Memory and connection

It is gratifying when pupils make connections; which happened the other day, when I wrote the names of some metals on the whiteboard, all of them neuter nouns:

  • aurum
  • argentum
  • cuprum
  • plumbum
  • stannum

This was a class of fourteen-year olds, and the more observant of them immediately made the connection with the symbols Au, Ag, Cu, Pb, Sn, someone adding that these metals were elements.

What, I asked, was the symbol for bronze?  One boy promptly replied, “There isn’t one: it’s an alloy,” and further questioning established the metals used to make it.

We had been talking about coinage and metals in general; and the students were fascinated by the thought that much of the bronze used for the weapons at Troy contained tin from south-west England—which is our own area of the country.

Equally pleasing was the realisation that these students had memorised the chemical symbols. Things are looking up, I thought.

Now that inspectors give no advance notice of their arrival, the idea of a lesson being a showpiece—a free-standing event, following a fixed pattern, with little or no reference to anything else, is beginning to fade. Such a notion in any case runs counter to academic teaching, which is

  • exploratory
  • discursive
  • interactive.

A lesson is partly a conversation between pupils and teacher.  There is material that has to be covered, but the manner in which learning takes place is flexible and is adapted to the needs, and disposition, and even mood of the pupils in the room, and indeed the time that the lesson is taking place.

But equally important is that academic studies are about connection.One could go further and say that all learning is about connection, and certainly that is true of the way memory works.

The nexus of memory and connection that has resulted in the works of a Shakespeare or a Mozart seems to be the ultimate confirmation of this.