Not to brag, but I’m pretty good at math. It is something that has always seemed to come naturally to me. I read this book after hearing about it on the Bravewriter podcast. I think the author did an excellent job summarizing some of the techniques that I unknowingly used as student. She also presents some ideas that were new to me. Seeing it all written out will help me make sure my kids develop good learning habits.
Title: A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if you Flunked Algebra)
Author: Barbara Oakley
Publication Year: 2014
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Review: This book provides several useful tips for studying and retaining knowledge. Most of it does not apply specifically to math and science, but just learning in general. A lot of it is also common sense and techniques that I followed naturally growing up. However, it is nice to see it all outlined.
For example, one of the areas the author discusses is focused vs. diffused thinking. In the focused mode, you really try to narrow your thinking to the problem at hand. In the diffuse mode, you are more relaxed and your mind wanders. The author recommends starting with focused mode, but then taking breaks and doing something else to allow diffuse thinking to take over. This prevents the Einstellung effect, where your mind gets stuck on the wrong solution and is unable to come up with anything else.
She also hammers home the importance of getting enough sleep to allow knowledge to move from our short term to long term memory. Also multi-tasking and procrastination are bad and it’s good to break a problem into smaller more manageable chunks. We all know these things. However, the author really makes it clear WHY we need to follow these guidelines and gives helpful tips and suggestions for acting on this knowledge.
Another area she discusses, which is logical, but not necessarily obvious, is the best way to study. She makes the point that simply re-reading material does not ensure that you understand and retain the information. It is far better to force yourself to recall the information. This can be done by reworking difficult problems or using flashcards.
One of the techniques that I was unfamiliar with is the Pomodoro technique. Basically, you overcome procrastination and move towards your goal by setting a timer for 25 minutes and working hard for that amount of time. I could see that being useful.
There are also suggestions for improving your memory, such as creating a memory palace technique or creating a visual metaphor. However, I recommend Moonwalking with Einstein if you are specifically interested in memory techniques.
Overall, this book is worth reading, especially if you feel your study techniques could use improvement. Maybe the strongest message this book imparts is the belief that your ability to excel at difficult subjects CAN improve. It just takes a plan, hard work, and concentrated effort.
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