Improve Your Child's Retention with Flash Cards

With the jump to smartphones and other technology, flash cards have come a long way in recent years. Their popularity has led to new questions about how students can most effectively use the learning tools. A group of enterprising math experts think they've found the key.

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Technology Driving Innovation

Perhaps you made flash cards on index cards or scraps of paper when you were a student. Flash cards are time-tested learning tools. They help students practice everything from vocabulary words to the periodic table of the elements.

While you may be familiar with flash cards as a study aid, you may not think much about the precise intervals of time you should take between studying flash cards or other scientific methods for optimizing your retention. But with so many software developers creating flash cards for the iPhone, iPad and other electronic tools, these questions are being asked.

A New Studying Model

Theories linking timing methods to learning have existed for decades. Until recently, they were difficult to test and implement in the real world. When a software developer creates a flash card app, the opportunity for putting these theories into practice becomes a tangible possibility. A group of friends, including Tim Novikoff, Steve Strogatz and Jon Kleinberg, discovered this as they created Flash of Genius.

Novikoff is a graduate student in applied mathematics at Cornell, while Strogatz and Kleinberg are professors of applied mathematics and computer science, respectively. Their smartphone app helps students with vocabulary as they prepare for the SAT.

While many generic flash card apps employ arbitrary content review schedules, the creators of Flash of Genius use a mathematical model for scheduling the introduction of new material and continuing the review of old material. It's based on findings from psychologists that each time a student reviews a concept, the interval before that concept needs to be reviewed again grows. With a flash card app, the technology can respond to the student's unique spacing needs relative to the content being learned.

Learning Smarter

The three Flash of Genius creators recently published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the journal, they describe what they discovered as they developed the mathematical model for their app. They suggest three unique methods for scheduling material for optimal learning.

First, there is the Recap Method, which is intended for fast learning. Second, there is the Hold-Build Method; this method is ideal for students who learn best with a quick repetition of new material. Finally, there is the Slow Flash Card Method, which is just what the name suggests.

Employing these methods effectively with old fashioned flash cards may be impractical and complicated. However, one of the expectations following the publication of the paper is that other software developers can emulate Flash of Genius. If so, smarter apps may be arriving on phones everywhere in the near future.

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