September 10, 2013
When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning

I once caught an 11th-grader who snuck a cheat sheet into the final exam.
At first, he tried to shuffle it under some scratch paper. When I cornered him, he shifted tactics. “It’s my page of equations,” he told me. “Aren’t we allowed a formula sheet? The physics teacher lets us.” Nice try, but no dice. The principal and I rejected his alibi and hung a fat zero on his final exam. That dropped his precalculus grade down from a B+ to a D+. It lingered like a purple bruise on his college applications.
Looking back, I have to ask myself: Why didn’t I allow a formula sheet? Cheat sheets aim to substitute for memorization, and I hate it when my students memorize things.
"What’s the sine of π/2?" I asked my first-ever trigonometry class.
"One!" they replied in unison. "We learned that last year."
So I skipped ahead, later to realize that they didn’t really know what “sine” even meant. They’d simply memorized that fact. To them, math wasn’t a process of logical discovery and thoughtful exploration. It was a call-and-response game. Trigonometry was just a collection of non-rhyming lyrics to the lamest sing-along ever.
Read more. [Image: Amy Loves Yah/Flickr]

When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning

I once caught an 11th-grader who snuck a cheat sheet into the final exam.

At first, he tried to shuffle it under some scratch paper. When I cornered him, he shifted tactics. “It’s my page of equations,” he told me. “Aren’t we allowed a formula sheet? The physics teacher lets us.” Nice try, but no dice. The principal and I rejected his alibi and hung a fat zero on his final exam. That dropped his precalculus grade down from a B+ to a D+. It lingered like a purple bruise on his college applications.

Looking back, I have to ask myself: Why didn’t I allow a formula sheet? Cheat sheets aim to substitute for memorization, and I hate it when my students memorize things.

"What’s the sine of π/2?" I asked my first-ever trigonometry class.

"One!" they replied in unison. "We learned that last year."

So I skipped ahead, later to realize that they didn’t really know what “sine” even meant. They’d simply memorized that fact. To them, math wasn’t a process of logical discovery and thoughtful exploration. It was a call-and-response game. Trigonometry was just a collection of non-rhyming lyrics to the lamest sing-along ever.

Read more. [Image: Amy Loves Yah/Flickr]

  1. ilikewhatilikesothere reblogged this from samirows
  2. aandest reblogged this from middle-way-mormonism
  3. middle-way-mormonism reblogged this from alessthanorthodoxmormon
  4. melzwhimzy reblogged this from thespaceinbetweenn
  5. thespaceinbetweenn reblogged this from i-is-domo
  6. blueprincette reblogged this from phantaz
  7. lilliesarewhite reblogged this from cosmicbeachparty
  8. nichevonasveteluchshenetu reblogged this from cosmicbeachparty
  9. i-is-domo reblogged this from cosmicbeachparty
  10. cosmicbeachparty reblogged this from science-in-a-jar
  11. laurlaurenoop reblogged this from backseat-oftheimpala
  12. olior reblogged this from read2survive
  13. aquaras3141 reblogged this from deanindabutt
  14. jjstar245 reblogged this from heyitsalexep
  15. heyitsalexep reblogged this from amethystfest
  16. anastasiablackthorne reblogged this from read2survive
  17. mypersonaldelirium reblogged this from thecrownofflames
  18. vanillamangoes reblogged this from read2survive
  19. carlos-does-science reblogged this from kuroko-harem
  20. sleepycorndogs reblogged this from kidzbopstar
  21. vaynekuroi reblogged this from kidzbopstar
  22. cuzdickisadick reblogged this from thecrownofflames
  23. samayooo reblogged this from lyths