Brainscape App & computer based learning for spaced Repetition & recall - Mr Beattie

A key aspect of learning in the classroom, is the consolidation that takes place of that learning. BBCactive, in an article on retrieval stated 'discovering how to improve memory recall is one important factor in this; it allows students a better understanding of the subject they’re studying and can also help enhance exam performance.'

Formative assessment allows us to evaluate the learning that is currently taking place live in our classrooms, but what about a week after the learning experience, or the next month, or midway through the next term. How do we know that knowledge and understanding has been retained by our pupils? and how can we place the pupil in charge of that consolidation and recall?

Keith Anderson our principal teacher of physics uses an App called brainscape. Which according to its creators is, 'a synchronous web and mobile flashcard program designed to improve the retention of declarative knowledge. It is different from other spaced-repetition flashcard programs in that its pattern for re-assessment is based not on a random algorithm nor on the user’s past history of correctness, but rather on the user’s own judgment of confidence in each piece of information – a process that Brainscape calls Confidence-Based Repetition (CBR).'

A computer program that promotes self regulation and metacognition. Putting the learner in charge of their recall, allowing for confidence to be built in their subject knowledge. This almost sounds too good to be true.

Mr Anderson has kindly agreed to talk us through Brainscape and how he uses it at Harris Academy.

I’ve been using ‘flashcards’ as a revision tool for several years now. I buy little packs of coloured record cards from the supermarket, and pupils are encouraged to make their own notes on the cards.

I encourage the pupils to write a word or name of a concept on the front of the card (e.g. “acceleration”), and then an explanation on the back. The explanation can be really short and simple, or may be in several parts, depending on the level of study.

These cards can be used in class, at home, alone or with a buddy, a family member… they can be used in many different ways. Pupils have enjoyed using them to learn.

It reinforced the theory of improving memory and recall through short, sharp bursts of revision, carried out at increasing time intervals. Revise it now (in class). Revise it again 30 minutes from now. Do it again in a few hours. Wait a few days and revise it again.

With the increasing prevalence of mobile phones, tablets and so on, I wanted to find something that replicated the ‘flashcard’ revision experience but in an electronic format.

Something that could be done ‘on the go’ (sitting on the sofa, while on the bus, at a friend’s house…). Something that uses an APP!

I chose Brainscape. This can be accessed online at www.brainscape.com, and there are apps available on Android and iOS. It’s free for pupils to access. They need to sign up using an email account.

Here is a short illustration of how it works:
Students can choose how many cards they want to study. It can be as little as 10, or up to infinity! (but not ‘beyond’)
Each flashcard displays some kind of question or prompt. I wrote all the flashcards for Harris Physics, and I chose to write them in the form of short questions. Students can create their own decks of flashcards if they want. However, I chose to create sets of flashcards myself as I wanted it to be immediate and accessible to students. The content is all there when they log in.
Tapping the screen brings up the answer. The next bit is really important. The student is asked to rate their learning for that particular piece of knowledge. This information is used by the app to determine how often the student sees that card. Anything rated as 1 or 2 will re-appear quite soon, giving the student more opportunities to reinforce their learning. The student has responsibility for their own learning and the whole process constantly encourages them to evaluate their understanding of the concepts covered.
The main screen of the app lets the student see their overall ‘mastery’ (as a percentage), and for each topic, the proportion of different ratings. At any point, students can search a global library for decks of cards on any topic they are interested in.
At present we are using Brainscape for N4, N5, Higher and Advanced Higher. In future I would like to be able to develop it for use in S1/S2/S3. I have really enjoyed creating content and using Brainscape. I think students have liked using it too. For Physics, it really complements the work we do in class, and it reminds students that there is more to Physics than just formulas!

Excellent stuff from our physics department. If anyone else uses something similar or has any queries or comments please get in touch at ddtbeattie520@glow.sch.uk or @LandTHarris.


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