Saturday, November 15, 2014

Loci, A Memorization Technique

We know the layout of our homes or apartments.  We might also know the layout of homes, businesses and streets where we work, where we used to live or where friends live or work. Why not use these places to peg new information?
Pegging using location is called Loci, an ancient memory technique. Roman senators used Loci to memorize long well-organized speeches that might go on for hours. They mentally planned their speeches and pegged different parts of it to places within their homes or streets or communities.
For instance, if I want to use Loci instead of a fun alphabet, I know the order of items in my laundry room.  1. doorway  2. litter pan  3. window   4. dryer  5. wall cabinets  6. mops   7.  furnace  8. washing machine 9. hot water heater  10.  sink.
Note that I assigned each item a number.  From now on each of our pegging lists should have numbers.  The only time we won’t use numbers with our lists is when using a fun alphabet and even there numbers can be helpful.
Numbers help us keep order, and they keep us from missing any items on our list. The same items should be used over and over in a Loci list.  There are other items in my laundry room, but adding or subtract items can be confusing.
I have a pegging list of items on Woodward Avenue near my home. Since I first created and memorized that list some things have changed. The Fantastic Sam’s beauty salon is gone, but it is still an its on my loci pegging list.  The sculptor, Marshal Frederick’s study was already gone and replaced by an office building. Still I used Marshall Frederick’s studio.  A historical marker sits there, and I like to pick the most interesting places.  Just like the fun alphabet, create your own Loci list.
It is probably best to start with a room in your own home.
If you move or change furniture a lot, try to stick with one arrangement for your pegging list. A laundry room night work better than a living room because things don’t change much.
Now back to my laundry room pegging list. 
Say I wanted to memorize a list of the planets in order from the sun. I use my imagination, and my laundry room  and I peg. 
The first planet is Mercury, so I imagine a Mercury automobile sitting in the doorway.  (That is a ridiculous image, but because it is silly, I will be more likely to remember it.) What is a Mercury car doing inside my house, blocking entrance to my laundry room.  What color is the car? What year? 
I imagine this in as much detail as I can.
I might also imagine Mercury, the Greek messenger of the gods, that we see so often in the florist’s commercials.  What you imagine to help you remember is up to you.  I picked a silver 2014 Mercury Grand Marquis.  Beautiful.
Next in my laundry room I have a litter pan. The second planet is Venus. I might picture Venus from the famous Botticelli painting “The Birth of Venus.”  There she is standing in my cat’s litter pan.
Next I look out my window and see Earth, the third planet from the sun. I see the actress Eartha Kitt sitting there. What is she wearing?  A  green robe. She holds a globe. She waves and smiles. I might also see giant  earth worms, hear them singing the song, “Earth Angel” while an earthquake shakes my back yard. There are always different images I can create.
Number four  is Mars. Mars candy bars are in my dryer.  The chocolate is going to melt. I will have a mess to clean up unless I eat all those candy bars.  I start taking the wrappers off. I taste the creamy chocolate of a Mars bar.  Maybe the television detective Veronica Mars is helping me.  We eat those Mars bars together. I see us clearly standing by my dryer.
Next comes the wall cabinets and Jupiter.  I might have a map of Jupiter, Florida or a picture of the Roman God Jupiter on the cabinet doors. I might have copies of “Joup” magazine inside.  I might have bottles of juice and piles of tar paper. Any of these items will help me remember the fifth planet from the sun is Jupiter.
Below  my wall cabinet I have a pail full of mops. The sixth planet to remember is Saturn.  Is that another automobile sitting there beside the dryer with mops hanging out of all the windows?  The car is even being driven by a mop. It’s a good thing GM named so many cars after planets.  It helps with my pegging.  My imaginary Saturn is red.
Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, is next?  I have a funny little roadrunner  running around in circles  on my furnace screaming, “You ran us.” 
Neptune is  the eighth planet reminds me of Nipper, the RCA Victor dog who hears his master’s voice. Neptune would make a great name for a dog.  He is swimming in my washing machine.  In there with him might be some Neptune High School cheer leader outfits. I like that image, but remember Veronica Mars went to Neptune High School.  I picture Veronica Mars standing by my washer wearing a neptune High School cheer leader costume.
Pluto is easier.  The dog Pluto from all those Walt Disney movies is on top of my hot water heater.  Another dog? Why not? We had two cars. The dog characters, Nipper and Pluto,  are very different.
Try Loci on some lists of your own. Draw the room. List  and memorize the items and then use the room to memorize something else like the capitals of U.S. states.  You will need several different rooms for that
But as learning is important and we learn better if we use more than one powerful memory technique, let me share another way to learn the planets in order from the sun.
Memorize this sentence.  
My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas.
Note the first letter of each word. M as in Mercury;  V as in Venus; E as in Earth; etc.

