09/05/2014

To Master Test Material, Give Your Brain a Break

33:47 minutes

When struggling to solve a problem, the brain slips into “focused mode.” The trick, says Barbara Oakley, author of A Mind for Numbers, is zooming back out into “diffuse mode” so that larger neural networks can toss the problem around and, hopefully, come to a solution. Salvador Dalí and Thomas Edison did so by taking the briefest of naps; Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, by heading out for a walk. These and other tricks for learning are the subject of Oakley’s book and another—How We Learn, by New York Times science writer Benedict Carey, who writes that forgetting is the greatest ally of learning. (Read an excerpt from A Mind for Numbers here, and see how good you are at learning with Carey’s quiz. Finally, check out call-in guest AnnMarie Thomas’s Squishy Circuits activity.)

Segment Guests

Benedict Carey

Benedict Carey is author of How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens (Random House, 2014) and a science reporter at The New York Times in New York, New York.

Barbara Oakley

Barbara Oakley is author of A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) (Tarcher/Penguin, 2014) and an engineering professor at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

AnnMarie Thomas

AnnMarie Thomas, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the University of St Thomas School of Education, where her research focuses on PK-12 education and Playful Learning. She is mother and maker who studies aerial arts in her spare time.

Meet the Producers

About Alexa Lim

Alexa Lim is Science Friday’s associate producer. Her favorite stories involve space, sound, and strange animal discoveries.

About Christopher Intagliata

Christopher Intagliata is Science Friday’s senior producer. He once served as a prop in an optical illusion and speaks passable Ira Flatowese.

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A quiz from the author of "How We Learn."

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An excerpt from "A Mind for Numbers."

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