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Understanding Concepts as opposed to Memorizing concepts.

by se7en
Tags: concepts, memorizing, opposed
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se7en
#1
Feb6-09, 12:01 PM
P: 21
All throughout high school I was able to memorize the most important concepts and that would be enough to produce great test results. I am now in my second semester of college and the questions posed by the professor are more thought provoking and require much more knowledge ABOUT the main concepts rather than what they are. I usually study with 1 or 2 friends so I wouldn't really consider it a "study group", but I find that there are always holes in my knowledge about what we are studying and it seems that they are making connections between concepts that I am not picking up on. Fortunately, they fill in the gaps of my knowledge for me by explaining them to me. I know this is due to my lack of practice for adequate study habits. So how can I increase my understanding of concepts and in the process make connects between them?
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JasonRox
#2
Feb6-09, 12:52 PM
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You are taught to memorize concepts because it has been shown that it is an effective method for scoring well on tests in a short period of time. The side effect of this method is that in the long run, you retain next to nothing and your critical thinking skills are... well... non-existent.

I refuse to memorize even to this day because it's such a waste of time. People do it because humans love instant gratification. Memorize as much as you can, and score decent on tests (or sometimes good), but the long term effects are BAD! Kind of why people buy big new cars even if they can't afford it. Humans are addicted to instant gratification.

It's really ironic because new teacher's are taught NOT to do that... but told secretly to do it. And what's even more ironic, most new teacher's go through university learning using this memorize everything method. They finish university knowing nothing. Hence, this explains why most teachers in elementary and high school know very little of the topic they are actually teaching. True facts.
TVP45
#3
Feb6-09, 01:04 PM
P: 1,127
Quote Quote by JasonRox View Post
You are taught to memorize concepts because it has been shown that it is an effective method for scoring well on tests in a short period of time. The side effect of this method is that in the long run, you retain next to nothing and your critical thinking skills are... well... non-existent.

I refuse to memorize even to this day because it's such a waste of time. People do it because humans love instant gratification. Memorize as much as you can, and score decent on tests (or sometimes good), but the long term effects are BAD! Kind of why people buy big new cars even if they can't afford it. Humans are addicted to instant gratification.

It's really ironic because new teacher's are taught NOT to do that... but told secretly to do it. And what's even more ironic, most new teacher's go through university learning using this memorize everything method. They finish university knowing nothing. Hence, this explains why most teachers in elementary and high school know very little of the topic they are actually teaching. True facts.
If you get the chance, look into the Indian university (college?) system. It appears to be two-tiered, with those in the upper tier getting a broad, well-grounded education while those in the lower tier (there's a name for this tier but I can't recall or find it) memorize and regurgitate lots of facts. The end result is graduates who understand few of the essentials about their fields and that appears to be severely limiting India's industrialization efforts.

Can you say "No child left behind"?

Chi Meson
#4
Feb6-09, 01:10 PM
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Understanding Concepts as opposed to Memorizing concepts.

Memorization has its place. For example, all need to begin somewhere when a new concept is learned. THe concept of energy for example is highly complex, but it needs to begin with the acceptance of a conventional definition, "the ability to do work." Immediately after that, the concept drifts from the simple definition with tautologies (the definition of work? it's "the mechanical transfer of energy." and what's energy?...") and paradoxes ("The energy that is unavailable for work, etc).

The full concept is only learned after the superficial accepted facts and definitions are set in place, and then those facts and definitions get pushed around through critical thinking and experiencing varied examples.

One way of encouraging "going deeper" is to take any memorized definition, and ask why? or how? Go to any memorized law of physics and then look at any phenomenon and connect the two: How is a volcanic eruption consistent with the second law of thermodynamics? Apply gauss' laws to the operation of a magnetic tape player.

It is very difficult to apply things to a law if you do not remember what the law says. The act of "memorization" seems to be an act of futility, while simply "remembering the important stuff" is a necessity.

What's the difference? sometimes it's hard to say. As a high school teacher, I try to avoid the command "memorize" when giving assignments to students. I do however make it a point that they MUST remember that the word "spontaneous" makes or breaks the 2nd law. THe exact wording is not important, but the law itself is very important.
The Dagda
#5
Feb6-09, 01:41 PM
P: 266
Quote Quote by JasonRox View Post
You are taught to memorize concepts because it has been shown that it is an effective method for scoring well on tests in a short period of time. The side effect of this method is that in the long run, you retain next to nothing and your critical thinking skills are... well... non-existent.

I refuse to memorize even to this day because it's such a waste of time. People do it because humans love instant gratification. Memorize as much as you can, and score decent on tests (or sometimes good), but the long term effects are BAD! Kind of why people buy big new cars even if they can't afford it. Humans are addicted to instant gratification.

