Brad Oatman wants his AP Psychology students to remember something. In fact, he wants them to remember quite a lot, and that’s part of the AP curriculum he follows. In studying psychology, students learn a wealth of information about how the human mind creates and manages memory. Those concepts figure prominently on the May AP exam. But, years ago, Mr. Oatman noticed a secondary effect of the memory unit in the class.
“We were working on the cognition module, which is module seven, right before winter break,” Mr. Oatman explains. “But, some of the kids started saying, ‘I wish you had taught me this earlier in the year. I could have used these skills from the start of the year.’” This led to a move of module seven to the beginning of the year, which Mr. Oatman has practiced for two years, now. He admits that some concepts jumble out of sequence because of the change, but he has also seen the obvious benefit as students use memory skills to tackle tests in his class and others.
On this Friday, the AP Psych students explored memory through retro games that even some of their own parents may not recall. The students gathered in teams to play games at seven stations, each of which offered a fun memory challenge. Some played memory or the tray game, but three of the stations featured hand-held electronic games that grabbed the cultural attention in the late seventies. Students picked up games like Merlin, Simon, or Atari’s Touch Me, accepting challenges brought forth through simplistic lights and buttons. In tackling these challenges, students practiced memory techniques like the link method or method of loci. Their success with these techniques earned them more points in the overall competition.
Mr. Oatman admitted to some anxiety in letting the students loose in a less structured activity, but that anxiety quickly evaporated as the results shone through. The time in the class flew, and students returned to school on Tuesday asking to do it again (a request Mr. Oatman politely declined due to lack of time). On the memory test that followed, students performed excellently and Mr. Oatman saw them using the tricks they had practiced to succeed.
Undoubtedly, these students will continue to use these tricks in AP Psych and elsewhere to excel. And maybe, just maybe, they may pick up an old Atari game again and smile as they beat it.