  It turns out, according to the book, that one of the best ways to get people to remember things is to stimulate multiple senses.  Reading by itself is problematic because there is a significant amount of decoding that goes into translating the written word.  However, watching a presentation where someone is talking and that speaking is accompanied by visuals, especially if they are animated visuals, will drastically increase memory of the subject matter.

This is undoubtedly the case with my son’s score discrepancies: watching the videos, which include pictures as well as someone speaking, did a lot to boost his memory of the topic matter.  (Granted, this was history and not science or math, where I expect a somewhat significant amount of additional practice would be required.)

As a homeschooling parent, this means that I am definitely going to be on the lookout for more high quality videos.  Fortunately, I can also find things through places like MIT OpenCourseWare and iTunes U.  And this means I will also keep this mind if/when I ever get back into a classroom.


1. Kari - May 3, 2011

I have heard many times about the different learning styles, and how people are more likely to retain the information if multiple styles are used to present the info. Though I love reading, I also find it very difficult to learn just by reading. This leaves me with a vague recollection that I should know the answer, but doesn’t make the answer stick. I tend to learn best from visual and hands-on. This may be the reason that history has always been so boring for me. Any chance I could borrow these videos when you’re done?

2. Stanley Ma - May 3, 2011

I quite enjoy the courses from The Teaching Company. Halfway through one right now.


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