She did it by applying the memorization and repetition-based techniques she had learned while studying language at the University of Washington. With apologies to the many language instructors who emphasize understanding from the outset, Dr. Oakley claims that one must first master “chunks” of a subject. These chunks correspond to the building blocks of whatever subject is being studied. In mathematics the equivalent to vocabulary and the learning of simple phrases are basic equations. Once these are learned, Dr. Oakley explains, understanding has a substrate in which to put down roots. It is not a matter of understanding complex explanations of grammar or mathematical principles, but of getting the basics down pat to the extent that they can be instantly reproduced by the mind. Only then does understanding in any conceptual depth have a chance to develop. Her method is rote memorization and, to that end, a lot of repetition.
Her written article on the subject can be found in the fall 2014 edition of Nautilus. Her title, “How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math” carries the subtitle “Sorry, education reformers, it’s still memorization and repetition we need.” Her book, A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), is a must-read for educators and for all who wish to challenge themselves with a subject they may have considered far beyond their ability to learn.
For more on this subject, see www.ritasturamwirkala.com