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Channel Talk
From: Michael Paul Goldenberg (mikegold@umich.edu)
Date: Fri Mar 26 2004 - 14:36:16 EST

  • Next message: Mayol Santiago: "RE: [Channel-talkmathhs] mnemonics"

    Mnemonics are just that: tools for remembering. There's information we
    want to remember and have trouble with: mnemonics are a great way to
    organize all kinds of things into a format that goes into memory in an
    organized, recoverable way. I've used mnemonic systems to remember all
    the US presidents by number, so that if given the name, I can give the
    number and vice versa. It isn't something I actually have a use for,
    but doing it proved to me that the system could work (I use some of the
    things taught in books by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas, and by Bruno
    H. Furst, but most of these methods are very old), and I later used it
    to remember the entire periodic table of elements. Of course, since I
    have little use for that either and don't refresh the knowledge, gaps
    have opened in it over the years.

    Things we use frequently, however, are easier to retain. Eventually, if
    you use something a lot, chances are you'll retain it pretty easily.
    But mnemonics can make it easier and more enduring. And there's nothing
    wrong with them.

    On the other hand, memorizing facts and lists and formulas is NOT
    understanding. So let's not decry mnemonic devices for failing to do
    what they never were designed to accomplish. Rather, let's be
    thoughtful about what kids need to memorize, make sure we have given
    that some serious consideration and not just passed along traditions
    that can no longer be justified, and give them reasonable schemes and
    tools for doing so. And at the same time, let's make sure we and they
    know the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing
    something, to paraphrase from Richard Feynman (and probably a host of
    other wise folks).

    Michael Paul Goldenberg, Director
    RationalMath, LLC
    1810 Fair St
    Ann Arbor, MI 48103
    734 995-8398
    734 644-0975 (c)

    "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty
    or your recklessness ... If it were in my power to forgive you for your
    reckless cruelty, I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man, but
    your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me ... Sir,
    at long last, have you no sense of decency? (Joseph Welch, during the
    Army-McCarthy hearings.)

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