There are lots of ways to make learning easier. We are just getting started.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

By MaryAnn Slavcheff

What is thinking outside the box? It is looking for new solutions. What if I ask you what is the missing state in this list?

New York
North Dakota
West Virginia

It is clearly not alphabetical order.
It isn’t the states in the order they entered the union. That would start with Delaware and New Jersey. The states are certainly not in order geographically.
By population? That doesn’t make sense either.
As we try different solutions, we are exposed to new knowledge. Be it the historical like the order states entered the union or geographic. We are learning as we solve a puzzle, but we are learning other things as we look for the answer.

With this puzzle we are doing something that students seldom do. We are thinking. It might take us a while to come around to thinking about state capitals. Most of us learned the in alphabetical order according to the state.

Montgomery, Alabama.
Juneau, Alaska
Phoenix, Arizona. And so on.

But what if we put the state capitals in alphabetical order according to their names.
Then we get:
Albany, New York
Annapolis, Maryland
Atlanta Georgia
Augusta, Maine
Austin, Texas
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Bismark, North Dakota
Boise, Idaho
Boston, Massachusetts

The answer to the puzzle is Nevada because the next capital in order is Carson City, Nevada. Puzzles are fun and certainly less threatening than tests. They inspire real thinking and real learning. Teachers often find puzzles take long chunks of their time and puzzles also have to changed often as the answers become common knowledge. People share puzzles, but rarely share tests. Therefore, teachers prepare tests instead of puzzles.

Serious students can make up their own tests and puzzles to help them learn. They can also try to stump each other. Tests we give ourselves are less threatening than tests given by a teacher. They give us an idea of how much we have learned.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Prepare, Don’t Compare
By Mary Ann Slavcheff