It's really ironic because new teacher's are taught NOT to do that... but told secretly to do it. And what's even more ironic, most new teacher's go through university learning using this memorize everything method. They finish university knowing nothing. Hence, this explains why most teachers in elementary and high school know very little of the topic they are actually teaching. True facts.
Sadly over hear it's become more about passing tests than understanding things, unsurprisingly we now have the worst standard of education in Europe outside of the Eastern bloc.

Basically our system has been so degraded that our qualifications up to and including sometimes degree are not as rigorous as they used to be. Luckily the sciences and maths still tend to be ok, at least at degree level. Critical thinking is not just for arts students. Obviously memorising facts is all part of the process, but in my experience, they tend to throw curve balls in exams at degree level, that test your ability to apply certain concepts to situations that might not always be that obvious. If you know why something works and can manipulate it rather than just knowing x, then you can apply it more generally.
se7en
#6
Feb6-09, 07:24 PM
P: 21
I was thinking about using blooms taxonomy as sort of a way to generate thoughtful questions...

here is a breakdown of blooms taxonomy...
http://www.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Blo...s_taxonomy.htm
WiFO215
#7
Feb7-09, 01:20 AM
P: 414
@ Dagda, TVP45 and se7en

This is becoming the case world over.

>With the population boom, there's more competition.

>More the competition, less attention every student is going to get and more the importance is going to be paid to test scores and competitive exams like the Olympiads. You could do thousands of sums (which is very difficult of course) and get through to the next level of the these exams without understanding very much.

>That is where the question comes in: how do we design a system which incorporates more than just numbers and grades on paper? We need a system wherein a person is not reduced to to ink on paper and rather someone with potential to think for himself.
The Dagda
#8
Feb7-09, 05:32 AM
P: 266
Quote Quote by anirudh215 View Post
@ Dagda, TVP45 and se7en

This is becoming the case world over.

>With the population boom, there's more competition.

>More the competition, less attention every student is going to get and more the importance is going to be paid to test scores and competitive exams like the Olympiads. You could do thousands of sums (which is very difficult of course) and get through to the next level of the these exams without understanding very much.
I don't buy that our population has been stagnant for 20 years, as have many European countries, the standard of education in countries like Sweden, Norway, France, Germany etc is excellent, it's not class sizes it's government spending and where it goes. There's a reason the US has an even worse education than the UK, which sits square at the bottom of European league tables and that is investment in proper education methods. The US I think blew it when they tried the testing method as well, but then their educational standard pre University has always been poor for reasons not just related to expenditure.

>That is where the question comes in: how do we design a system which incorporates more than just numbers and grades on paper? We need a system wherein a person is not reduced to to ink on paper and rather someone with potential to think for himself.
Precisely, we look at the better performers to see what we can learn from them.
PhysicalAnomaly
#9
Feb7-09, 06:00 AM
P: 122
Why not develop both abilities? The smartest people are able to memorise tonnes in short periods of time as well as develop deep understandings of topics. A good pianist is able to memorise his pieces as well as interpret them prodigiously. I feel that we should neglect neither since a good memory and a good understanding reinforce one another.
WiFO215
#10
Feb7-09, 11:08 AM
P: 414
@ Dagda

That is true. The government expenditure and the private school boards have also become shoddy and corrupt. Have you read "Surely You're Joking Mr.Feynman"? In that book, Feynman refers to his experiences in Mexico. I feel that is similar to what you are talking about. Correct?
Choppy
#11
Feb7-09, 11:49 AM
Sci Advisor
P: 2,746
I have to second Chi Meson's response. The way to fill in the holes is to become more actively engaged in a subject by asking how and why. Essentially you have to go beyond the course work and apply each concept in an independent manner to a new problem. From there, understanding naturally evolves.

Another argument in favour of memorization is that it can save you time in having to look things up.
mal4mac
#12
Feb7-09, 01:26 PM
P: 1,177
You may not have time to understand everything before moving on, so you may be forced to memorize.That's fine. Field's medallist Timothy Gowers recommends it in Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction. His example is a^ma^n = a^m+n. Many high school students cannot understand why. Gowers says it is fine just to memorise. You may need it as a basis for understanding other mathematics, and don't have time to talk it out with your chums. In college you may look at it again and understand why it works in a flash. So understanding may eventualy flower, meanwhile memorisation is 'good enough' -- and may always be good enough...
The Dagda
#13
Feb7-09, 01:28 PM
P: 266
Quote Quote by anirudh215 View Post
@ Dagda

That is true. The government expenditure and the private school boards have also become shoddy and corrupt. Have you read "Surely You're Joking Mr.Feynman"? In that book, Feynman refers to his experiences in Mexico. I feel that is similar to what you are talking about. Correct?
I think we're on the same page. Although I think maybe Obama is the president to tackle the issue of education, which is obviously a minefield and not an easy problem to solve. Over here I just think we should abandon the testing kids 4 or 5 times until they leave, it patently doesn't work and we need to tackle the fundamentals.
Brian_C
#14
Feb7-09, 04:02 PM
P: 261
Quote Quote by JasonRox View Post
You are taught to memorize concepts because it has been shown that it is an effective method for scoring well on tests in a short period of time. The side effect of this method is that in the long run, you retain next to nothing and your critical thinking skills are... well... non-existent.

