Up to date 2017 – My Assessment of A Thoughts for Numbers

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A Thoughts for Numbers
Methods to Excel at Math and Science (Even if you happen to Flunked Algebra)
by Barbara Oakley, Ph.D.
Revealed by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) LLC
New York, New York 10014

My Ranking: 3/5

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What’s It All About?

A Thoughts for Numbers is an effective however not nice guide on strategies for studying math and science. The guide covers a wide range of strategies together with alternating between “diffuse” and “centered” considering, “chunking,” working towards recall to firmly imprint data in long run reminiscence, the “reminiscence palace” methodology of memorizing giant quantities of data, and strategies to keep away from procrastination and overcome take a look at nervousness. The guide is primarily geared toward highschool and faculty college students, however might be helpful for anybody making an attempt to be taught math and science. Sadly, the guide has a lot of weaknesses and readers needs to be cautious with a few of its claims and complement the guide with different sources of recommendation on the best way to be taught math and science.

A Mind for Numbers Cover

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What’s Nice About This E book?

Not like some books which focus narrowly on one particular approach, usually touting it because the “one measurement suits all” resolution to studying math, science, or different matters, A Thoughts for Numbers covers a number of totally different strategies in addition to different widespread points resembling procrastination and take a look at nervousness — failing resulting from nervousness although the scholar is aware of the fabric. The guide has many references on the again in order that readers can examine every methodology in additional element and look at the unique analysis behind the strategies and recommendations.

I notably favored the dialogue of alternating between “centered” examine and considering and so-called “diffuse” examine and considering. That is one thing that I do lots and have discovered could be very efficient. Centered examine refers to acutely aware centered examine and drilling on a subject. Diffuse examine can consult with taking a stroll, considering — extra like daydreaming in regards to the huge image. Take a break and are available again to the issue once more and sometimes the subject or downside will turn out to be clear. That is moderately counter-intuitive, however nonetheless it really works. As A Thoughts for Numbers factors out, many key insights enabling main scientific discoveries and technological innovations had been made throughout a stroll or whereas taking a break after a few years of intensive examine and wrestle. In fact, there’s a hazard that this methodology can flip right into a pretext for goofing off or procrastinating.

I discovered the dialogue of working towards recalling new data to get it to imprint and stay in long run reminiscence helpful. This was a brand new perception for me and appears to be true.

What’s Not So Nice About This E book?

The guide has a lot of vital weaknesses. Whereas these mustn’t cease somebody from studying the guide, they need to be saved in thoughts.

Lack of Particular Examples

A Thoughts for Numbers has surprisingly few particular examples of the strategies in motion. Remarkably for a guide on studying math and science, the few particular examples are principally not examples from math and science. For instance, the guide has a mnemonic for remembering the variety of days within the months (January with 31 days, February with 28/29 days, March with 31 days, and many others.) utilizing the knuckles of the 2 fingers. Whereas it is a helpful mnemonic, it isn’t carefully related to math and science. There are virtually no particular examples of the best way to be taught algebra, trigonometry, calculus, physics or different sciences. This makes the recommendation moderately summary in lots of instances and will disappoint some readers.

Studying Math is Very Sequential

As I mentioned in my article How To Study Math math could be very sequential. Studying addition will depend on already figuring out not less than the pure numbers (1,2,3…). Trendy addition will depend on already figuring out the pure numbers and 0, a moderately summary idea that took 1000’s of years to invent. Studying subtraction will depend on already figuring out addition. Studying multiplication will depend on already figuring out addition. Studying division will depend on already figuring out multiplication which depend upon figuring out addition which will depend on figuring out not less than the pure numbers. Elevating a quantity to an influence will depend on already figuring out multiplication. Taking a root, the sq. root of a quantity for instance, will depend on already figuring out the best way to increase a quantity to an influence. Highschool algebra will depend on figuring out all of those steps. Introductory calculus requires a primary proficiency in algebra. And so forth.

This strictly sequential attribute of arithmetic has robust implications for studying arithmetic. A Thoughts for Numbers is conscious of this. It’s talked about briefly in passing in just a few locations, however negligible time is dedicated to the topic. The important thing level is that if you happen to get misplaced or don’t get one thing in studying arithmetic, it’s crucial to again as much as what you do know, begin over, and make sure to grasp every step in flip. In any other case, most often, you’ll merely get extra misplaced. It additionally has the sensible implication that college students ought to keep away from conditions by which the arithmetic is coming too quickly for them to soak up every step, usually with a time cushion for these inevitable distractions and issues that life throws in our method.

The Night time of the Residing Lifeless

For some cause, the creator refers to zombies and makes use of zombies as metaphors and illustrations for a lot of factors within the books, whether or not as a result of the creator is a fan of zombies or maybe in an try to attach with youthful readers who’re into the present zombie fiction craze. I personally discovered the zombies a bit distracting.