Students often compare themselves with other students. When we get our tests back, what do we do? We look at our scores and at our neighbor’s scores. “What did you get?”  we ask?
What about final grades?
What did you get in the class?”
“What did she get?”
It can be frustrating, if despite all your hard work, someone who you consider a flake  says he got a higher score.
But the competition is seldom about who learned the most. Instead it is often about final grades or scores.  Someone else’s learning is impossible to measure accurately.
Let me tell you a couple of stories.
When I was in high school, I was an awful student. I had problems in and out of the classroom, and teachers considered me hopeless. I didn’t do the work and that was it.  But when I took a shorthand course, I liked those symbols. I took the time to practice and learn them. I should have been doing well, but the instructor wasn’t about to give an “A’ to someone barely passing other classes. There had to be something wrong, if I was doing well in this subject.  I ended up with a “D.” 
But I liked shorthand, and over the years I kept it up. When I finally got to college and became a serious “A” student, shorthand helped me. I could take notes on 100 percent of what the instructor said, if necessary. Of course, that would be too many notes, but I could keep up with even the fastest talking instructor. 
I still take shorthand.
A few years ago I met an old classmate.  She was a serious student then in all the classes that I dismissed.  I remember  how well she did in shorthand. “Do you use shorthand?” I asked her.
“I don’t remember any of that,” she said. “I’m surprised I even passed the course. I couldn’t remember half those squiggles.”
I barely passed the class and still remember it. I was clearly the winner and the real learner. That teacher dismissed me as a goof off because that is how she read me before the class even began. A better teacher would have  recognized my interest and given me the “A” that  I now think I deserved.  But that is all ancient history.
Learning became its own reward for me.
While my old classmate and I were being honest about our grades and what we learned, know that other students sometimes lie.
I remember one of my students whom I will call him Willie. He seldom came to class and when he did come to class, he was unprepared.  He was the class goof off. He made jokes when he didn’t know the answer, so he had entertainment value.
The class ended. I gave him the grade he deserved which was not a passing grade.
The next semester when I walked into the school atrium., several students from that class were sitting around the tables. The goof off student was all smiles. He walked up to me, put his arm around my shoulders, smiled and said,”Thanks for the “A,” Mrs. Slavcheff.”
I didn’t say anything;  there was nothing I could say. It is illegal to discuss a student’s grade with an outsider present. I ignored his comment.
The students who had worked hard and several of whom had earned A’s stood there with open mouths. They couldn’t believe it.
The next few days I would walk into the building and see all those students again. The goof-off Willie would grin at me. “How you, doin’,  Mrs. Slavcheff?” The hard working students looked like I had just harpooned them. They believed he had gotten an “A.”
Finally, I went up to  my angry former students. “If he says he got an ‘A’, tell him to show you his “A.’”  I said.
I had not passed that student. His lie was believed for awhile, but he couldn’t show anyone his “A” because he never got one.  So remember that students lie, the next time someone tells you his grade was higher than you know he deserved.
But does it matter?

Start learning because it is the best thing you can do for yourself, not so you can compare your grade to someone else’s grade.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pegging: The Alphabet Is a Simple  Pegging List
Last week, we created fun alphabets. I asked all my readers to come up with a fun alphabet of their own. I suggested a list of favorite actors, singers or Facebook friends.  We could now use these alphabets which are forms of pegging lists to learn new material. 
Alphabets are easier to learn than most other lists because they already have an easily recognized order. After you have memorized the items in your fun alphabet, we can use them to memorize other lists.  Remember my fun alphabet of singers circa 1960:
Paul Anka, Pat Boone,  Chubby Checker, Bobby Darin, Everly Brothers, Fabian, Leslie Gore, Johnny Horton, Burl Ives, Stonewall Jackson, Kingston Trio, Brenda Lee, Johnny Maestro, Rick Nelson, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Que Sara Sara,  Bobby Rydell, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Tillotson, Leslie Uggams, Bobby Vinton, Andy Williams, X-Ray , Kathy Young and Zippidy Doo Dah
I  can now use this list to help me memorize another list. Say I want to memorize the first  26 American presidents in order.  A simple  way would be to attach or peg each president to a singer in the fun alphabet. 
I might picture Paul Anka washing a ton of clothes. I even see a scale that weighs piles of clothing and “By George,” says Anka as he is washing a ton of clothes.  I see the picture clearly in my mind.  Anka might be washing dollar bills with Washington’s picture on them.  By associating Washington with the first item in my fun alphabet, it is easier to learn.
If Paul Anka is too much ancient history, use another celebrity whose name beings with A.  Take Christine Aguilera, for instance. 
John Adams is second just like the letter “B.” I use my fun alphabet. Pat Boone (or Justine Beiber)  is singing the theme of the “Addams Family.”  I get a clear picture of my mind and even hear Boone working on those lyrics.  Watch the spellings if you are using this as a school project. John Adams not John Addams.
Thomas Jefferson, our third president,  I will peg to Chubby Checker who  is signing the Declaration of Independence as he does the twist.  It is a fun image, and after all our Civil Rights battles, I like the idea of Checker who is a Black singer signing the Declaration.  With Chubby is George Jefferson and his son or someone named Tom.
James Madison, our fourth president, is pegged to Bobby Darin.  Perhaps Darin is  is  taking a bath on Madison Avenue as he sings  “Splish Splash.”  Maybe Darin is in the cast of the television program “Mad Men.”
The next 21 presidents in order are:
5. James Monroe  6. John Quincy Addams  7. Andrew Jackson  8. Martin Ban Buran  9. William Henry Harrison (Tippecanoe)  10. John Tyler  11. James K. Polk  12. Zachary Taylor  13. Millard Fillmore  14. Franklin Pierce  15. James Buchanan  16. Abraham Lincoln 17. Andrew Johnson  18.Ulysses S. Grant  19. Rutherford B. Haynes  20. James Garfield  21. Chester Arthur  22. Grover Cleveland  23. Benjamin Harrison  24. Grover Cleveland (who served two nonconsecutive terms as president thus he gets the number  22 and number 24 slot.)
25. William McKinley 26. Teddy Roosevelt.
I will let you find your own associations for these presidents.  Use the items on your own fun alphabet or use mine.
Pegging lists can be used over and over. After I memorize the presidents in order, I can use the fun alphabet to memorize the Confederate States in the order they seceded, the state capitals or a list of Plantagenet  rulers in order. 
Alphabets can be used in many different ways. For instance, I might find it easier to memorize the presidents in alphabetical order. Three presidents had names that started with “A.” Two presidents named Adams, John and John Quincy, Chester Arthur.  
Under “B”  we have the two Bushes, and Buchanan.
Under “C” we have Carter, Cleveland (who we have to count twice because of his non consecutive terms) Clinton and Coolidge.
No presidents have names that started with “D” .  President Eisenhower was the only “E”.
I could add numbers later.  For the letter “J”, Andrew Jackson 7, Thomas Jefferson 3, Andrew Johnson 17, Lyndon Johnson 36. We will get to simple ways to memorize numbers in another column.  Usually U.S. presidents are memorized in chronological order, but I like over learning things.  And it is fun to use different orders.
So now we have at least one good pegging list - the alphabet.   If we can memorize all the presidents in any order, we have two pegging lists.   Any list you have already learned, can be used as a new pegging list.
A last note about alphabets. Our alphabet is not the only one. There are hundreds of alphabets and they come in handy in memorizing globs of information. Memory experts use Master Code and Dominic Code, both based on the alphabet to convert numbers into letters and vice versa. 

