Repeat to Remember

At Flurrish we have a simple, singular, goal: "to help improve learning in every classroom." That is the mantra that underpins all our design, development and implementation. And the design of Number.fy is based upon an understanding of memory and therefore learning; this is central to the success that has been recorded in its use.

If we consider that learning is the acquisition of new skills and knowledge that we are able to retain in memory, then it is imperative to understand how that memory is stored (see Medina, 2008; Wikipedia). Memory can be stored explicitly or implicitly. Explicit memory requires conscious recall of information either by "plucking it from thin air" or taking it contextually. The latter is particularly powerful as it links knowledge to related sensory information - it could be a strong visual image, powerful emotion or strong smell. For example, where were you when you hear about 9/11 or when Princess Diana died? These are very powerfully encoded memories.

Implicit memories, the subconscious recall of information, are just that. Information stored that we are simply able to recall. Learning times tables can fall within this area and it is the approach we have taken at Flurrish. The research underpinning the brain's ability to memorise facts dates back to the lifelong work of Hermann Ebbinghaus and in particular his published work on memory in 1885 (see Donald Clark for a succinct summary). Using his own working memory he was able to calculate the (sad!) fact that he remembered 58% after 20 minutes, 44% after an hour, 34% after 24 hours and 21% after 31 days (taken from Donald's blog and shown in the Wikipedia figure below). As a teacher, it is an astonishing (repeatable) finding and perhaps also familiar at the same time - for exams that test knowledge, "cramming" is a necessity because of this. And also shows why testing for knowledge is pointless if you just go and forget it!!

Forgetting Curve

However the follow-on work studied how to remember - and the secret here is practice! That's not surprising, but the effectiveness of practice is in spaced practice. That is practice spread out over time, not just in one session: this is known as spaced repetition. Repeated, regular, practice, is therefore central to memorisation.... however (and again no surprise to teachers!) that practice must be engaged, with the pupil wanting to participate. And let's be under no illusions - this is rote learning. Some things (your phone number!) are best committed to implicit memory. Others are not. Times tables and numbers bonds that are implicitly memorised build dramatic improvements in self-confidence and allow children to progress rapidly in other areas of numeracy.

Number.fy has been built from the ground up to target spaced repetition in the follow ways:

1. "Pick up and play": Number.fy has to be as easy to use in the classroom as mini-whiteboards

2. Engaging "game play": children want (demand!) fun apps that target the desire to improve (and, for many, to compete)

3. Density of Practice: using Number.fy a child can answer 40 (or more!) questions in the same time they would complete 5 using a traditional whiteboard. The sheer number of questions (1600 per month!) increases the density of practice

4. Spaced Repetition: by using Number.fy as a numeracy "starter" or as a table activity within a numeracy lesson on a daily basis means children are able to achieve spaced repetition very easily.

5. Results: for the teacher this is the critical aspect that closes the loop on learning. For a typical class of 30, the children will return 24,000 answers in a school month (20 days) - that is an astounding amount of practice!! More importantly, it is logged, marked and results returned to teachers who can then assess the whole class or individuals to see where they are making mistakes. This allows you to pick up "tricky" times tables (and review them in-class), screen for SEN and demonstrate progress.

Number.fy is built for learning, for teachers, for children. To allow spaced repetition, increase the density of practice and summarise the results. From the ground up it follows the mantra "repeat to remember".