Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How I failed and how I learn.

There are a few reasons why I do math.
  • I suck at memorization.  This makes science, history, and literature studies hard for me.
  • I'm very good at learning by doing.  I can remember a procedure very well after just doing it a few times.
  • I'm clever. I have been using my wits to work my way through math classes for the longest time. Why study when you can re-derive all of the things that you would need to know?
All of this concluded in the Differential Equations comprehensive exam (which I failed, again). The way that the professor that I took Advanced DE from tests is strictly about wrote memorization.  The test format is at follows:
  • define X out of these Y terms,
  • state what X out of these Y theorems are,
  • and prove X out of these Y theorems (findable in the book).
There are no 'problems' to work.  There are no original theorems to prove which would require the use of the student's intuition. This is the only math class that I have ever taken that has ever been this way, and it's very hard for me. Compound that with the fact that I hardly understood the material when I took the class 1.5 years ago, because of the teacher's accent and the natural abstruseness of the material, and you might be able to understand why I did poorly.

Lecture, reading, and memorization isn't enough for me to learn.  I really do learn best when I work on something myself.  I had little to no understanding of how to use SAS's Proc IML until I started a project that used it and I dug through documentation to figure out how to do what I wanted. I taught myself more about processes, threads, concurrency, and sockets the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college than was ever taught in classes after that summer.  I never learned how to do SQL databases because I never had a project where I had to use them.

In fact, the way that I memorize material the best isn't by making note cards, like many people, it's by copying the information until I have it memorized. I have to rewrite it over and over, as if I'm placing the knowledge in my muscle memory, as if I'm memorizing a song for the piano.

I'll be retaking Advanced Differential Equations next year, in hopes of learning what I failed to learn in the past.  It's being taught by a different professor who's pedagogy is more in line with my learning style, so I'll hopefully understand it better this time.  Regardless, I'll be working harder this time, by
  • reading the material ahead of time,
  • taking notes,
  • going through my notes and rewriting them after class
  • and copying the rewritten notes to study for tests.
If I do all of that, I should have no trouble with the class this time.