Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Getting your Maths Skills Down Cold

This is an interesting take on memorising skills, written in "Math Mojo Chronicles 3rd Feb 2009" It is aimed at parents and others outside the classroom but teachers, you may find some ideas to use in your classroom   http://www.mathmojo.com/chronicles/
There is a real problem in our society about what people think they know, and what they know.
What I mean is, so often I hear from students, and adults, that they, “know” the “math facts.”
Well, aside from the term “math facts” being counterproductive, most people can retrieve, say, basic multiplications from their memory, but they are not in their bones.
To illustrate, try this:
Relax, get in tune with yourself. Breathe easily. Start noticing your thinking.
Now, what is 7 x 8?
If you had to think, “Um, let’s see…”, or if you hesitated at all, you do know really “know” the answer. You can find it in your memory, but really knowing it is like knowing that “cat” spells “cat.” You don’t have to say, “um, let’s see, ‘c’ - ‘a’ -’t;’ that’s ‘cat!’” (At least I hope you don’t.)
If you don’t know your basic multiplications by second or third grade, someone has cheated you. Every seven-year old should be able to really master them. It’s just that our society makes wussie excuses, like, “Well, he has ADD, you know…”
Yeah, maybe he does. Glenn Cunningham had his legs burned so severely when he was eight years old, that the doctors suggested he have them amputated. His mother wouldn’t allow it.
Do you know who Glenn Cunningham was? He set a world record for the mile and indoor world records for the 1.500 meters and the mile. He was on the 1932 and 1936 Olympic teams .He was considered by many the greatest American miler of all time.
Did his mother use his burns as an excuse? Yes, she did. She used it as an excuse to help him excel against something much more horrific than ADD.
I am not trying to make it sound like ADD isn’t awful. I have it and it drives me nuts. But I’d really feel like a wuss if I said, “I can’t do this or that because I have ADD.”
I might say, “I can’t do this or that yet, because I haven’t worked hard enough to overcome my ADD to accomplish it, but I’m not giving up.”
That’s still pretty wussified, but at least it’s not blaming something outside myself.
There are some things that I have tried that have really helped, and recently I have started working on some of them again.
If you have ADD, you know that there are some things you don’t have symptoms about. I’ll bet you can surf the web for hours without interruption, or even food or drink.
You can get into that “trance” state when you play computer games, possibly. Many people with ADD can get into the “zone” when they do art, music, or sports. My wife wonders why I have a hard time getting my work at the desk done, yet can spend six hours in a row solving Sudoku puzzles. (I wonder, too. It’s not like my work isn’t interesting.)
So I’ve been trying some experiments to combat my short attention span. Lately I’ve been going to the gym and using the stationary bike and the elliptical machine - but with a twist. I bring something to learn or memorize on a small clip-board.
Let’s say I am memorizing a poem. It’s hard enough to do when you are in a quiet space and not distracted. But when your heart-rate is over 120 for more than a half-hour, and you’re sweating (and your a big, fat, out-of-shape middle-aged guy like me) it is really hard to concentrate.
It definitely takes me more time to memorize something when I am physically straining at something else. But you know what? I retain the stuff much better.
Later, when I am relaxed and trying to remember what I learned, it comes easier. I can’t explain why in scientific terms, but it seems like my body is saying, “If I can do it while panting for my breath, I can certainly do it now!”
It seems to work on the same principle as the Biathalon. Do you know what that is? It is one weird sport. It’s cross-country skiing combined with target shooting.
A guy (or girl) sprints long distances on cross-country skiis (that is a hell of a workout, let me tell you!) then has to shoot at a target with a very accurate rifle. Most people’s body would be shaking with exertion to the point of fainting, but these guys have to steady their hands and nerves, and shoot at a distant target. And they’re being timed! Now that’s pressure.
When I was a kid, I used to laugh at that sport. It seems so silly. Cross country ski and shoot? Why not sumo-wrestle and play ping-pong? But it really makes sense, and tests skills that other sports combinations cannot test as accurately.
So what am I getting at? You sit and home and look at multiplication tables, maybe look at flash-cards, or (God forbid) use some vacuous songs, rhymes or video games to memorize your “math facts.” Maybe you have the TV on at the same time, or are texting your friends.
What you are not doing is challenging yourself. It’s just so passive. You’re not engaged. You just have some passive distractions.
On the other hand, if you set a timer, and say, “I’m going to push myself for the next twenty minutes, ” and really exert some effort, you will be making an investment in yourself. And your subconscious will not let yourself be cheated out of your investment.
And if you can manage to do the same thing again the next day, but this time while taking a walk for 20 minutes, you’ll find that you can’t concentrate as well. But try it for another day, and another, until you can concentrate as well while walking as when you were in your room, then you have really made some progress.
The next time after that, when you try to study in your room, you will feel more empowered, and will not be as tempted to be distracted by the radio, your iPod, or that idiot that is texting you about some stupid YouTube vid.
Try it.

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