I learn Maths like I learn History

One of my maths students had a look of extreme concentration on her face as we worked through a maths problem last week. When asked what she was trying to do she said “trying to remember the steps”. When asked if she knew why she would take a particular step to solve the problem she replied. “No. I just learn maths like I learn history. Memorise the dates”.

She was trying to memorise the steps in solving problems from her text book without understanding them. This approach could mean a lot of hard work for very little return in her study of both maths and history. If this is your approach I suggest you stop and rethink.

I explained my view that if you can genuinely understand the maths question and the reasons for the various steps in solving a maths problem then you do not need to tax the brain so much in trying to recall something memorised by rote. Same applies pretty much to any subject. History for example can be viewed as a story from the past up to the present. Some things happen berfore others and cause certain other things to happen as a result. I would suggest that understanding this cause and effect in our “story” is more important in the study of history, than memorising dates isolated from any context.

I am also of the view that the easist way of taking on board new learning is to associate it with something we already know. For exmple, a thirteen year old student (born in 1998) may have difficulty in trying to remember that the following events took place at the listed dates:


Spanish-American War.

Radium discovered by Pierre and Mme. Curie.


Napolian’s Egyptian expedition fails, Battle of the Nile.

1798 rising in Ireland (and all over the place).


Vasco de Gama reaches India by sea.

However, the chances of recalling them greatly increases if our student relates these dates to another that is unlikely to be forgotten. These dates are 100, 200, and 500 years before the student’s date of birth.

My maths student was so delighted with this idea that I thought I would share it with a broader audiance.

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