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November 4, 2014

The Fun of Teaching “Active Memory

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 12.13.19 pm

Glyde-In Centre, East Fremantle WA.

I have been teaching the “Active Memory” Program at our local Community Centre in East Fremantle WA. I have had four different classes combining Mac OS, Windows and Android,  for Desktops, Lap-tops and Tablets. How about that? (only  a CGP* would attempt that!)

Some classes were small, (only six) as we have only 6 Windows computers in the GLYDE-In Centre. If students brought  their own portable device, classes were between 9 and 20, I also had a couple on the waiting list! As I welcomed them into the class carrying their bags over their shoulders I was delighted that so many people were interested. Their age-group was roughly 30-80 I think, with many around 65-75

I must admit this BYO group was a bit chaotic the first time. We had such a variety of operating systems (some needing updating), some people completely happy with tablets, others who have never graduated to the trackpad on their laptop and needed a table for their mouse: some pretty ancient computers too that reportedly worked OK at home.  And of course everyone had to switch to the local WIFI with passcode which was an added burden for some!


I had made the assumption that if people were prepared to bring their digital device out-of-home , whatever it was, they must be pretty au fait with it! However it didn’t quite work out that way…….but we managed …..and everyone pitched in and helped each other. Thanks to the group for not being at all impatient!

During the following teaching term I limited attendance to people who had the skill to log on to Active Memory on their own device at home and bring their email address and password with them.  This produced many fewer applicants, so we also provided a separate I.T. Clinic for those having difficulty logging on, so that if they wished to attend they could be all prepared……thanks to volunteers and admin for that help.

Technology and teaching Active Memory: triple-tasking

I prepared a slide show to run across 2 sessions (1hour chat and 1hr practice X 2) and put it on a thumb drive. An excellent wide screen was used to capture in a variety of media, the ideas that I wanted to put across: photos, graphs, movies, journal publication, quotes from various scientists etc.. I drew from many sources, Science Journals, ABC, BBC, Active memory, Posit Science, Scientific American, New Scientist etc., and referenced most sources.. I involved the group in discussion at most points and so I was triple-tasking….. working the technology, holding on to my thoughts and developing ideas, and listening to and incorporating the group’s contribution.  I found that people with long long-term memories have much to contribute and many questions! It was good fun!Page_1






* Crazy geriatric psychologist

Crawling up Memory Mountain with “Active Memory”

August 16, 2014


My memory progress chart on the right records the agony of Try, Try, Try again on Memory Games!

The Agony of Memory Games!

The Agony of Memory Games!

Recently the feedback  charts have been changed and the Active Memory people have smoothed out My Progress  Chart (below left)……it doesn’t catch the agony any more, just the progress…

New Games being developed:

A Smooth Progression

A Smoother Progression

I have now done over 2000 plays of Active Memory in total.

And I am still motivated! Amazing!

I wrote in to ask about “TOT” (Tip of the tongue) problems and Josh replied that they have a lot of new games on the way which should help!

Don’t you hate it when you know that you know the name…it is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t quite retrieve it…

Also there are two new excellent posts on the ACTIVE MEMORY  BLOG: have a look!

Just click on the links below:

Why Your Brain needs to keep learning

How to remember names and faces

If you have any questions about Active Memory go to FAQ:




May 30, 2014

Memory                                                                    Graphic courtesy of

Three weeks further progress on “Active Memory”

May 30, 2014


My overall proficiency measure (see below) seems to be “flattening off” as I continue playing and move to higher levels. Each time I train (as opposed to “Freeplay”) my motivation and attitude are assessed on a 5-point scale, both before and after training. Presumably this is to get some measure of my ongoing commitment….whether I am getting a bit bored or hopefully keeping interested! The program developers will be well aware of the problems of people starting or trialling the program and then fading off. Good intentions….well you all know about that!

Training your brain can be FUN!

However they have made it quite clear that if you are serious about retuning your brain, improving your memory as you age etc., the games have to be FUN………..BUT

Prof. Bob Wood Florey Institute University Melbourne

Prof. Bob Wood
Florey Institute
University Melbourne


Professor Bob Wood of the Florey Institute says:

“It is not a short process it takes LOTS OF REPETITION OVER AN EXTENDED PERIOD with problems of frustration and boredom. IT REQUIRES COMMITMENT AND ENGAGEMENT ON THE TASK. This is where gaming comes in to make it fun!”

 In other words you need to want what this program is offering, have fun on the way and stick with it over time! Like most things in life, practice is essential!

And don’t forget you are also making a contribution to brain science!

My Progress

My Progress after 1200 plays

Active Memory: memory games

May 10, 2014

The ACTIVE MEMORY program : 1000 plays!

