Mind games: why pupils “grow stupid” during the holidays?

Ігри розуму: чому школярі «тупішають» під час канікул?

Neurophysiologist Victoria Kravchenko explains on what principle our brain chooses what to forget and what to remember for a long time.

Several times a year pupils go on long-awaited holidays and, as teachers often say, they successfully “forget everything they were taught”. But is the learning material may be so easily forgotten and how to avoid total “mental enfeeblement” related to the rest?

Victoria Kravchenko, Candidate of Biological Sciences, Dean of Faculty of Physiology and Anatomy at the Educational and Scientific Centre “Institute of Biology and Medicine” of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, has lifted the veil of secrecy especially for Innovation House.

нейрофізіолог Вікторія Кравченко

Neurophysiologist Victoria Kravchenko

We remember what we have learned

Victoria Kravchenko believes that the speed of learning material forgetting depends on several factors.

First of all, this depends on learning outcomes and physiological state of the pupil on the eve of holidays. For example, chronic stress and sleep deprivation contribute to the fact that learning material “goes in one ear and out the other”.

If knowledge and skills were often used during the semester, two-week break will have no major influence on handling speed of familiar operations. If learning material is “fresh”, it is more likely to be forgotten.

In sober fact, “loss” of some knowledge during the holidays is not the sign of low intelligence, but the property of the nervous system not to support the operation of neural pathways that are not used (use it or lose it).

Human brain processes a huge amount of information every single day. It erases old and unnecessary information in parallel with “uploading” of the new information. “Erasing” process is mainly occurred during sleep, when the ties between the neurons that were not used several times during the day (learning material that was not repeat) are weakened.

If learning material is not repeated, then 70% of it is forgotten during the first 24 hours

Since the time of pioneer studies undertaken by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, it has been proven on many occasions that if any learning material is not repeated, then 70% of it is forgotten during the first 24 hours, and another 10% is forgotten during the second day. And this is not the stopping point of information erasing.

For this very reason, when the school holidays are over it is much harder for pupils to cope with the tasks that were easily solved before.  

How not to lose your knowledge

Even though forgetting is a normal process for the human brain, we can and we shall fight with it to keep up the knowledge level. The brain shall be given some “pointers” that certain material shall not be forgotten, and there are several options for how to do this.

First of all, we shall use mnemonic techniques while we are learning – apparent connections, consonant words, and other examples that need some skills and efforts exerted by the pupil.

Secondly, we shall repeat the information on a regular basis, despite the holidays. Moreover, there is absolutely no need to do this is the same way as this was done during the school lesson.

In a perfect world, during the holidays pupils shall spend some time every day to repeat important and complex learning material. Thus, on a cellular level systemic changes occur, and they lead to creation of greater number of ties between the neurons involved in the process of memorable trace formation.

There is every chance to avoid “mental enfeeblement” during the holidays. All that is required is to use proper knowledge, constantly experimenting with the format.

All-time favorite option of pupils and students – “to study everything at the very last minute” allows us to recall the learned material only once, during the exam, for instance. But, information obtained in such a way does not pass the necessary stages of consolidation process with the involvement of hippocampus (part of brain’s limbic system), since regular repetitions interspersed with good quality sleep is the precondition for this.

Most of the pupils are not be very enthusiastic about constant repetition, therefore to combat the loss of knowledge, they may use the creative approach. Victoria Kravchenko advises to create board game with cards of assorted colors (color will correspond to certain school subject) with tasks (algebraic equations, country names, physical formulas, units of measure, historical dates, etc.). Participants shall be offered to choose cards of assorted colors each after each. This is a discrete repetition form, it arouses the competitive spirit. Small carefully considered rewards trigger the dopamine neurons of participants and encourage them to play the game again and again.

There is every chance to avoid “mental enfeeblement” during the holidays. All that is required is to use proper knowledge, constantly experimenting with the format.