Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Picmonic Uses Mnemonics to Make Science Memorable

Science, especially at the higher levels, can be especially challenging for students to learn. There’s much terminology to recall, and concepts are often so abstract that many learners struggle to keep up. Enter Picmonic (picture + mnemonic), an insightful and creative way to make seemingly arbitrary information truly memorable.

Picmonic uses an audiovisual method for teaching science. Although there is material for K-8th grader students, Picmonic specializes in medical content, making it a fantastic resource for students preparing for the MCAT or actually enrolled in medical school courses. Here’s how it works: Each concept is represented by a detailed, cartoonish picture depicting all of the important aspects. The relationship between the picture and the concept is tough to discern at first, but audio narration takes students through the different parts of the picture, explaining how each part of the image connects with real scientific concepts.

For instance, an 8th-grade-level card with a typically wacky tableau teaches about Charles Darwin and how he developed the theory of natural selection. The 80-second narration begins on the left, where a dolphin balances a cherry on its nose. “Cherry dolphin, Charles Darwin,” explains the narration. Atop the cherry is a British flag, to cue the memory that Charles Darwin was English. Next to the dolphin is an island, shaped like a golden goose. (“Golden goose, Galapagos.”) A bearded man is sitting cross legged with a book called Natural Selection on his lap. He isn’t wearing any clothes; this “natural outfit,” explains the narration, is to remind the learner that he was a naturalist. Perched in a tree above Darwin are three gray birds with thick, green beaks and a bag labeled “nuts.” On nearby islands are similar gray birds, except that the birds on one island have thin beaks that they’re using to drink from flowers and others on a separate island have pointed beaks they’re using to eat worms. A large, green monster has red plumage and a hapless bird foot protruding from its mouth, reminding learners that brightly colored birds were not adapted to the Galapagos because they were too easily spotted by predators.

All of this is explained in less than a minute and a half, and the images are so strange and memorable that it would be difficult to forget either the terminology or the concepts illustrated.

Students can select either “Classic” or “Creative” audio to explain the image to them. The creative audio sometimes takes the form of a jingle or rap and sometimes that of a narrative story with a plot. We recommend listening to both, though the creative audio seems to work best after the classic has already established the basic facts.

One aspect of the Picmonic we really like is the rating scale that appears at the bottom of each card. Once a student has learned the material, he can quantify his grasp of the concepts on a scale of one through five by indicating whether he “doesn’t know it” (1), “gets it” (5) and anywhere in between. The card will then go into a “pile” of cards with the same rating so students will know what they need to review and what they don’t.

Interested? You can try Picmonic for free to get a sense of whether this style of learning is right for you or your student. All of Picmonic’s content is available for either a monthly subscription fee or a one-time fee.

Photo credit: Flickr:  Ano Lobb

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