The Magnificent Seven is a highly illustrated children’s book which teaches students how to use the method of loci to remember their seven times table (further tables coming). They can take this new technique and apply it to other list-style items they need to learn. It gives them meta-cognition: an understanding of the learning process itself.
The method of loci is an extraordinarily successful technique used by World Memory Champions to memorise their wins. It is a very old technique, used by both Ancient Greeks and Roman orators to memorise their long speeches (if you read off the paper you weren’t really a philosopher). It is based on the knowledge that humans are best at remembering things visually, using spatial locations – most likely as we were cave dwellers who had to look across the horizon a lot for threats and landmarks for navigation. Spatial locations – for our own survival, so we are not wandering around getting lost – go very quickly from short term to long term memory. It is something we intuitively understand.
So the method of loci ties the things we are trying to remember to long term spatial memories.
Here’s how it works. You visualise a place you know really well. Your own home is a great start. Then you have to imagine a path through your home. On the front doorstep, through the door, past the stairwell, turn right into your living room. And so on.
At each location you ‘place’ your item.
So if you were trying to remember a shopping list with eggs, plants, toothpaste and milk, you would start on your doorstep and put down the eggs.
- Oh no! Someone has egged your front doorstep! There’s yolk everywhere, yuk.
- On to the front door. There’s a Christmas wreath on there made out of some lovely plants you picked yesterday.
- Through the door, and past the stairwell where someone has scribbled ‘Hasta La Vista Baby’ with a tube of toothpaste on the floor. Tsk. Toothpaste everywhere.
- Turn right into your living room and there’s, surprisingly, a cow standing there waiting to be milked, mooing uncontrollably.
I’ll bet you remember that shopping list now. I’ll bet you remember it tomorrow! Stories and locations are the key to remembering items.
It is important to know that this method doesn’t increase understanding (that’s what the Real Times Tables are for) – it just lets the students access the products from their memory consistently and accurately.
The beauty of this technique is that it is a meta cognitive strategy – the children are learning how to to learn. Once they’ve used this technique to remember one times table they can apply it to other times tables or other lists of facts (vocabulary of a foreign language for example). It won’t help them understand any better, but they’ll be able to recall them when they need to. This helps reduce maths anxiety and lets them get on with the problem solving.
For a greater understanding of this method, visit this TED talk by Joshua Foer. Foer is a science writer who ‘accidentally’ won the U.S. Memory Championship.