kitchen table math, the sequel: Is math by hand better than math by keyboard?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Is math by hand better than math by keyboard?

Sorting books this afternoon, I came across Tahir Yaqoob's What Can I Do to Help My Child with Math When I Don't Know Any Myself? and found this passage:
The actual process of using your muscles to write something is a powerful long-term memory aid. The more that you write out things (and in different ways), the more your long-term memory will be etched out. It is not good enough simply to read and think (although this is important for reviewing large amounts of material shortly before taking an exam, but only if you have done the long-term ground work). Writing out full solutions to problems in math is especially important compared to other subjects, whether it is part of reviewing for exams or whether you are learning new material.

Writing things out can also help you to understand difficult problems. For example, if you see a fully worked solution to a problem in a textbook, but don't understand one or more of the steps, try simply writing out the solution yourself. You may be surprised that while you are doing that, you suddenly understand something that you didn't before. Sometimes the brain has a strange way of working. Despite its enormous capacity , the. brain can really benefit from an external "scratch pad." When you come across something that you don't understand, sometimes just writing out the steps in a brief form can make a great deal of difference.

What Can I Do to Help My Child with Math When I Don't Know Any Myself? Paperback – February 7, 2011 by Tahir Yaqoob - p133
I've always found this to be true, both for C. and for me. I don't know why. One of these days I'll get around to reading The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, which I hope will explain the phenomenon.

The OECD report on students and technology (Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection) found that using the computer for drill was associated with reduced achievement:
The decline in performance associated with greater frequency of certain activities, such as chatting on line at school and practicing and drilling, is particularly large (Figure 6.6). Students who frequently engage in these activities may be missing out on other more effective learning activities. Students who never or only very rarely engage in these activities have the highest performance.
Given my experience, the "other more effective learning activities" these students are missing may be drilling by hand.


ChemProf said...

I think there is something to this, and it is an issue as the "digital natives" try to learn. Writing by hand does put things into your brain in a way that typing doesn't (and ask any touch typist about the weird way you can type something without really reading it). Plus for note taking, typing encourages you to transcribe what the teacher is saying rather than really thinking about it and writing the main ideas.

But I don't know if there are studies out there on that at all.

Luke Holzmann said...

I was thinking about this as I worked on the first draft of my latest short film script. I was sitting, trying to work out the story, but I didn't get anywhere until I grabbed some paper and mind mapped the stuff in my head. Putting it all down, and getting it out of my brain, let me see it all more clearly and I was able to sit down and write from there. ...I think there's something related there: physically getting stuff out there, rather than just thinking about it, makes a difference.

I'm interested to learn more about how the mechanics of doing it by hand improves retention; makes me wonder: Why would the scribbling motions of handwriting be more effective than typing motions? Both occur by hand, but I guess one is more analog, each letter/number a different shape rather than a spacial placement on keyboard?


Auntie Ann said...

I'd also put in a vote for speaking things aloud. I found that, especially when it comes to memorizing things like vocabulary and foreign language words, speaking the words aloud works wonders. You get to engage both the speaking and listening parts of your brain, which seems to help lock in information.

I addition, when writing, reading something you've written aloud tends to bring the clunk out in the open so that it can be eradicated.

Anonymous said...

"Why would the scribbling motions of handwriting be more effective than typing motions?"

Because keystrokes are identical to the hand. Handwritten characters are all different.

GoogleMaster said...

"Princeton University study finds students more likely to learn by taking handwritten notes"

Here's the study (free abstract):

Anonymous said...

My preferred study method, which worked all the way through PhD level, was serial (handwritten) condensations of the test material; highlighting/annotating my comprehensive (handwritten) class notes, making margin notes next to my previous text/lit highlights, incorporating both into a single set of notes, then condensing them (in stages) down to 2-3 notecards by the night before the exam. Before the exam, I'd give them a quick look and could be confident that I hadn't missed anything significant. Yes, it was lots of work, and I started at least a week ahead, but I had the results I wanted.