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The Effectiveness of Musical Mnemonics in Teaching Biology: Kreb Cycle

ABSTRACT

Learning Biology involves mastering declarative knowledge (or facts) and mastering
procedural knowledge (or how to carry out a process). Kreb Cycle [or Tricarboxylic Acid/
TCA Cycle] is a topic requiring procedural knowledge. Students have to remember the
facts; and they must remember the order in which the steps of the reaction occur. The
students of Matriculation Colleges learn Biology in English, but English is not the first
language; as such my students have difficulty in remembering/retrieving the facts. The
purpose of this project is to help these students remember the facts correctly; and in the
right order. As a Biology teacher, I also have the advantage of employing modeling as
students learn by observing and imitating the teachers behavior. The results showed
that this approach enabled students to consolidate their memory processes; [t= 23.45,
p=.0005, df=144]. Based on the findings, I propose that musical mnemonics should be
used to facilitate memorization of other biological processes including Glycolysis and the
Calvin Cycle. As a memorization tool, musical mnemonics must meet several criteria in
order to be effective and I have suggested the criteria. The results of this study imply
that Biology can be successfully taught in English if teachers are innovative.

Keywords: Kreb Cycle, Tricarboxylic Acid/ TCA Cycle, procedural knowledge,


musical mnemonics, modeling
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BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE

Our existing knowledge is stored in our brain and encoded as constructs. New learning
is not understood unless it is connected to existing concepts, knowledge and
experience. Hence, new knowledge is linked to existing knowledge by the learner and
this process is constructivism. The links are stronger if they involve recent vivid
engrossing, multisensory experience (Petty, 2009).

A second aspect is that learning facts/declarative knowledge is different from learning


how to do something/ procedural knowledge (Michael, 2006). Kreb Cycle [or
Tricarboxylic Acid/ TCA Cycle] is a topic requiring procedural knowledge. The students
have to remember the facts; besides that, they must remember the order in which the
processes occur. This makes it more difficult to master procedural knowledge.

A third aspect concerning learning is that people learn through observing and imitating
other peoples behavior and attitudes (Bandura, 1977). The students need to observe
how I am able to draw a detailed Kreb Cycle from the information contained in the
mnemonics. This was termed modeling by Albert Bandura (1977). Modeling allows me
an opportunity to exercise a positive influence upon my students interest and passion
for Science.

The students of Matriculation Colleges learn Biology in English; all the sciences are
taught and tested in English, but English is not the first language of the majority of
students and lecturers. Students are able to understand the processes/steps of the Kreb
Cycle, but they have difficulty in remembering/retrieving the facts correctly and in the
right order, due to the fact that English is not their mother tongue. Several of my
students had even admitted to me that they had to learn in Malay, and then translate the
facts into English.

The purpose of this project is to help these students to remember the facts of the Kreb
Cycle correctly and in the right order.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Active learning takes place when constructivism links are forged between new and
existing knowledge by the student. Since the constructivism links are stronger if they
involve recent, vivid, engrossing, multisensory experience (Petty, 2009), I encourage my
students to use all learning sensory organs; all eyes and all ears. I use rhymes and
simple melodic mnemonic devices to aid in recall. The effective mnemonics are those
that utilize positive imagery, humour or novelty (Cherry, 2010). Mnemonics or
mnemonic devices are techniques that facilitate memory recall. Mnemonics make
memorization easier by making the process of consolidation, or conversion of short term
memory into long term memory, more efficient. Furthermore, by the usage of terms and
words that students were familiar, I hope to facilitate memorization.

Musical mnemonics that are used in this study work well when it is essential to
remember long lists. Some children manage to learn the alphabet by singing the ABC
song, at a very early age. Even though they cannot sing very melodiously, three year
olds can remember 26 items in correct sequence. Some of us have lost track of the
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number of nursery rhymes, folk songs, classical and popular songs that stay in our
memories. Congos (2006) had cited Gerald Miller who in 1967 had already found that
students who used mnemonics increased test scores as much as 77%.

