Winter Break Brain Dump

Combatting the Winter Break “Brain Dump”

The stretch of time between the fall and spring semesters affects us the same way each year—we get sluggish, we’re in food comas after eating lots of home cooked food again, and we have little motivation to do anything related to school or education. As easy as it is to let all the knowledge we’ve absorbed over the first semester slip away, there must be a way to keep that info in our heads. Is there a possibility that all of that loss of knowledge is somehow a psychological phenomenon we all go through?

Elizabeth Roderick, a junior psychology student who focuses on neuroscience, explained that psychologically there is a reason to lose knowledge between semesters. “When we learn new information, new neural pathways and connections are formed. As we practice that new skill of piece of information, the pathway is strengthened and we remember it more easily,” she said. “However, if we stop using the pathway it becomes weak, and could eventually die off. It’s a process called neural pruning. Over the school year, we practice using these pathways constantly, but when we are on a long break we don’t use the pathway nearly as often and it becomes weak.”

Nothing is worse than having to relearn something. Gina Geletei, a junior English and education student, chimed in, “Long breaks are good for the students because it gives them a chance to debrief from the extensive learning they go through, but at the same time, the students often lose a lot of what they learned over the break.”

On the other hand, Roderick believed, “As far as long breaks go, I’m not sure that they’re as beneficial as they seem at first glance. First and foremost a lot of students experience a lapse in knowledge when they are away from school.”

Roderick added, “However, many students also experience a lot of anxiety during the school year that could be mitigated by having more short breaks and spreading the information across a longer time span rather than cramming it all in and having long breaks.”

For college students, the break between fall and spring semester is much needed, and something we all look forward, to as it is the only time we get a chance to breathe.

Michael Waters, professor of English, says, “The huge gap between the Fall and Spring semesters makes it hard to carry the information we’ve learned forward.” Waters continues, “The four years you spend at a college or university is supposed to help you build the bridge between your courses, which seem unrelateable. Students think that the disciplines don’t connect, but in reality, they do.”

All of the knowledge we’ve gained through being so studious during the semester goes out the window over the weeks we get to relax. Geletei said, “I think it is important for the students to be engaging in learning while they are on the break to ensure they do not forget everything they learned, and do not check out of school completely.”

How do we combat this loss of hard-earned knowledge? Geletei suggested: “Practice. You have to stay in the mode of school and keep practicing and studying. If you take the time to completely check out, you are going to completely lose the knowledge. If you stimulate your brain and keep studying and keep working but for less extensive periods, you will retain more.” What should we, as college students, be doing to help retain this knowledge?

There are numerous options we can choose from. A favorite of mine is heading out to my local Barnes & Noble to just sit and read. When it comes closer to the beginning of the spring semester, I would spend hours just sitting in the café, working out the costs of books and working out my schedule to just keep my mind busy and working.

Roderick suggested, “A great way for students to combat a ‘brain dump,’ as we sometimes call it, is to actively seek out opportunities to practice what you’ve learned. I know it doesn’t sound glamorous or relaxing, but picking up a research article to read, or finding a practice book filled with problems to work on is a great way to keep all of the information fresh in your mind.”

Geletei, a future elementary school teacher, explained what this phenomenon means for her career, stating, “The benefit as a future educator is that I get the breaks with the students. I will be able to relax from the stress of teaching and be able to catch up on my lesson plans, grading, and spending time with my friends and family.”

However, there are negative consequences for teachers having a long break. Geleti added, “The detriment as a future educator is that when we come back I am going to have to spend more time than I would like to, and time that I do not really have built in my curriculum, re-teaching material to refresh my students’ memory.”

It’s true that there really isn’t enough time in the world to remember every single thing we have been taught throughout our educational careers; but, over break, we lose a significant amount of that knowledge. Roderick commented that, “A loss of knowledge between semesters could be detrimental to academic performance.”

Geletei left us with a lasting memento to remember for the future that we could all take advantage of: “Kids need a break and so do students and so do faculty. Everything is good in moderation, and you have to know yourself and know what is good for you and how you can avoid losing important information over these breaks.”

While it’s tempting to block out the mental image of your finals study guide, we can’t forget to keep our brains working. Remember over break to take time for yourself to relax and de-stress, but don’t forget to keep your mind working a little every day!