I have been working on the Active Memory program consistently over the past few weeks.  I enjoy it and find it motivating. Watching the graph of my progress on the three cognitive components that the program targets, attention, memory and flexibility is indeed interesting (see below)! I even find that I can cheat a bit on the memory games… long as I avoid one particular game (Flora Span) my memory improves! If you look at the graph below you can see that I have had about 1000 plays. However after some progress in the memory games the yellow line on my graph seems to hit a wall and descend drastically! (Note that the games have built in level changes, and I progress to the next level as long as I get three scores in a row that are HIGH…. ).

Visual Memory Failure

You can see that my memory failed after a certain number of items (see below) and then crawled back up with many disasters! until I worked out which memory game was making me fail. At about nine hundred plays I tested my theory and the yellow line dropped dramatically once again! So as long as I avoid that particular game I may be OK! What does that tell us about the Memory Games I wonder? By avoiding one game my memory can continue to progress with training, or is there a limit for all the memory games? We shall see…

Memory capacity

My failure I am sure, relates to current thinking about the limitations of working memory. Working memory lasts less than a minute, and has clear capacity limits, depending on the information. George Miller (1956) demonstrated that one can repeat back a list of no more than around 7 (plus or minus 2) randomly ordered, meaningful items or chunks (which could be letters, digits, or words). Some time ago when I was doing the Posit Science (Brain HQ) exercises such as “Listen and Do” I struggled to keep track of 3 or 4 items (sometimes only one or two) and made little progress even after long training. Some older people that I spoke to however were able to improve their memory capacity with training, but not often beyond 5 items. All felt fatalistic about their lack of improvement however hard they tried. In all probability they were really performing at their best given the accepted limited capacity of human working memory.

Visual Memory Failure using "Flora Span"

Visual Memory Failure using “Flora Span” Visual Memory failure


April 13, 2014

I am about halfway through assessment on the ABC ACTIVE MEMORY program. I am enjoying it …..the program  is simple and clear and my aim with each game is simply to get three scores in a row in the highest (green=95+) category. I keep getting in the middle category and sometimes in the lowest (failed?) group…..but I gradually improved (see below). It is decidedly challenging and fun!

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Screen shot of game results

Level of difficulty

The level of difficulty goes up when you get three high scores (green) in a row. Time (speed of processing ) is also involved in many of the games. For example if I am not quick enough to solve the spatial block diagrams (challenging!) they are whipped off my screen and I am given another to solve. Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 1.59.49 pmThe games (or tasks) are rather different from BRAIN HQ by Posit Science although both are considered to be training and measuring changes in memory, attention and flexibility in the brain.


The top graph (right) shows a combined score of all the different aspects of training and free play.

The lower graph shows the changes over time in


These three are vital to brain functioning at all times but particularly for older people. You can see my memory has hit some plateaus as the games get more difficult, however it is ATTENTION that requires attention!

There are recommended freeplay games if you want to play for more than the training period. Some games intrigue me and I play over and over to try to get three high scores in a row. There are no age norms available yet but that will be interesting when they have enough data.

Why not join and contribute to science, technology and aging?


REDESIGN MY BRAIN: Brain Plasticity and Todd Sampson 2013

April 2, 2014

At the end of last year Todd  Sampson (an enterprising  and humourous young man) presented  a series on ABC2 called “Redesign my Brain”.

Redesign My Brain

Redesign My Brain

“Todd puts brain training to the test as he undergoes a radical brain makeover in a three-part documentary series on the revolutionary new science of brain plasticity.”

Emeritus Professor Michael Merzenich from the University of California (and Director of “Posit Science” ) was a consultant to the progam.

 Improvement even at 90 or a 100 years old: reversibilityMerz

‘I can be 90 or 100 years old and I still advance [my brain] back in a more youthful-ward direction because many things are reversible,” Merzenich said.

‘We have to engage our brain as a learning machine. We have to challenge our brain. Then we need to work on those things that we know are likely to fade as we get older.’


The blurb for the DVD of the TV series makes large claims…... “It can turn an ordinary brain into a super brain in just three months. The fastest growing science on the planet, brain plasticity will revolutionize how we live in the future.”

Gaming in Australia 2014: the ABC and the Florey Institute

Till now the major producers of strong research-based brain training programs have been America and Europe. (Beware the light-weight programs that are heavily promoted on television and also appear as adverts on digital screens.)

Now Australia is adding its voice to the question of gaming as a means of brain training. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation in conjunction with the Florey Institute (Melbourne University ) one of the world’s leading neuroscience centres has commenced a game based project “ACTIVE MEMORY” on developing intellectual strengths. They have  also developed an algorithm that assesses brain improvement.

However on the issue of brain training Professor Bob Wood of the Florey Institute says:

Prof. Bob Wood Florey Institute University Melbourne

Prof. Bob Wood
Florey Institute
University Melbourne

“It is not a short process it takes LOTS OF REPETITION OVER AN EXTENDED PERIOD with problems of frustration and boredom. IT REQUIRES COMMITMENT AND ENGAGEMENT ON THE TASK. This is where gaming comes in to make it fun!”

welcome active memory

I have commenced  training on ACTIVE MEMORY and will be reporting the experience over time. …….watch this space!