Book Summary:
A Mind For Numbers
Advanced Computer Science

Learning to Learn
– Dr. Barabara Oakley

Focused vs. Diffuse Modes

  • Focused mode is direct, rational, sequential, and analytical.
  • There are multiple theories on the purpose of Passive Mode which the book calls ‘Diffuse’ mode.
  • Diffuse mode is associated with “big picture” perspectives, and happens when you relax and let your mind wander.
  • It seems you toggle back and forth between these modes, using one or the other.

Focused vs. Diffuse Modes

  • It is typical to be stumped by new concepts and problems when we first focus on them.
  • To figure out new ideas and solve problems, it’s important not only to focus initially, but also to turn our focus away from what we want to learn.
  • The Einstellung effect refers to getting stuck in solving a problem or understanding a concept as a result of becoming fixated on a flawed approach. Your initial ideas about problem solving can sometimes be very misleading.

The Juggler & The Storage Facility

  • There are two major memory systems:
  • Working memory—like a juggler who can keep only four items in the air.
  • Long-term memory—like a storage warehouse that can hold large amounts of material, but needs to be revisited occasionally to keep the memories accessible.
  • Spaced repetition helps move items from working memory to long-term memory.

The Juggler & The Storage Facility

  • Sleep is a Passive (Diffuse) mode.
  • Sleep is a critical part of the learning process. It helps you:
  • Make the neural connections needed for normal thinking processes—which is why sleep the night before a test is so important.
  • Figure out tough problems and find meaning in what you are learning.
  • Strengthen and rehearse the important parts of what you are learning and prune away trivialities.
  • Physilogically, toxins that build up during focused thought are removed.

Chunking

  • The path to expertise is built little by little, small chunks can become larger, and all of the expertise serves to underpin more creative interpretations as you gradually become a master of the material.
  • Illusion of competence: We may feel we understand something when the source material is in front of us, only to realize we do not understand when the source material is not available.

Chunking

  • The first step on chunking is simply to focus your undivided attention on the information you want to chunk.
  • The second step in chunking is to understand the basic idea you’re trying to chunk
  • Can you create a chunk if you don’t understand? Yes, but it’s often a useless chunk.
  • Don’t confuse the “aha” of a breakthrough in understanding with solid expertise.
  • The third step to chunking is gaining context, so you can see not just how, but also when to use this chunk.

Chunking

  • Learning takes place in two ways.
  • Bottom up chunking process, where practicing repetition can help you both build and strengthen each chunk, so you can easily access it whenever you need to.
  • Top down big picture process that allows you to see what you’re learning and where it fits in.
  • Context is where bottom up and top down learning meet..

Chunking

  • Neurons need to trained
  • Spaced repetion is an effective technique for training
  • Practice the chunks multiple times
  • Spread practice over a several days
  • Flash cards are helpful tool for spaced repetition.
    • opensource flash card app https://apps.ankiweb.net/

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/23/spaced-repetition-a-hack-to-make-your-brain-store-information

Procratination: Painful Anticipation

  • Habits such as procrastination have four parts:
  • The cue
  • The routine
  • The reward
  • The belief

Procratination: Painful Anticipation

  • Change a habit by responding differently to a cue, or even avoiding that cue altogether. Reward and belief make the change long-lasting.
  • Focus on the process (the way you spend your time) instead of the product (what you want to accomplish).
  • Research has shown people don’t multi-task, though some people think they do it well.
  • Multitasking means that you are not able to make full, rich connections in your thinking, because the part of your brain that helps make connections is constantly being pulled away before neural connections can be firmed up.

Pomodoro Technique

  • Pick your task
  • Set your timer for nn minutes. Put away distractions
  • Focus on your task for the full 25 minutes.
  • Take a 5 minute break.
  • Every four cycles take a longer break.

On the break, do something fun in a different domain. Preferrably one the moves you into a diffuse mode.

http://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-pomodoro-technique-1598992730

Focus on Process, not Product

  • Focus on doing something
    • Use the pomodoro approach
  • Focus on progress, not perfection

The Law of Serendipidity

  • Remember, Lady Luck favors the one who tries. So don’t feel overwhelmed with everything you need to learn about a new subject. Instead, focus on nailing down a few key ideas.
  • Summary
  • Chunking means integrating a concept into one smoothly connected neural thought pattern.
  • Chunking helps increase the amount of working memory you have available.
  • Building a chunked library of concepts and solutions helps build intuition in problem solving.
  • When you are building a chunked library, it’s important to keep deliberate focus on some of the toughest concepts and aspects of problem solving.
  • Occasionally you can study hard and fate deals a bad hand. But remember the Law of Serendipity: If you prepare well by practicing and building a good mental library, you will find that luck will be increasingly on your side. In other words, you guarantee failure if you don’t try, but those who consistently give it a good effort will experience many more successes.

Resources

  • Summary: https://www.reddit.com/r/ADHD/comments/62z6ia/i_summarised_barbara_oakleys_a_mind_for_numbers_i/
X00_MindForNumbers - Google Slides