52 in 52 Book Summaries

Book Summary: A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley

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A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley

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The Essence

Many of the most challenging domains to study are like a two-step authentication process; to comprehend the material is not sufficient, the learning systems surrounding those concepts are just as essential. This is why the learning process itself is an art. Barbra Oakley addresses our learning deficiencies by reviewing the literature on retaining new information, and provides us strategies that have empirically been found to help students excel in fields that are commonly stigmas for being ‘hard’. Language, Math, and the Sciences are disciplines accessible to everyone. However, students ought to learn the dominate pedagogy of such fields. As Oakley describes, it is all about learning in chunks, and consolidating the chunks into a larger mental representation that can be applied to more complex matters further down the road in whatever you are learning. All of which is mediated be balancing between the varying modes of thought; focused and diffused. A Mind for Numbers significance extends far beyond that of the natural sciences; it explains how to become a better problem solver in any instance.

 A Mind for Numbers Journal Entry Notes:

This is my book summary of A Mind for Numbers. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh and mix of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. Sometimes, to my own fault, quotes are interlaced with my own words. Though rest assured, I am not attempting to take any credit for the main ideas below. The Journal write up includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

  • The patient ability to keep working away, a little bit at a time is important.
  • We learn a great deal from our failures. With each mistake we are making progress towards a deeper understanding.
  • Law of Serendipity: Lady Luck favors the one who tries.
  • Learn to focus on process, not product. The flow of time, and the habits and actions associated with that flow are far more important than the outcome.
  • Pomodoro technique. Calmly put forth your best effort for the period.
  • Metaphors are powerful tools for learning in math and science.
  • The key to learning is the balance of the modes of thought. We cannot always be focused (highly attentive), and we cannot always be diffused (resting state), it is a balance.
  • Einstellung Effect: an idea you have in your mind already or the simple initial thought presents a better idea or solution from being found. You must unlearn your erroneous older ideas even while you’re learning new ones.
  • Avoid Einstellung, accepting the first idea that comes to mind when you are working on an assignment or test can prevent you from finding a better solution.
  • Procrastination can mean only leaving enough time to do superficial focused mode learning. A long with additional stress, the result is a faint and fragmented neural pattern that will soon disappear due to its shaky foundation.
  • Use it or lose it: If you don’t make it a point to repeat what out want to remember, your “metabolic vampires” can suck away the neural patterns related to that memory.
  • You may think you’re learning in between checking your phone messages but in reality, your brain is not focusing long enough to form the solid neural chunks that are imperative to strong mental representations.
  • Transform distant deadlines into daily ones.
  • Beware of the illusions of competence.
  • Change your thoughts, change your life.
  • The best language programs incorporate structured practice that includes plenty spaced repetition and rote focused mode learning of the language, along with more diffused like free speech with native speakers. The goal is to embed the basic words and patterns so you can speak as freely and creatively in your new language as you do in English.
  • When learning a new concept, do not let it go untouched for longer than a day. Further, trying to learn ‘everything’ in a few cram sessions doesn’t allow time for neural structures to become consolidated in the warehouse (long-term memory).
  • One significant mistake students sometimes make in learning math and science is jumping into the water before they learn to swim.
  • Imagine how your calf muscles would scream if you prepared for a big race by waiting till midnight before your first marathon to do your first practice run. That is the same as cramming. You cannot compete if you just cram at the last minute.
  • Generating (recall) the material helps you learn it much effectively than simply rereading.
  • Testing effect: testing is a powerful learning experience. It changes and shows you what you know and improves retention of material.
  • We procrastinate about things that make us feel uncomfortable. But it is only the anticipation. Eat the frog: Start!
  • Working memory has only so many things it can hold at once. Working memory is the part of memory that has to do with what is immediately and consciously processing in your mind.
  • We must CHUNK:
    1. Focus your attention on the information you want to chunk.
    2. Understand the basic idea you are trying to chunk (this is like the super glue that holds the memory together).
    3. Gain context so you can see not just how, but also when to use this chunk.

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what was discussed in A Mind for Numbers.

  1. Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential by Barbara Oakley
  2. How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less by Cal Newport
  3. 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less) by Thomas Frank

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