But alphabets are not the most popular or even the most used pegging list. Believe it or not there is an easier pegging list.  I will introduce you to that one and how it is used in an upcoming column.

       Today as I walked my dog Tiki, I decided to try something different. Instead of memorizing the license plates numbers in order as I sometimes do,  I reviewed the NATO alphabet.  
I had never put a lot of effort into memorizing this alphabet and I had not thought of it for some time. But it was time for a review; I looked at the letters on a license plate and converted them to Nato words. 
For those not familiar with the NATO alphabet it is an international phonetic  alphabet. When someone in the armed forces or a police officer wants to spell out say a license plate he does it with:
Alpha, Brava, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Limo, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, Zulu
So a  license plate with the letters MAS (my initials) would read: Mike Alpha Sierra.
As I walked and reviewed, I was doing several things correctly as a learner. Time spent walking a dog or doing any mindless task like dish washing or driving a familiar route or folding laundry can also be spent testing ourselves on our knowledge.  I was using my time smartly. 
Using time for two compatible projects is called layering. It is different from multitasking which does not work because with multitasking, focus is difficult to impossible.  I can’t, for instance, give  a caller directions to my home, look up a pasta recipe  and balance my checkbook all at the same time. Each activity needs focus and they are being short changed.
What else was I doing right as a learner as Tiki and I walked? I was Pegging. One of the reasons the NATO alphabet was easy for me to memorize because it it an alphabet.  I already had the order down.  I just had to learn a list of associations.
Associating new learning with something already learned like the alphabet is called Pegging.   It has many forms, but let’s take one of its more basic forms which is a simple list like the alphabet. 
If the alphabet sounds too simplistic for those of us beyond kindergarten, then make it fun.  Create fun alphabets  or use one already created like the NATO alphabet. 
Okay, so the NATO alphabet isn’t fun.  What is a fun alphabet anyway?
I grew up in the 1950’s and early 60’s and like a lot of adolescents and teens, I loved certain recording artists. I bought their records and put the long playing records  in alphabetical order according to the singer’s name. To this day I remember that order.
Paul Anka, Pat Boone, Chubby Checker, Bobby Darin, Everly Brothers, Fabian, Leslie Gore, Johnny Horton, Burl Ives, Stonewall Jackson, Kingston Trio, Brenda Lee, Johnny Maestro, Rick Nelson, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Que Sara Sara,  Bobby Rydell, Neil Sedaka, Johnny Tillotson, Leslie Uggams, Bobby Vinton, Andy Williams, X-Ray , Kathy Young and Zippidy Doo Dah.
Note that where I did not have a singers name I made a substitute, songs for Q and Z and then the reliable X-Ray for X.  I also selected only one singer for each letter of the alphabet.  Having too many names could confuse me.
This list was easy to learn by just imagining my record collection. Later when I had a nice collection of DVD’s I could do the same thing with titles.
I have an actors list too.  Alan Alda, Dan Blocker, Jack Cassidy, Johnny Depp, etc. We could also create lists of sports stars, fictional character, words associated with a hobby or historic period.  We can create dozens of alphabets. I suggest working with just one fun alphabet until you get more practice.
You might get stuck on some letters like I did with my singers.  For those words that start with difficult letters have something that can be unrelated nonsense ready to plug in.
X = Xena, the Warrior Princess; Xanth, a fantasy land created by author Piers Anthony;  X Men, X Box or Xmas.  Z could stand for Zorro, Zipper, Zip codes, Zoey  or Zippidy Do Dah
If you get stuck too often  often enlarge your topic. Instead of names of boats, have transportation as your main category. Then you can include cars and even airplanes. When you get to “Q” you have the Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth both legendary ships, or you can also choose an aircraft type for which there are designation codes for most letters of the alphabet. 
What a great excuse for memorizing aircraft designations. It is now a fun alphabet.
The alphabet can be a great learning tool. Too bad it is often dismissed as too simplistic.  It has an easy order and it has already been learned; it is easy to tack new information onto it.
Create your own special alphabet, use the NATO  alphabet, or my list of singers circa 1960.  Now we all have at least one pegging list. In my next blog, I will show you how to use a pegging list.  Over the next several weeks, we will create other pegging lists. 
Pegging lists are as simple as ABC. The alphabet is not the only type of pegging lists. There is even a simpler method of pegging.  We will learn that too.

Then we will learn another technique.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chaining the Presidents
In my last blog, I discussed chaining, one of the methods that ancient scholars and today's mental athletes use to memorize long strings of numbers, decks of cards and nonsense poems. I suggested that readers practice chaining by making up short shopping lists and chaining the items together. That way they  don't have to bother with written shopping lists and they don't forget any items.  
Remember that chaining is telling a silly story with several items exaggerated.  Some students tell me that they aren't very good at inventing stories.  Give it a try and practice.  With Chaining students not only learn easily, but become more creative. Chaining uses more parts of the brain.
Today we will try to chain a more challenging list.   Suppose you wanted to memorize a list of U.S. Presidents in chronological order.  There were 44 presidents starting with George Washington and moving on to to Barack Obama.  Let's do the first seven now. We can get to the others later or better yet, now that you have learned the technique you can chain them on your own.

The first seven U.S. presidents were:

George Washington
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson.

I will start.

