Sunday, August 9, 2020

Miss Landers' Culture Corner

Grant Avenue School hosted an unusual meeting in the fourth-grade classroom of Alice Landers. Nervous students tried not to notice the dignitaries standing at the back. These had come to observe an addition Miss Landers made to the daily curriculum, a five-minute spot just before the two o'clock break. It might be anything the kids could expect to encounter in later years, intended to fire their interest--and it worked.

Mrs Rayburn, the principal, looked over Miss Landers' bio, commenting to another teacher named Doris. "She got her masters at age eighteen, with an IQ north of 200, and has been teaching for only a year now. Good heavens--the woman is a teenager!"

"I suppose," Doris ventured, "that makes it okay, since all the boys are in love with her."

The superintendent, a tall man with glasses, reviewed past offerings on his handout. "Hm. Intro to calculus; the 'equal' sign as balance in algebra; vocabulary examples like preception and perception; mentally multiplying two 4-digit numbers; The Three Cornered Hat in German. Impressive."

Doris scanned the song lyrics, intuiting the unfamiliar but simple words. Mein Hut es hat drei Ecke/ drei Ecke hat mein Hut/ und hat es nicht drei Ecke/ denn ist es nicht mein Hut! 

Miss Landers drew a "brain" as a large circle filled with dots. Black hair was smartly pinned over white blouse and black skirt, and her heels made those of the other teachers look cheap by comparison. She dusted hands and faced the room. "Our topic today is how memory works. First we'll introduce a new word--mnemonic." She explained it as a memory trick.

A hand went up. Beaver Cleaver cast a snide glance at Judy, aka teacher's pet. "Miss Landers, some of us are more glory seekers than others."

"Not at all, Theodore." She used his formal name in rebuke. "Judy enjoys school work, just as you boys enjoy building kites and model planes. That's why you're good at it." She let that sink in before drawing a line between two dots. "It's thought that memories are stored on links between neurons. If this is a name or date you crammed the night before a test, it's awfully hard to find that one spot at test time." She reached up as if searching for an elusive test answer. "Watch what happens when we use a memory aid. Can anyone tell us which number our president is?"

Judy: "He's number 34, Miss Landers." She stuck out her tongue at Beaver.

"Correct. Let's cement that in memory." She wrote 34 next to Dwight D. "Three and four make seven, which is the number of letters in his first name and middle initial." She drew links to other dots. "His last name is Eisenhower, and he's the president." More lines, until this datum spanned six neurons. "This gives you a much better chance of hitting one of these links, any of which will lead to the answer."

The dignitaries applauded, and the super posed a challenge. "Isn't that an extravagant use of memory?"

"Not when you consider how we only use ten percent of it in a lifetime." With the five minutes expired, students were dismissed for a short break.

A proud principal led the visitors up front. "Marvelous, Miss Landers. Your class knows a song in German, and can explain how calculus finds areas. They're learning vocabulary, grammar, and history beyond their years. I'd like the other teachers to do something similar."

Fellow teacher Doris mumbled something about the advantage of a 200 IQ.

Miss Landers jotted that down. "That would make a good topic. It's thought that IQ is fluid, not set in stone. I'll approach it as mental bandwidth, the amount of data you can juggle in your temporary registers, otherwise called working memory."

Don't you just hate her, Doris thought, but not without grudging admiration.

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