Do the words “science” and “mathematics” bring back bad memories?

If I asked you today which of your school classes gave you the most unpleasant memories, mathematics or science are bound to feature. My mathematician and scientist friends may recount stories of wonderful learning experiences, but most people can only remember the failed mathematics tests, the seemingly pointless experiments and lab reports, the boring geometry assignments, the pages of chemical formulae that seemed impossible to memorize, and all their teachers who couldn’t satisfactorily explain why anyone should have to learn arbitrary things like algebra.

In this blog, we will primarily, but not exclusively, explore learning in the context of science and mathematics. Why? Because fear and disappointment have a profound effect on us, and studying science and mathematics has been an intimidating and frightening experience for many people. Many people have concluded that they are “too stupid” to understand these subjects, and are destined to be failures where science and mathematics are involved. Many people have watched their own children struggle with homework, standing helplessly by as their kids sink deeper and deeper into their own sense of failure at not being able to understand the concepts and new ideas. Many teachers have hit the wall in frustration, having tried every way they know to communicate to their students what seems like a simple concept. Is success in science and mathematics really only the reward for an elite few?

Learning is simply the cognitive process of acquiring skill or knowledge. Instead of us trying to water down the facts, and dummy down the skill it requires to use the facts, why not do something to influence the process of acquiring the knowledge and the skill? And if we can indeed influence the process, how do we go about it?