How to Excel at Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra)


I have been reading Barbara Oakley's new book A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) this week. It's a fascinating and fun read if you want to learn math, science, or, like me, just want to improve your memory.

I was actually pretty decent at math as my father was a mathematician and I grew up learning to love numbers. However, I had no natural talent, just no fear, which is important in learning math. Oakley makes this point throughout the book as she believes most people can learn math (and science) with the right tools and mindset. She is an engineering professor who failed her way through high school math but tackled these skills as an adult. Here is more about the book:

In A Mind for Numbers, Dr. Oakley lets us in on the secrets to effectively learning math and science—secrets that even dedicated and successful students wish they’d known earlier. Contrary to popular belief, math requires creative, as well as analytical, thinking. Most people think that there’s only one way to do a problem, when in actuality, there are often a number of different solutions—you just need the creativity to see them. For example, there are more than three hundred different known proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. In short, studying a problem in a laser-focused way until you reach a solution is not an effective way to learn math. Rather, it involves taking the time to step away from a problem and allow the more relaxed and creative part of the brain to take over. A Mind for Numbers shows us that we all have what it takes to excel in math, and learning it is not as painful as some might think!

Relaxing while trying to learn math sounds counterintuitive but it works, according to the book. One of my favorite chapters is called "tools, tips, and tricks" and it gives the reader positive mental tricks to use to their advantage in learning. She tackles procrastination and gets tips from experts regarding their student, such as "No going onto the computer during their procrastination time. It's too engrossing," "Before procrastinating, identify the easiest homework problem," and "Copy the equation or equations that are needed to solve the problem onto a small piece of paper and carry the paper around until they are ready to quit procrastinating and get back to work."

All this seems to lead to being a bit more creative and perhaps a bit more relaxed. Come to think of it, the above tips would be helpful in writing a blog post except the writer has to use the computer and cannot avoid it. Anyway, the book is great and goes into more detail about how to increase your memory with metaphors and visualization. Pick it up if you want to know more about how to succeed at math and science or if you just need to improve your memory and learning ability.


Cross-posted from Dr. Helen's blog