I am WASHING a TON of clothes. By GEORGE, I am WASHING a TON of clothes. I hear a knock on the door. It is Gomez ADDAMS and he wants to use the JOHN. (Watch the spelling here. The Addams family on television was different from the Adams family in the history books.)  Gomez sees me WASHING a TON of clothes and he says, “By GEORGE, you need to visit JEFFERSON cleaners.. The clerk there is  a TOM cat named TOM.
I visit JEFFERSON Cleaners to see the cat clerk TOM and I tell him Gomez ADDAMs sent me when he came over to use my JOHN.
I note that JEFFERSON cleaners is on MADISON avenue. I go outside after talking to TOM, and the streets are slippery filled with strawberry JAMS and all the people are wearing CHAINS.  I slip on the  JAM and pull on someone's CHAIN  to  break my fall. Whose CHAIN was it? Marilyn MONROE.  She is wearing several CHAINS.
As Marilyn MONROE helps pull me up.  Along comes Gomez ADDAMS. “You made it,” he says. I notice he is now wearing a big “Q” on his sweater.  He is again looking for a JOHN.  Who is that with him?  He introduces me to QUINCY, the medical examiner.
“I hope you guys find a JOHN,” I say. Instead they turn around and there is  Michael JACKSON. He has a sketch pad. “What are you doing, Michael?”  He says, “I DREW a JACK.” He shows us the JACK of diamonds on his sketch pad. Is that all he DREW? “No,” he says . He DREW AND DREW AND DREW.

So now we chained the first seven presidents of the United States. We have a silly story and concrete images to help us remember the items on the list. Repeat the story several times. Imagine it is your story. You are WASHING the clothes and talking to Gomez ADDAMS and the others. Note that I use a lot of television imagery.  This worked very well for me in the classroom. My students were familiar with television characters and popular actors. You may use friends.
The eighth president was Martin Van Buren. You could use MARTIN Sheen, the actor, or a purple MARTIN bird or someone named MARTIN that you know.  For the last name use a VAN, a type of automobile or a chest of drawers BUREAU.
Let your imagination take wing. Repeat the story a few times.  You won't have to repeat it as many times as you would without the chaining. The story will help you remember the names. The story is more memorable than just a list of names. Remember the story has to be fanciful. It has to be exaggerated to make it more memorable.
Let's see how you can do chaining a list of presidents. Start out where I left off in the story. Or start your own story. Here are the names of all 44 presidents. Note Grover Cleveland is mentioned twice. That is because he was both our 22nd and our 24th president.

1. George Washington, 2. John Adams, 3. Thomas Jefferson, 4. James Madison, 5. James Monroe, 6. John Quincy Adams, 7. Andrew jackson, 8. Martin Van Buren, 9. William Henry Harrison (Tippecanoe),  10. John Tyler, 11. James K. Polk, 12. John Tyler, 13. Millard Fillmore, 14. Franklin Pierce, 15. James Buchanan, 15. Abraham Lincoln, 17. Andrew Johnson, 18. U.S. Grant, 19. Rutherford B. Hayes, 20. James Garfield, 21. Chester Arthur, 22. Grover Cleveland, 23. Benjamin Harrison, 24. Grover Cleveland, 25. William McKinley, 26. Theodore Roosevelt, 27. William Howard Taft, 28. Woodrow Wilson, 29. Warren Harding, 30. Calvin Coolidge, 31. Herbert Hoover, 32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 33. Harry Truman, 34. Dwight David Eisenhower, 35. John F. Kennedy, 36. Lyndon Johnson, 37. Richard Nixon, 38. Gerald Ford, 39. Jimmy Carter, 40. Ronald Reagan, 41. George herbert Walker Bush, 42. Bill Clinton, 43. George W. (Dubya) Bush, 44. Barack Obama.
Learning anything new seems difficult at times, but it is not as hard as it looks.  Chain seven eight nine or ten presidents' names at a time. It will seem easier if you learn them in smaller groups.  
Also look for patterns. While teaching a class how to memorize the names of presidents, I had a silly moment and I joked that “Tyler poked Taylor.” (This would be the 10th, 11th and 12th presidents, John Tyler, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor.) I was surprised to discover that the students liked my little joke and later in the semester they would still say “Tyler poked Taylor.”  They used it as a fun way to remember the order of these three presidents.
I also note the initials of the first seven. WAJ M MAJ. There is a pattern.

See what you can do  with your chaining.