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Run-on Sentence Summary

An approachable summary of the lessons of cognitive science applied to learning in a K-12 classroom.


The title makes it seem like this book is going to be a criticism of modern schooling practices, but it is nothing of the sort. Instead, it is another overview of the psychology of learning. The book is geared for primary school teachers, and makes an admirable effort of being pragmatic and applicable, even including a long section about how to practice to become a better teacher. It covers many straightforward ideas such as how important factual knowledge is for clear thinking.

For instance, I remember in school how experiments in science class felt strange, because you generally knew what was supposed to happen as long as you were paying attention, so doing an “experiment" often meant fudging your results as much as you could get away with to match what was obviously supposed to happen. This is the exact opposite of how real science is done, and I understood that hypocrisy all too well in school.

One idea in this book is that in order to teach people to think like an expert, or in this case design good experiments, one must have a huge amount of practice and background knowledge. Getting someone to think like a scientist doesn’t just involve making them practice thinking like a scientist, but filling in huge swathes of background information to guide their thinking. Background knowledge doesn’t just point you in the right direction, it frees up short term memory space that allows you to think in fundamentally different ways. "Cognition early in training is fundamentally different from cognition late in training.” Having knowledge doesn’t just make you more knowledgeable, it actually makes you smarter.

Final Thoughts

As the book mentions, many ideas in cognitive science seem extremely obvious once they have been explained to you. This, combined with the fact that I have already read a half dozen other books on this subject, made this book somewhat tedious and boring.

Favorite Quote

“Mas sabe El Diablo por viejo que por Diablo.”

Roughly translated:

“The Devil is not wise because he’s the Devil. The Devil is wise because he’s old.”