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Helping students make connections

Encourage and help students to make connections with their prior knowledge.
I think it’s particularly important because it enables children to see the need for a particular subject. Particularly say, if they’re using math and science and they will know to see the use of that maths in a different situation, which might make them enjoy it more. And also excel more in it, because they will see the purpose of it. And we also tried to encourage connections within mathematics or within science. For example, in mathematics, if you’ve been teaching the children about vertical addition and then move on to money. We would like to think that the maths involved in the money relates to the appropriate level of vertical addition they were previously taught.
Yeah, I find cross curricular work is really helpful because it then threads through all of the learning to get a really deep understanding of whatever that thing is. And it’s no good if it’s kind of fast or if there’s a genuine link. And it can cross between different subjects, I think it really enhances the learning of that particular thing. I mean it was because we covered it science recently, but my children were making connections between their muscle groups. PA for instance, and which one we’re using and stuff like that. But we had just covered it, to be fair.
[LAUGH] So we do a topic based approach, or we try and focus quite a lot on real life experiences to show children how that relates to the real world, and it helps them just tie those things. It gives them a point and a reason of learning to show that actually this is what’s going to happen in real life. Yeah, we’ve worked hard on conclusions so we’ve followed this peel approach where you make the point. You explain what you found out, and then you evaluate the experiment, then you make that link to real life. So it’s always with the science and I guess with other topics as well that we’re making that link back to real life.
And it’s mainly just a discussion, I work in year six, so we get to talk a lot about things that we’ve learned and how it links. And they ask a lot of questions as well so that really helps promote the discussion.
The image below shows two key regions in the brain for building knowledge. These regions in the pre-frontal cortex help detect the fit of incoming knowledge with what’s already known and retrieving this prior knowledge. Other areas of the pre-frontal cortext are involved in processes of connecting new incoming knowledge with this prior knowledge (Brod et al., 2013).
Two fMRI images. The first highlighting activity in the lower frontal lobe, the second highlighting activity in middle and top of the frontal lobe and parietal lobe.
In school children, up to late teenage years, these regions (particularly those responsible for making connections) are known to be relatively immature, and this can disadvantage them in making use of prior knowledge even when they possess it. Their neural circuitry for this connection-making process is still developing
It is, therefore, important that teachers encourage and help students to make connections with their prior knowledge. This helps make the new knowledge meaningful and memorable. A connection between a new concept and what has been taught before may seem obvious to an adult teacher, but perhaps not to a child whose frontal cortex is still developing.
In the video above, teachers discuss how they make connections between what students already know or have experienced within their lives and across the curriculum.


Understanding that some children’s prefrontal cortex is still developing emphasises the need to consider individual differences in progress, and the different levels of support which students will need. What implications does this have for you in the classroom?
In your lessons you will use a variety of ways to find out what students already know in order to inform your teaching. For example, you may ask students to draw a mind map of what they already know about a new topic. But what about those students who find this too difficult – those who may have the prior knowledge, but don’t realise that it links to the new topic or can’t recall it?
How do you support those students to make those all-important connections?
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