Unicorns and Careers

A Thoughts for Numbers has many inspirational tales alongside the strains of “Chauncey Wigginbotham III dropped out of Harvard and based Colossal Software program at age eighteen and have become a billionaire by age twenty-seven by means of exhausting work, grit and willpower” … and 1,000,000 {dollars} in seed financing from the Financial institution of Mother and Dad adopted by ten million {dollars} in Collection A funding from the famous enterprise capital agency of Dad’s Outdated Buddy and Companions. Within the Silicon Valley, these astonishing and extraordinarily uncommon successes like Colossal Software program are sometimes known as “unicorns.” The guide additionally has comparable inspirational tales about Nobel Laureates just like the bongo-playing physicist Richard Feynman. The lesson is often “you are able to do it — by following the morally upright precepts of The E book of Proverbs.”

Inspirational “unicorn tales” (minus the seed financing from the Financial institution of Mother and Dad) are a typical aspect of some textbooks and plenty of self-help books and supplies. The relevance of those tales to most individuals and most college students is very questionable. In some respects it’s analogous to pointing to somebody who received $100 million within the state lottery as a job mannequin.

Within the Silicon Valley, most startups with robust founding groups, good concepts, substantial financing, loads of exhausting work, grit, and willpower … fail. Enterprise capital companies usually informally declare an eighty to ninety % failure charge and a few knowledgeable observers suspect the precise failure charge is likely to be ninety-five % and even ninety-nine %. It is not uncommon for failing venture-backed startups to merge or be acquired moderately than go bankrupt or formally dissolve which makes it troublesome to exactly outline or determine the failures.

Of the ten to twenty % of investments that succeed, most return modest returns on the preliminary funding. By most accounts, just a few % turn out to be huge successes that return 5 or ten instances the enterprise capital agency’s funding. In response to the Kaufmann Basis, a serious investor in enterprise capital funds, the general returns of enterprise capital investing over the past decade have been disappointing: “After Charges and Bills, Most Traders Will Do Higher in Public Markets .”

The massive successes sometimes obtain a market capitalization of round one-hundred million {dollars} and generally comparable precise revenues and some % precise earnings: for instance, 5 million {dollars} in web revenue with annual revenues of one-hundred million {dollars}. It needs to be identified lots of the “successes” are profitable inventory market transactions, some folks revamped 100 million {dollars} promoting the inventory however the precise enterprise was not profitable.

The unicorns — Fb, Google, my fictional Colossal Software program — are a tiny fraction of the small variety of already uncommon and strange successes. In her article “Welcome To The Unicorn Membership: Studying From Billion-Greenback Startups,” enterprise capitalist Aileen Lee estimated that unicorns comprised “about .07 % of venture-backed shopper and enterprise software program startups”

Related feedback will be made about Nobel Prizes. As I’ve mentioned in different articles, the fraction of Ph.D.’s in physics who turn out to be tenured professors is small, not to mention the fraction who win a Nobel Prize like Richard Feynman (infinitesimal). How related to most math and science college students, together with actually distinctive college students, is Richard Feynman’s profession in reality? This doesn’t imply that individuals mustn’t be taught math and science, any greater than that individuals mustn’t be taught to learn and write as a result of they may by no means turn out to be the subsequent Ernest Hemingway or J.Ok. Rowling.


College students and others are well-advised to look fastidiously and critically on the statistics, the precise distribution of outcomes for all college students, staff, and “entrepreneurs” moderately than extraordinarily uncommon, distinctive instances. Most individuals who play state lotteries lose cash over their lifetime! A Thoughts for Numbers could be a stronger guide if it included statistics and graphs on profession prospects for the totally different fields that it discusses in addition to information on the worth of math and science schooling for many who don’t pursue a math or science associated profession, which regularly finally means software program engineering at the moment.

One Measurement Might Not Match All

The guide tends to current the strategies as scientifically confirmed strategies that may certainly work for everybody. Debatable theories such because the “working reminiscence” principle of quick and long run reminiscence, reasoning, and cognition are sometimes offered as confirmed info. Readers ought to take into account that our understanding of studying and cognition is restricted and sometimes tends to be derived from moderately unrealistic experiments and actions. For instance, research of taking part in chess play a big and disproportionate position in analysis into studying, cognition and “skilled” efficiency, notably within the work of Herbert Simon and Anders Ericsson (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell is his guide Outliers).

Nonetheless, there are lots of observations and experiments that increase questions on many distinguished theories of cognition and studying. How are some prime chess gamers capable of play a number of simultaneous chess video games with a number of opponents? Does this actually match with the speculation of working reminiscence? Why do I appear to have the ability to hold monitor of many greater than the 4-9 slots in my supposed working reminiscence whereas in a deep state of focus however can’t hold monitor of quite a lot of gadgets underneath most situations? Darned if I do know, nevertheless it doesn’t match with the easy principle of working reminiscence espoused within the guide.

Folks could differ at a elementary natural degree and totally different studying strategies and strategies may go — or work in another way — for various folks. Readers and college students ought to hold this in thoughts whereas studying the guide or making an attempt to place its recommendations into apply.


Total, I give A Thoughts for Numbers a score of three (3) out of a attainable 5 (5), the place 5 represents the very best or an exceptionally good guide. I’d advocate that individuals learn it if they’re making an attempt to learn to be taught math and science. Most readers are more likely to discover some helpful info and a few strategies they have no idea, as I did. Nevertheless, it has some notable weaknesses and readers ought to each take its claims with a grain of salt in addition to look to different complementary sources on studying math and science.

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