Research has shown that musical mnemonics facilitated superior learning and memory
retention in healthy adults as well as in patients with multiple sclerosis. The latter group
was able to recall word order and sing back the words. The authors suggested that
musical learning accesses compensatory pathways for memory functions. It is probable
that music learning confers a neuro-physiological advantage through the stronger
synchronization of neuron assemblies underlying verbal learning and memory. The
authors concluded that melodic-rhythmic templates in music may drive internal rhythm
formation in recurrent cortical networks involved in learning and memory (Thaut,
Peterson & McIntosh; 2005).

A more recent study showed music mnemonics enhanced attention and improved
memory in patients of Alzheimer Disease [AD]. Music processing is generally spared by
the neuron degeneration of AD patients. These patients showed better recognition
accuracy for the lyrics that were sung, as compared to spoken lyrics of unfamiliar
childrens songs. The authors proposed that the brain areas serving music processing
are spared by AD, allowing a more holistic encoding that facilitated recognition, and that
music heightens arousal of AD patients producing better attention and improved memory
(Simmons-Stern, Budson & Ally; 2010).

The studies reviewed have shown that musical mnemonics had facilitated memory recall
of normal respondents as well as of respondents who were physically impaired.

METHOD

To teach Kreb Cycle, I use two tunes. Tune 1 is variation of Old McDonald had a farm.
The words that were chosen bear similarity to the actual organic acid names, and the
number of letters in each word show the number of carbon atoms of the actual
compound.
The sequence of organic acids Citrate IsocitrateKetoglutarateSuccinyl CoA
Succinate Fumarate Malate Oxaloacetate is remembered as Citrus, Isobel,
Ketty Sing, Sulk (n) Fume (on) Male Oxen. I have used terms and names that are quite
familiar to students of the national Malaysian culture.
To remember the steps of production of NADH, FADH, and ATP, I used tune 2. Tune 2
is a variation of Papa loves mama:
Step 1, it forms citrate; Step 2 isomerises it;
Step 3 needs NAD+; Step 4 needs NAD+; and CoASH;
Step 5 rids CoASH, gets ATP from GTP; Step 6 needs FAD;
Step 7 needs H2O; Step 8 needs NAD+; Goes back to OAA.

Since the constructivism links are also strengthened when they are used repeatedly by
the learner to describe and explain, (Petty, 2009; Cherry, 2010), I encouraged my
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students to sing the tunes often and teach them to their friends. I told them to imagine
three little girls riding on male oxen. That positive imagery and humour would be an aid
to remember Kreb Cycle.

Besides musical mnemonics, I had silently used modeling (Bandura, 1977). Students
must be allowed to observe and imitate the behaviors that enable me to draw a detailed
Kreb Cycle just from the information contained in the mnemonics. After all, learning is
essentially a social activity and we learn by observing teachers and peers. This also
shows why the teacher has such a great influence on students; teachers can exert a
great positive influence for Science.

At the first night class, I met 145 Biology students. They were randomly selected. All of
them came in casual attire since it was a night class. A pre-test was administered.
Then, I proceeded to teach them the two tunes and showed them on the IEE scanner
how to employ the tunes as an aid to recall the facts and processes of the Kreb Cycle.

The students had opportunity to observe how I was able to draw a detailed Kreb Cycle
from the information in the mnemonics. This was called modeling by Bandura (1977).
Learning is essentially a social activity and we learn by observing and imitating our
teachers and peers. Modeling also gave me the opportunity to exert a positive influence
on the students interest in Science. After that, a post-test was carried out. The data
collected at this meeting was analyzed. All statistical analyses were carried out using
SPSS.

I had another evening meeting with a second smaller group of 35 students. At both
meetings, I used musical mnemonics. Silently, I had employed modeling (Bandura,
1977). The second meeting was video-recorded using a Sony Videocam. The video is
available; it shows the success of this approach.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The pre-test mean score for the sample of 145 students was 4.12 [SD=4.75] of a total of
20. The mean score at the post-test increased to 13.81 [SD=3.16]. Paired samples t-
test showed a significant improvement in post-test scores [t= 23.45, p=.0005, df=144].
This showed that the use of musical mnemonics was effective in helping students retain
their knowledge of Kreb cycle procedures.