I refuse to memorize even to this day because it's such a waste of time. People do it because humans love instant gratification. Memorize as much as you can, and score decent on tests (or sometimes good), but the long term effects are BAD! Kind of why people buy big new cars even if they can't afford it. Humans are addicted to instant gratification.

It's really ironic because new teacher's are taught NOT to do that... but told secretly to do it. And what's even more ironic, most new teacher's go through university learning using this memorize everything method. They finish university knowing nothing. Hence, this explains why most teachers in elementary and high school know very little of the topic they are actually teaching. True facts.
Memorization is critical in any field. Try passing a graduate level qualifying exam in electrodynamics without memorizing Maxwell's equations. It's impossible.
JaWiB
#15
Feb7-09, 07:20 PM
P: 289
I find that simply reading and listening to lectures is the most difficult way to learn concepts. Even taking notes seems to only help with the memorization aspect (though I agree that memorization serves an important, if secondary purpose).

The best way to learn, in my experience, is by actively engaging questions. That's basically the role of problem sets in text books: you don't fully understand something until you can apply it (actually, you don't fully understand it until you can teach it).

Nevertheless, it is sometimes necessary to memorize something even when that is not ideal (just to pass a test, maybe). But it is still important, I think, to struggle with the concept first. If you come away with some vague understanding of why something works the way it does, you'll be better off and have a better chance of understanding it the next time you come across it.
ank_gl
#16
Feb8-09, 05:57 AM
P: 735
Quote Quote by TVP45 View Post
If you get the chance, look into the Indian university (college?) system. It appears to be two-tiered, with those in the upper tier getting a broad, well-grounded education while those in the lower tier (there's a name for this tier but I can't recall or find it) memorize and regurgitate lots of facts. The end result is graduates who understand few of the essentials about their fields and that appears to be severely limiting India's industrialization efforts.
I feel sad that it is true. But there are no tiers here, its same all the way. Students are taught to secure marks, by hook or by crook, in the end, only marks matter. This tendency goes beyond any control by the time student reaches class XII. I dunno, its sorta inbuilt in us.
Memorizing is the best way to score, no doubt. But it isnt the right way.

Sadly I have gone through the system & its depressing, my college ranks 8th in engineering college rankings in India. The only exam in India which has the ability to separate the best from nearly best, is the IIT-JEE, & that too because it asks physics questions from irodov's physics text. And sadly, students here dont prefer going to that extent & rely heavily on tuition(mugging) for such exams.
ank_gl
#17
Feb8-09, 06:01 AM
P: 735
Quote Quote by Brian_C View Post
Memorization is critical in any field. Try passing a graduate level qualifying exam in electrodynamics without memorizing Maxwell's equations. It's impossible.
I dunno anything about Maxwell's equation, & I sure don't underestimate it. But saying that memorizing is critical is not right, its upto the paper setter to set a paper which test the brain, not the memory.
I never memorized any equation, if I need it, i derive it myself in exam.

Memorizing = Cheating
ank_gl
#18
Feb8-09, 06:07 AM
P: 735
Quote Quote by Chi Meson View Post
Memorization has its place. For example, all need to begin somewhere when a new concept is learned. THe concept of energy for example is highly complex, but it needs to begin with the acceptance of a conventional definition, "the ability to do work." Immediately after that, the concept drifts from the simple definition with tautologies (the definition of work? it's "the mechanical transfer of energy." and what's energy?...") and paradoxes ("The energy that is unavailable for work, etc).

The full concept is only learned after the superficial accepted facts and definitions are set in place, and then those facts and definitions get pushed around through critical thinking and experiencing varied examples.

One way of encouraging "going deeper" is to take any memorized definition, and ask why? or how? Go to any memorized law of physics and then look at any phenomenon and connect the two: How is a volcanic eruption consistent with the second law of thermodynamics? Apply gauss' laws to the operation of a magnetic tape player.

It is very difficult to apply things to a law if you do not remember what the law says. The act of "memorization" seems to be an act of futility, while simply "remembering the important stuff" is a necessity.

What's the difference? sometimes it's hard to say. As a high school teacher, I try to avoid the command "memorize" when giving assignments to students. I do however make it a point that they MUST remember that the word "spontaneous" makes or breaks the 2nd law. THe exact wording is not important, but the law itself is very important.
I have heard it 1000 times. There are N(N tends to alot) things which are to be memorized, eg whatever you said in the post. But the point is not at all about those things, students mostly drag this opportunity to memorize to topics which are meant to be understood deeply.


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