Learning by heart may not be best for your mind
Some of the greatest geniuses had remarkable memories. Mozart, according to legend, sat and listened to Allegri’s “Miserere”, then transcribed the piece of music, entirely from memory, later in the day. Kim Peek, the savant who was the inspiration for the blockbuster film, Rain Man, memorised as many as 12 000 books. But unlike Mozart, who composed more than 600 works during his brief life, Peek was unable to distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant, or discover hidden meanings and metaphors in the texts he had committed to memory.
|PISA 2012 Released Mathematics Item (Proficiency Level 6)|
What do these stories have to do with learning mathematics? Or, put another way: in light of these stories, how would you encourage students to learn mathematics? By understanding what mathematics concepts, procedures and formulae mean and applying them to a lot of different maths problems set in a lot of different contexts? Or by learning them by heart and applying them to a lot of similar maths problems? Sooner or later, the method matters. Students who avoid making an effort to understand mathematics concepts may succeed in some school environments; but a lack of deep, critical and creative thinking may seriously penalise these students later in life when confronted with real, complex problems. As Albert Einstein provocatively said: “Any fool can know; the point is to understand”.
PISA in Focus No. 61: Is memorisation a good strategy for learning mathematics? by Alfonso Echazarra
PISA á la loupe No. 61: La mémorisation : Une stratégie payante pour l’apprentissage des mathématiques?
How teachers teach and students learn: Successful strategies for school.
PISA Try the Test: Explore PISA 2012 Mathematics, problem solving and financial literacy test question
Source: PISA 2012 Released Mathematics Items