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Friday, January 15, 2010

How should students study differently for econ?

The Teaching Professor points to an article that discusses how study strategies that work for learning math may be different than the study strategies that work in other subjects:
...the article has got me thinking that what this teacher has done would be such a useful exercise for all of us. What approaches do students use that aren’t effective in your field? ...my students loved flashcards, which work best in foreign language courses and maybe if you need to memorize definitions, but they are worthless when an exam requires the application of content. After identifying those strategies that don’t work, it is of course necessary to identify those that do, especially noting those that are unique to the kind of content we teach. The more specific we can be here the better. It’s not helpful enough to say that students need to practice. What kind of practice? For how long? And what do they do when they are practicing and make a mistake?

I think the original article, by Justin Buchler, in PS, Political Science & Politics, 42(3), July 2009, is worth a read for economists because we face many of the same obstacles that math teachers face. The basic gist is that higher-level math requires an understanding of which formulas to use in which situation (i.e., the logic of application), rather than rote memorization of formulas. I think we all want our students to be able to apply concepts, and I'm constantly telling my students that it is not enough to simply memorize definitions, but other than working lots of problems, I have not given much thought to what specific study strategies will help students most, and how studying for econ might be different than studying other subjects.

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