Paired Samples t-Test

Pretest scores- post t df p


test scores
(2-tailed)

-23.450 144 0.0005


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By the usage of terms and words with which students were familiar [like Citrus, Isobel,
Ketty, Sing, Sulk, Fume, and Male Oxen], I managed to facilitate memorization. Musical
mnemonics had made memorization easier by making the process of conversion of short
term memory into long term memory more efficient. Musical mnemonics provided the
vivid, engrossing, multisensory condition by which new knowledge was linked to existing
knowledge. Constructivism had occurred. Although my respondents had a handicap, in
that English is not their mother tongue, they have been helped by the approach
employed in this study.

At both meetings with students, I used musical mnemonics. Silently, I had used
modeling (Bandura, 1977). Modeling had allowed the students to observe and imitate
the teachers behavior and helped them to draw a detailed Kreb cycle, hence achieving
their learning objective. Modeling also allows me the golden opportunity to exert positive
influence on students attitudes towards Science.

The second meeting was video-recorded using a Sony Videocam; the CD is available.
The students showed evident interest. They were spontaneous in their responses to my
requests. When I asked to see the cycles they had drawn, they held up and waved their
paper. When I asked if they had got all the facts, they were unanimous in saying Yes.

Even though the respondents in this study were normal (as in Miller, cited by Congos
2006), not impaired by AD (as in Simmons-Stern, Budson & Ally; 2010) nor impaired due
to multiple sclerosis (as in Thaut, Peterson & McIntosh; 2005), I have obtained evidence
that musical mnemonics were able to improve memory and recall. It has facilitated
memorization of a biological process, namely the Kreb Cycle, for students whose mother
tongue is not English. The results of this study are parallel with previous research.

CONCLUSION

The students were able to achieve their learning objective, because the audible musical
mnemonics enabled them to consolidate their memory processes. The silent modeling
also helped them to achieve their learning objective. The findings are in line with
previous studies employing mnemonics.

Based on the findings, I propose that musical mnemonics should be used to facilitate
memorization of other biological processes including Glycolysis, Light Reaction of
Photosynthesis and the Calvin Cycle. Students should be encouraged to be more
independent and to compose their own mnemonics. Since we are using musical
mnemonics as a memory tool it implies that several criteria should be met in order that
the mnemonics will be effective. It is necessary that the lyrics be correct and concise or
as brief as possible; I have avoided unnecessary words. The lyrics should contain as
many key facts as possible because that will help the student to obtain the desired high
scores. Students should be able to draw a flow chart or diagram of the biological
process from the lyrics of the mnemonics. From the diagram they will be able to explain
the biological process in simple English without omitting the important facts. As for the
melody, I suggest that it should be simple and familiar or at least easy to learn. The
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rhythm of the song should allow the key words to be uttered clearly. I have expressed to
my students the hope that they will bear these criteria in mind when they need to create
their own musical mnemonics to facilitate memory recall in the future. It may be that
their self-created mnemonics be the most effective to help their own memorization.

The results of this study imply that Biology can be successfully taught in English
if teachers are innovative. It can be taught in an environment where the mother tongue
is the Malay language and not English. Even a wordy subject like Biology that requires
lengthy descriptions and explanations can be taught in English. This implies that the
teaching of Mathematics and the Sciences can also be carried out in English in our
national schools and colleges. PPSMI can be successful when teachers are innovative.
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REFERENCES

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Cherry, K. (2010). Top 10 memory improvement tips. Retrieved from http://www.


psychology. about.com/

Congos, D. (2006). Nine types of mnemonics for better memory. Retrieved from http://
www.learningassistance.com

Michael, J. (2006). Wheres the evidence that active learning works? Advan. Physiol.
Edu. 30: 159-167; doi:10.1152/advan.0053.2006

Petty, G. (2009). Evidence Based Teaching, 2nd Edition. Nelson Thornes: Cheltenham.

Reece, J., Urry, L., Cain, M., Wasserman, S., Minorsky, P. & Jackson, R. (2011).
Biology, 9th Edition. California: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Simmons-Stern,N.R., Budson,A.E., & Ally,B.A. (2010). Music as a memory enhancer in


patients with Alzheimers disease. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
pubmed/

Thaut,M.H., Peterson,D.A. & McIntosh,G.C. (2005). Temporal entrainment of cognitive


functions: musical mnemonics induce brain plasticity and oscillatory synchrony in
neural networks underlying memory. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
pubmed/
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Author:

Dr. Miranda P. Yeoh


Unit Biologi
Kolej Matrikulasi Selangor
42700, Banting
Selangor D.E.