Monday, March 7, 2011

Formulas, Felines and Flash Cards

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When I was in school, one of my favorite professors, after rattling off a long and complex formula, looked at the blank faces in front of him and said, “Well, if you can't remember how we got the formula, just write it on a piece of paper and pin it on your cat so you'll see it every time the cat goes by.” (Or you can just look it up in our math software programs)

The cat lovers among us feigned horror but we also acknowledged two underlying truths – we tend to remember what we write, and the brain's natural ability to focus on moving objects can further cement mathematical information in our memories.

Despite the constant bombardment of information our brains experience on the web and the proliferation of electronic media our daily lives, there’s still something unique about the way that writing out information by hand impacts learning and memory. Writing out complex formulas and equations helps children (and adults!) to boost memory by engaging fine motor and visual skills to reinforce the other senses.

As far as pinning the paper to the family cat, while few felines will appreciate this particular kind of sartorial attention, you can achieve the same result by allowing your child to post handwritten math information to a refrigerator or bulletin board, allowing peripheral vision to view and record some of it without conscious effort.

It’s a far more powerful – and lasting – way of learning math than reliance on flashcards.

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