Memorizing Before Understanding

Posted on April 15, 2014

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This recursion thing has been a great example of when a person does *not* have to understand a procedure before practicing it and drilling in it.  

Dear person defending your approach to teaching:   if you tell me that students can’t really learn by memorizing first, then you’ve just flushed your credibility down the drain.   Not only is it possible, it’s a *good* way to learn complicated things.  

I went to a cute website that had the Tower of Hanoi as a game yesterday. I started out clueless…but the Java text gave the moves for the tower of 3.  I worked through it, then did it without the directions, and then then practiced it until I could do it from memory. 

Because I *knew* that combination by heart, I could then identify what parts of the sequence were doing what.  I messed around and got to level four and five, and figured out some tricks to get me to the next step… that didn’t hold up when I didn’t have a bare pole to go to as often.   However, I had enough memorized to be able to analyze and change how I was defining things so that by lesson six, I had enough understanding to do levels seven and eight based on those definitions.   

I didn’t fall into the common trap of using unrelated visual pattersn ’cause I just don’t think that way, and I know to focus on meaning.  I know that lots of people, given the option to memorize, just want to get through… and so they *do* memorize and never understand — but why not memorize and then analyze? 

And now my task is to apply what I understnad about the tower of Hanoi to Recursion in General and the Sierpinski triangle. However, even a highly confident learner as myself really likes nailing down something as *known* … and memorizing should  be included in that category.  I do know there are learners who need understanding for things to stick, but … memorizing has been given a bad name. 

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