Asaf Karagila
I don't have much choice...


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No, this isn't some personal blog post.

Derek Muller of the Veritasium fame had posted a new video this afternoon. I'm going to spoil the crap out of the video, so you might want to watch it before reading on.

All caught up? Great. Let's keep going.

In this video Derek goes back to his roots and discussing learning. Specifically, he talks about learning styles, visual, auditory, etc.

When the video started and he mentioned these learning styles, I was trying to figure out which one describes me best. I do better when I listen without taking notes, but if you don't write down proofs, you will never own them. But then, that's more of a kinesthetic. One thing is for sure, I don't care as much for visuals, but then again, we only have like one generic visual to describe everything in set theory.

So which one was I? I couldn't make it. And then he talked about misconceptions, and the penny dropped. He's not here to talk about learning styles, he's here to debunk them. Phew! What a relief. Much like that INTJ things, or any kind of "sharp divide between types of people", the reality is almost definitely usually made of various shades of gray, or maybe grey now that I'm in the UK.

Right. But Derek isn't here to destroy evil empires. No, no. Derek is here to correct their ways. Well, when he has the power to do it, and he definitely has the power here.

He made a point that the people who did better on his little street questionnaire did so because they engaged with the questions, rather than just try to place something in memory out of context.

And this is what we're here to discuss, folks. Engagement.

The way to study any subject, but as far as I'm concerned, mathematics, or better yet, set theory, is to engage with it. As I said before, if you don't write down a proof, you don't own it. That's what it means to engage with it. It means sitting with your buddies and talking about the material. Having a discussion over a beer, tea, or whatever where you break apart a theorem, a definition, a proof, and you discuss and debate its meaning and content is worth a whole week of repetitive homework.

And this is where things get sad. In today's climate, a lot of courses are there as hurdles to the degree which is a jumping point to a salary. People are not interested in engaging with the material, they want the path of least resistance. And so as a response, the homework and tests are just attempts to enforce some minimal engagement with the material. Instead, if we can convince the students that the material is not actually difficult, and they just need to think about it a bit differently, I think that everyone will win.

This is why teaching undergraduates in Israel is so different. The average age of my students was 23, I believe, whereas here in the UK it would be 19 or 20. When the university is just the "obvious step" to high school, you end up with people who treat it as high school. There's no effort to engage with the material, there's no attempts to engage with the material. And since the UK approach is that universities are business where students are clients, and the client is always right, especially when they are charged through the nose in fees and student debt, the word from above is to make people happy rather than make them think.

So please, to all the students and future students who happen upon this blog, engage with your material. It is worth a lot more than homework. And to the teachers who desperately want the students to engage, maybe we can all figure out new ways of forcing students to engage with the material. Just remember to be supportive, patient, and encouraging.

And parents to small children (or teachers of young children), please keep them curious. As long as students are raised to be curious, they will have a part of them that wants to engage with things. But a lot of curiosity gets killed by parents that don't have the time and elementary school teachers. And after that it's just too late.

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