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I recently read a New York Times article that explained the interesting concept of “perceptual learning,” which involves training the mind to memorize patterns rather than just learning concepts straight off. This method is being investigated by a small group of scientists who have evidence that proficiency improves when students in schools are groomed to use their “sensitive perpetual radar” to make educated inquiries on problems, rather than purely going through a structured process taught to them by the teacher.

With the added component of incorporating individual perception into the scholarly experience, children as young as middle school have been shown the opportunity to grasp difficult concepts in math or science with the benefit of using their intuition rather than convention. The idea of having a “trained eye” through experience of repetition and patterns may be harder to acquire than basic techniques for problem solving, but isn’t practice involved in developing any skill? In this fast-paced world, many times people forget that the simple intuitive parts of our brain hold a lot of credit for the things we can learn to do. If we were to hone these perceptive parts of ourselves at an early age, how could this affect how we learn and process information as a whole?

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Since “teaching to the test” is extremely common these days, with schools being forced to bring up their reputations based on test scores, the whole definition of “teaching” has changed. With certain amounts of time allotted for teaching specific topics, teaching has become a rushed, overburdened task from its former self. In United States specifically, the overemphasis on standardized tests such as the SATs even as young as middle school age has caused an onslaught of stress, and therefore a decrease in the performance and stamina of students in the classroom. If “perceptual learning” was demonstrated and encouraged early on in learning, how would it affect students and how they view the large amount of information they are faced with? As a physics teacher, Joe Wise states in the article, in reference to underlying skills, “It’s not how well you do, but how well you learn.” Through gaining the building blocks for problem solving by tapping into intuition over structured problem sets, the general skills required for living in the real world might be more readily available from the get-go. Through learning from intuitive experience, trial-and-error tasks, and more prolonged emphasis on patterns and repetition, could we mold a stronger group of young learners?

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Despite the structures that already harness the education system, “perceptual learning” is definitely a strong-point of reference for parents and educators alike to consider when teaching children complex subjects like math and science. Back in my days as a student, math problems and scientific equations always eluded me, as my strong points have always been in English and history. If there had been a way to learn long equations and calculations through a more hands-on learning style, maybe I would not have struggled so much in my school days. The fact that the current children of America live in a time when scientists are working on more comprehensive ways of learning is important for parents and teachers to acknowledge. It is only with education that improvements can be made in the world as a whole, so paying attention to the improvements in the learning curve is vital for future generations!

What do you think about “perceptual learning” and its implications for education? Discuss your ideas below!

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