Friday, 30 August 2013

Learning Mathematics by Heart - A Questionable Approach

By Lim EeHai

Have you ever tried learning mathematics by heart or memorizing a large amount of mathematical information? Though the course of action is tough-going, the outcome may be good and even fabulous. This approach of learning by heart may suit basic mathematics education or knowledge-based subjects, for example, history. However, does this approach suits learning at a higher level of education?
As mentioned, when the mathematics education is at elementary level, the amount of facts to grasp with may not be large enough to warrant attention and concern. With the good results that it sometimes shows, the approach of learning by heart can even be accepted. But is that the correct or suitable way forward in mathematics education? For mathematics learning at the higher education level, given more complex concepts and mathematical expressions, memorizing information and numerous steps become a challenging chore. The performance of many students of mathematics, who practiced the learning-by-heart method, has been known to suffer drastically. This causes them to fear mathematics lessons and led them into the undesirable mathematics anxiety situation. Their confidence over solving mathematics questions declined as a result. Mathematics at a higher level calls for a mixture of mathematical solving tools and detailed analysis of the solving strategy. Selection of a suitable tools and its associated strategy to solving a given mathematics question cannot be accomplished through memorizing as the combination is too wide to cover. Learning at that education level, therefore, takes on a different platform.
A better platform to learning mathematics is to understand mathematical concepts as opposed to placing facts as the focal point. Learn and focus on the why of the solving approach instead of the how, although both complement each other. This is a generic approach whereby practice can start from day one of mathematics lesson. The habit formed to understand mathematical concepts will do them good when advanced mathematics comes into the learning picture. Mathematics is a special subject that differs from the rest of the knowledge-based subjects in that its language is embedded in its mathematical variables, expressions and equations. There can be many twists and turns in asking a simple mathematics question. Without understanding the underlying concepts of the mathematics topic, it will be difficult to move forward or solve the mathematics questions, unless applying the dreadful memorizing approach.
Learning, especially in mathematics, can best be obtained by linking mathematical facts with thinking skill where conceptualization is part of it. The linkages formed will be strengthened over time with many mathematics practices. The ability to solve any mathematics problems at any given time is therefore a true reflection of one's ability to handle mathematics. Learning mathematics by heart will not achieve this target as memory fades with time and quantity. Retention of knowledge goes hand in hand with the depth of understanding.
Albert Einstein once said "Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school." Learning through linkage of mathematical facts with concepts will remain for a long time since true understanding is achieved. Purely memorizing facts, which has negative impact, causes the meaning of mathematics education to be lost when one forgets the knowledge learned.
Therefore, in conclusion, learning mathematics is best taken with focus in concept understanding compared to the pure rigid way of memorizing mathematical facts, since the outcome will last longer with true comprehension of mathematics and its applications. Foster a habit to approach mathematics lessons and tutorials through understanding the concepts involved instead of the numerical facts and specific steps in any given mathematics examples. This habit formed will ease acceptance of complex mathematical concepts later on in higher level of mathematics education.
To read more about the learning of maths, do visit the site maths is interesting!
Lim EeHai has strong interest in mathematics education and has set up this mathematics site http://mathsisinteresting.blogspot.com to benefit anyone interested in the teaching and learning of mathematics.
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