Math PK-2

Working Memory

Factor Connections

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How Working Memory connects to...

Working Memory, a component of executive functioning, allows a person to temporarily hold and manipulate information to apply in other processes. With our Working Memory, we recall and apply the knowledge stored in our Short- and Long-term Memories to help understand what we are learning. Working Memory is likely required for retaining information during math problem solving, in particular with more novel or complex problem types. When Working Memory is overtaxed, a math student can appear to have a poor attention span and be easily distracted because they struggle recalling and using information.

Main Ideas

Working Memory can also be called updating. An influential model of Working Memory is Baddeley's Model of Working Memory that lays out four components, each considered to have a limited capacity:

  • The Central Executive directs the activities of the following three systems, including shifting and focusing attention among them.
  • The Phonological Loop processes spoken and written information through temporary storage and repetition.
  • The Visuospatial Sketchpad processes visual and spatial information by displaying and manipulating information on what things look like. It also displays and manipulates information pulled from storage in Long-term Memory.
  • The Episodic Buffer links visual, spatial, and verbal information, as well as allows Long-term Memory to interact with the systems of Working Memory. It is currently the least understood system.

Cognitive Load is another important element of Working Memory and refers to the amount of mental effort being expended by Working Memory during different tasks. Cognitive Load Theory proposes that instruction can be designed in a way to reduce Cognitive Load. It also differentiates between different types of Cognitive Load:

  • Intrinsic: The cognitive load that results from characteristics of the content being learned by the student;
  • Extraneous: The cognitive load that results from how the content is presented to the student; and
  • Germane: The cognitive load required to create permanent schema in long-term memory. Schema refers to underlying concepts or knowledge. Once schema are made, it is easier to hold information that fit within those schema in Working Memory.

Learn More

  • Cognition & Memory: Topic that includes cognitive science theories about how the brain processes information on Digital Promise's Research Map
  • Combating Cognitive Overload: Module by Sanford Inspire
  • Working Memory: Subtopic that describes the function of the brain's working memory on Digital Promise's Research Map

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