I wrote 40 essays in 2022. While far from my most prolific year, I am pleased with how most of them turned out. Thus, to give myself a little writing break over the holidays, I thought I’d share some of my favorites from this year.
- Why Don’t We Use the Math We Learn in School? Years after drilling the algorithm for long division, when was the last time you used it? I explore evidence that people are surprisingly bad at the math they ought to know well. I also explain some reasons why math doesn’t seem to play as prominent a role in real life as it probably should.
- Cognitive Load Theory and Its Applications for Learning. Why do we find some subjects confusing? Why do we struggle to keep up in math or physics classes? I review the major findings of cognitive load theory, which seeks to explain our learning successes (and failures) in terms of how our brains process information.
- How Do We Learn Complex Skills? Understanding ACT-R Theory. ACT-R is John Anderson’s career-long quest to integrate many diverse findings in cognitive psychology into a single model of the process of thinking and reasoning.
- How Does Understanding Work? What goes on in our heads when we understand text we’re reading? Construction-Integration suggests we comprehend text by generating multiple interpretations, which then “stabilize” into a coherent picture.
- Variability, Not Repetition, is the Key to Mastery. Varied examples, contexts, problems and methods all lead to more robust learning than narrow repetition.
- Cultural Literacy: Does Knowledge Need to Be Deep to Be Useful? I review E.D. Hirsch’s controversial bestseller. Hirsch argues that the shallow, fact-based knowledge we largely forget from our classroom days is far more important than people realize. Schools shouldn’t shy away from teaching these facts, and our society would be better off if we made this aim of education more explicit.
- Failure is a Lousy Teacher. I refute the commonly-held belief that failure is the key to learning. We gain less information from failures than successes (in most domains). Even “useful” failure it is usually closely followed by success. Failure is also demotivating and can encourage us to overlearn lessons that we would do better to forget.
- Brain Training Doesn’t Work. We don’t get smarter by strengthening mental muscles. Chess doesn’t help you think strategically, and Sudoku doesn’t make you better at quantitative reasoning. The evidence here is frankly overwhelming, but it’s so at odds with folk psychology that many have a hard time accepting it.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year. See you in 2023!