Posted in Math, Teaching & Learning, Tips for Students

How To Learn Math (Or Anything Else)

As the title of this post indicates, the process I am about to describe is actually the natural learning process for anything, not just math.

First, Get Curious

Learning has to start with curiosity. You can be curious about math as a means to an end (say, if you want to be a financial analyst or engineer, for example), or you can be curious about math for its own sake (if you want to be a mathematician, this will probably apply to you).

Remember, curiosity is an emotion, and emotions are generated in part by what we focus on and what we tell ourselves. So, if you want to learn something but don’t have any curiosity about it, generate some! Curiosity is the glue that makes new knowledge stick.

Explore

Once you get started, let your curiosity lead you into new and interesting territory. Venture forth into the material with an agenda of pure discovery. Let this be an open-ended, non-directive process, with no particular goal in mind, the same way that you would read a novel or watch a movie.

Think of the last new movie that you saw. Can you remember the setting? The plot? The characters? Were you trying to memorize any of those things? That should be proof enough to you that this method works.

Practice

In math, practice could take the form of performing calculations, solving problems, or writing proofs. In other subjects, it could take the form of answering practice questions or re-communicating what you have learned, either by writing or speaking. It is a Law of Learning that the harder you work for a particular piece of knowledge the better you will retain it, so don’t shirk on effort here. Just like with working out, the more you sweat, the more you get!

Get Help

Once you have put in sufficient practice, you are in an ideal position to ask for and receive help. Asking for help from a teacher, tutor, or mentor at this point will help you fill in any gaps that you have identified in your understanding, uncover any blind spots you may have and improve your process. This is how you go from proficient to efficient. Having first put in the effort to understand the material yourself will prepare you to appreciate and receive what is being offered.

Posted in Inspiration, Math, Tips for Students

How To Learn Math

1. Get Curious

Curiosity is one of the most powerful forces in existence, because you can’t learn anything unless you are curious about it. And the good news is that our innate sense of curiosity is insatiable; it is possible to get curious about almost anything if you engage it with your imagination. Trying to force yourself to learn without engaging your curiosity is tortuous, laborious, and ultimately ineffective. So whatever learning task you have in front of you, bring your curiosity to bear.

2. Explore

Exploration is the non-directed, interest-based satisfaction of curiosity. It is a process of trying things to see what happens, asking yourself questions and answering them, following interesting paths just to see where they lead. You’ll likely get a feel for an unfamiliar city better by taking a meandering walk through it than by following a guided tour. Take the time to see the material through your own eyes and get a feel for it before worrying about performance or setting agendas.

3. Practice

When you’re ready to learn specific techniques, give yourself plenty of time to practice. Like any new skill, it will be awkward at first and become easier and smoother the more you do it. Allow yourself to be clumsy and inefficient, and just keep going through the process. Before long it will start to make sense, next it will start to be intuitive, next it will start to become easy, and eventually it will become automatic. This lets you incorporate it into your regular thought process and proceed to build higher levels of skill.

4. Give It A Shot

Don’t let getting stumped throw you off track. When you’re exploring your edges you will run into a lot of roadblocks, but let that be a signal to try something new. The harder you try the greater the benefit, as well as the enjoyment. It wouldn’t be much fun to fill in a crossword puzzle with the answer key right in front of you would it? It’s the process of racking your brain and wrestling with the clues that makes it fun and even addictive. Unless you’re repeatedly getting stumped and unstumping yourself, you’re not learning or improving.

5. Get Help

Learning doesn’t need to be an entirely solitary activity, nor should it. We are social creatures and the interaction of communication and cooperation plays an important role in the learning process. Peers can help each other through a process of co-learning, and teachers, coaches, and guides can direct you along fruitful paths. The time to get help is when you are completely stuck and have reached a point of diminishing returns in your process of solo exploration. This is the point where you can benefit the most from peer discussion or from having an experienced guide to reveal tricks and shortcuts and direct your focus to the most fruitful avenues.