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Increase in rote memorization in current students?

  1. Jun 24, 2011 #1
    I tutor at the science department's drop-in tutoring center at my university, and my supervisor seems worried about how students are learning things today. She says that she has noticed an increase in the number of students that don't really learn any material. They simply cram everything into short-term memory and dump it all after the test. Her field is chemistry, and she tells me about students who have to learn the same things over and over again. They don't know how to balance chemical equations even as far in as organic chemistry.

    She says that this was never a problem when she started teaching three decades ago, but has noticed a big trend towards cramming things into short-term memory in the past decade. I'm a nontraditional student who graduated high school 11 years ago, so I can't speak to how things are taught today.

    I hypothesized that high schools might be pushing that "learning style" for standardized testing and NCLB, but for now, I don't even know for sure if there actually IS an increase in students not putting things into long-term memory or understanding the concepts, or if she's just having false recollections of the "good old days."

    I ran this by a friend of mine who taught high school for two years, and she said that the standardized testing hypothesis is plausible.

    Have any instructors here noticed a similar increase in rote memorization and a decrease in actual understanding? Have any high school teachers noticed either themselves for their colleagues promoting rote memorization as a learning style more than the past? Before I go around blaming No Child Left Behind, I'd like to figure out if there IS actually an increase in rote memorization in short-term memory in students at the expense of long-term knowledge, or if it's the same as it's always been.
     
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  3. Jun 24, 2011 #2

    Evo

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    I was in high school over 40 years ago and it was memorization then. We were taught to balance chemical equations back in the 8th grade, hard to believe that college students would have trouble with it, isn't it repeated once you get into high school?
     
  4. Jun 24, 2011 #3
    I never learned chemistry in 8th grade... Only chemistry class I remember taking in middle/high school was in 9th grade chemistry. Or was it 10th grade? I can't remember.

    I guess rote memorization is fine, perhaps the bigger issue is the tenancy to flush all of that knowledge from one's brain immediately after the exam. I hear the supervisor telling students all the time things like "we went over this in Chem 1. We went over this in Chem 2. Now, this is orgo, we shouldn't need to be going over this again. You should know this by now." And it's usually something that I, somebody who has only taken Chem 1, learned in that class and still remembered.
     
  5. Jun 24, 2011 #4

    AlephZero

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    I think this must be linked to the general trend towards modular exams, credit for coursework, midterm tests, etc. Kids aren't stupid. If you split the subject into bite sized pieces, they will figure out you can get an A by learning one piece at a time and then forgetting about it.

    Back in the day when I was a school you did a two-year course and then had 2 or 3 closed-book exams on the whole thing within the space of a week, with no credit for anything else except those papers. Not so much chance of "cramming" with that system - but I guess you would now get howls of protest from kids and their parents that "it wasn't fair".

    I suppose the Olympic 100 meters could be made "fairer" by splitting it into 20 5-yard races, and running one every month over two years, as well.
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2011
  6. Jun 24, 2011 #5

    Evo

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    Could've been the 9th grade, we had junior high from 7th-9th grade. I didn't really attend the 9th grade, which made me assume it was 8th.

    For biology, that is exactly what I'd do, a test for all of the bones in the body, I'd memorize the list the night before, ace the test, forget it all the next day. Now if the test required that I explain the function, need, etc... for each bone, it would have been so much more meaningful.
     
  7. Jun 24, 2011 #6
    alephzero is probably on the right track here. i think there is also an emphasis on teaching for the exam now. combine this with bundled courseware that provides pre-written or auto-generated test materials that look exactly like the homework, and not much is unexpected.
     
  8. Jun 24, 2011 #7
    I don't think rote memorization is done in europe and america. Because they are pioneer in science and phiosophy.

    I think it is widely practised in asia.
     
  9. Jun 25, 2011 #8
    I think that it has more to do with why people want the degree. 30 years ago any degree would land you a good job so people studied what they wanted to study. Today people study what they have to study to get the most money instead. They are preoccupied with what all of this will lead to instead of actually wanting to be where they are right now. No chance most of them would be studying if they didn't get a degree for it.
     
  10. Jun 25, 2011 #9

    ideasrule

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    All of my biology tests asked about function, and especially the relationship between structure and function, but that doesn't make them any less dependent on memorization. The intestines have villi and microvilli to increase surface area? Cool, just one more thing I need to cram in to my brain.

    Kids, like adults, are also not perfectly rational. If you finish teaching the entire course before giving a test, they're not going to make sure they understand every lesson right after the lesson finishes; they're going to start studying right before the test, and likely fail at doing so. Basing grades on coursework, midterms, small tests, AND a final exam worth 30% forces students to learn concepts as they're being taught, as well as consolidate all the material at the end of the course.

    If you admire this system so much, you should attend school in China, where the final grade for the entire year is based on one exam. You panic and black out, thus forgetting 95% of what you actually know? Too bad. You have a 40-degree fever on exam day? Oh well, better go in with an IV machine. You broke your right hand and couldn't study well for 2 months? Good luck repeating the entire year.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 27, 2011
  11. Jun 27, 2011 #10

    rhody

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    Jack,

    I am not an educator, but have a life long interest in functioning of the human brain, how we learn, what exercises have proven to work, learning strategies, techniques, etc... I posted on the https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=2839357&postcount=2" issue last August: a small sample:
    There is a ton of good information in this thread, not just that particular post. I encourage you to give it a serious review. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

    Rhody... :approve:
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  12. Jun 27, 2011 #11

    NateTG

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    It's not just one year, and it's not just the Chinese. If the SATs weren't such a joke they could be thrown into the same category.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abitur
     
  13. Jun 27, 2011 #12
    I don't think so. I (and many people I know) took the SATs without studying for them and did fine. If you've done a lot of reading and understood how basic math works they are pretty simple, no rote memorization required (unless you consider learning vocabulary organically through reading rote memorization).
     
  14. Jun 27, 2011 #13

    BobG

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    Isn't rote memorization an obsolete skill? Why not just google things instead of memorize them?

    With an electronic calculator, spell check, and google, it should theoretically be possible to escape high school with a completely uncluttered brain. Or at least a brain cluttered only by important things, such as rick roll videos, reality TV shows, and the Casey Anthony trial.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2011
  15. Jun 27, 2011 #14

    I like Serena

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    Wow! You really mean that?

    So you'd type on your calculator how much 3 times 5 is?
    And you'd google how many days a week or a month has?

    Really, I believe things have to be memorized by rote up to a certain level.
    At the very least for instance the multiplication table up to 10 (which to my surprise many people do not know! :surprised)
     
  16. Jun 27, 2011 #15

    BobG

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    Absolutely! I love rick roll videos! :rofl:
     
  17. Jun 27, 2011 #16

    I like Serena

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    Drat! I've been rick rolled! :redface:
     
  18. Jun 28, 2011 #17
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
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