"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Good Days, Bad Days, Good Moments, Bad Moments

We all experience "ups" and "downs". It should not be surprising then to see the performance of children in school to fluctuate from time to time. Measuring these changes to extract useful trends requires a good experimental design and statistical analysis. How the working memory works can be measured by tests that require remembering numbers (numerical) or positions of objects (spatial). These tests can be administered at different times of the day over several days and the variations in the scores can then provide a rough sketch of how working memory performance changes with time. Such an experiment has been performed on third and fourth grade students in Germany. The results suggest that mornings are better and that the degree of variation decreases as one goes from third to fourth grade.

The study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, investigated empirically how working memory performance in both numerical and spatial tasks changes in children moment to moment (within minutes), within a day (morning, noon, afternoon), and from day to day. The following graph shows how working memory performance varies across a day:

Graph based on data provided by
Fluctuations in Elementary School Children’s Working Memory Performance in the School Context.
Dirk, Judith; Schmiedek, Florian
Journal of Educational Psychology, Sep 21 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000076

In both numerical (remembering digits) and spatial tasks (remembering positions), children were found to perform better in the morning. Since the study covered several days, the fluctuations at various timescales could likewise be examined. Below is the graph showing separately third and fourth grade variance components at different timescales.

Graph based on data provided byFluctuations in Elementary School Children’s Working Memory Performance in the School Context.
Dirk, Judith; Schmiedek, Florian
Journal of Educational Psychology, Sep 21 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000076
A comparison between third and fourth grade students suggests that the older children's working memory performance tends to fluctuate less within a day. To understand these trends, the authors of the study emphasize that variations in working memory performance can be due to various reasons or mechanisms. Changes occurring within minutes are often due to distractions and the fact that a child's inhibitory control is not yet consistent. The difference between morning and afternoon is perhaps a matter of fact, that is, a child's cognitive capacity is best in the morning. Day to day changes may be due to how much sleep a child gets. Lack of sleep is of course expected to lead to a poorer working memory performance in the following day.

The above findings, of course, have several ramifications especially on how elementary education is provided in some public schools in the Philippines. Due to classroom shortage, multiple shifts are employed and in some cases, classes are even separated according to days. And when multiple shifts are not employed, the above results seem to suggest that scheduling of subjects may likewise have an impact. For example, it may be advantageous to have mathematics early in the morning and not at noon or in the afternoon. Lastly, the moment to moment variability is especially significant that it underscores how important it is for a teacher to have a sense of where his or her students are at a particular instant. This is perhaps one reason why the pupil to student ratio cannot exceed a certain number as classroom management begins to be a challenge and closely monitoring and attending to the needs of each student becomes impossible.

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