How To Learn

I just noticed this really fantastic short video on learning at the The Atlantic.


  • Anyone really can learn anything.
  • You must be comfortable with not knowing, with not having answers, with being wrong.
  • Knowing what the rules are and knowing how success is defined means there is no discovery.
  • Be curious: ask questions, build the discipline of curiosity.
  • Sleep encodes memories; practice before sleeping and sleep well.
  • When you believe in yourself, your brain behaves differently; if you believe in yourself, when you make a mistake, your brain “spark and fires” because you know you are learning.
  • Education today force feeds problems; we don’t teach how to ask questions.
  • Any type of creative process usually begins with a good question, one that reframes a problem or challenges a process.
  • Stories help us to understand the world and the people around us while at the same time enhancing our attention spans and developing our imaginations.


The Precise Relationship between Intelligence and Speed: There is none

Being a Southerner in New York City, I always suspected this. There is no relationship between intelligence and speed. What is important is to deeply understand things and to think about their relations to each other. In math education emphases on speed simply create math anxiety and phobia, rather than great mathematical thinkers. From Fields Medalist Laurent Schwartz:

“I was always deeply uncertain about my own intellectual capacity. I thought I was unintelligent. And it’s true that I was, and I still am, rather slow. I need time to seize things because I always need to understand them fully. Even when I was the first to answer the teacher’s questions, I knew it was because they happened to be questions to which I already knew the answer. But if a new question arose, usually students who weren’t as good as I was answered before me and towards the end of the 11th grade I secretly thought of myself as stupid and I worried about this for a long time. I never talked about this to anyone but I always felt convinced that my imposture would someday be revealed. The whole world and myself would see that what looked like intelligence was really just an illusion Now that never happened. Apparently no one ever noticed it, and I’m still just as slow. At the end of the eleventh grade I took the measure of the situation and came to the conclusion that rapidity doesn’t have a precise relationship to intelligence. What is important is to deeply understand things and their relations to each other. This is where intelligence lies. The fact of being quick or slow isn’t really relevant. Naturally, it’s helpful to be quick, like it is to have a good memory. But it’s neither necessary nor sufficient for intellectual success.”

Laurent Schwartz, Fields Medal earner, as quoted by Dr. Jo Boaler in EDUC115N How to Learn Math (MOOC)

The Key to Success: Grit

In this excellent Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth bluntly relays where we are in the science of education with regard to the single most important factor that determines success and achievement. At this point, all we know for sure is that a growth mindset can play an important role in helping children develop the stick-to-it-iveness they need to reach high levels of achievement. Comments welcome.

[ted id=1733]

Open thread on the definition of success at

How to Increase Your Fluid Intelligence

Make Yourself Smarter
Sudoku doesn’t seem to be helping?

According to an article in the New York Times, the answer is to play n-back games every day. That sounds fun. I’m going to do it.

Can You Make Yourself Smarter?
Published: April 18, 2012

Play a Free Online Version of the N-Back Game