Grasp by Sanjay Sarma [Book Summary – Review]

Traditional education just doesn’t work, and this is becoming more and more obvious. Students don’t learn or develop into more well-rounded, creative people when their minds are crammed full of information and then tested to the very edge of their life. What can be done, then?

These chapters should provide a better understanding of some of the critical factors that cause current educational systems to conflict with how our brains naturally process information and learn, as well as some methods being researched to try to remedy that.

These chapters will teach you

  • why popular metrics like standardized tests are failing us;
  • strategies to enhance your memory and learning; and
  • how modern schools are using curiosity to their advantage.

Buy this book from Amazon

Chapter 1 – We pay a high price since our schools aren’t usually designed with our minds in mind.

Assume you are returning to school. How do you envision yourself? squished into a desk with a group of other students, listening to the instructor drone on in front of a chalkboard covered with illegible writing?

It wouldn’t be just you. It’s a traditional representation of how education operates, and at this point, it’s pretty much accepted worldwide. But in many aspects, this approach falls well short of what is now known about how the brain functions and how humans learn most effectively. It frequently rubs up against it.

Cognitive science has provided us with many insights on how we may enhance our educational system during the past few decades. But before we get into the specifics, it’s important to take a step back and define what we mean by “education.”

Education, in the author’s view, is the dissemination of comprehensive, contextualized knowledge. To put it another way, learning is more than simply remembering what the instructor says; it’s also about comprehending how that knowledge relates to the outside world and how to use it when the time comes.

Take this as a case study. Imagine that you have just finished an engineering course in which you learned the theory behind how pressure waves behave in pipes. Yes, you may spout out the knowledge required for the test and yet receive a respectable mark. However, what if you decide to work on an oil rig? What precisely was the point if you couldn’t truly stop the pipes from bursting or fix them when they did?

Sadly, a lot of schools ignore this broader picture. Why? One possible explanation is that the educational system was created to distinguish between “worthy” and “unworthy” pupils as well as to impart knowledge. The author refers to the action as “winnowing.”

Winnowing makes perfect sense everywhere. Despite a ton of evidence to the contrary, IQ scores, standardized tests, and high-stakes examinations are all employed as indicators of natural ability and are supposed to separate the wheat from the chaff. These measurements not only fall short of properly capturing intelligence, but they also push us to learn ineffectively. They unfairly weed away many bright brains.

For this, we pay a high price. How many Einsteins were lost to history as a result of location, gender, class, or other unaccounted-for factors? We will require every brain we can muster if we are to address global issues like climate change. Thus, proper education is required.

But first, there are several myths that we need to dispel.

Chapter 2 – Education need not be painful. If it’s not, it functions better.

Let’s return to childhood, a time when we had not yet learned very much of anything, since we are attempting to unlearn a few things. Consider yourself a little child having fun at the beach. Everything appears fresh. When you contact the water, you notice how cold it is. Sand clumps when you spray water on it, as you soon discover. When you spend too much time in the sun, it stings.

You are developing an understanding of how the world functions as you take it all in. To better organize how you interact with your surroundings in the future, you are contextualizing information. You and a scientist are similar in certain ways. Although learning is our innate condition, we frequently think of education as something that is imposed from above. We have managed to exist as a species because of it. Therefore, the first misconception we must dispel is the idea that learning must be challenging.

But if that’s the case, why does school often seem like such a faraway place for having fun and exploring on the beach?

Our educational systems developed as a result of some obsolete presumptions, which is one factor. For instance, the notion that learning ought to be something similar to weightlifting: no pain, no gain. A lot of contemporary education is also based on concepts from a century ago that valued techniques that were simple to standardize and measure. These methods can help develop a system on a large scale, but they aren’t always effective in encouraging our innate love of learning.

Education must be more interesting than that to be successful. For instance, the goal shouldn’t be only to understand physics. The goal should be to develop the ability to reason logically utilizing physics principles to perceive and interact with the environment in new ways. You require context in addition to basic data for that. It is OK to memorize the names of world capitals, but it would be preferable to comprehend them within a larger context of occasions and individuals. Or, to get back to our engineering example, to see how the pressure waves in the oil pipelines function.

This is something that schools can accomplish. Take “Course 2.007,” an MIT engineering course. There, in addition to receiving theoretical instruction, students are frequently challenged to put that theory into practice. They construct robots to compete in an end-of-semester tournament in place of a final test. With none of the unpleasant winnowing effects, it has all the benefits of an exam.

Nobody is eligible to attend MIT. But many of the discoveries from cognitive science—many of which you can use yourself—may help us shape learning just as effectively as they do. 

Chapter 3 – Scheduling learning is not simply helpful; it is also vital, yet schools seldom consider that.

Let’s leave the beach and go back to school, I know it’s a drag. You’re just sitting down with your notes the night before your major test. Caffeine has you pumped up, and you’re trying to get as much knowledge into your head as you can.

If you went to school, chances are you have studied for an exam. That’s because tests are typically used by systems to evaluate pupils. And while studying in a rush is not a good idea for long-term memory retention, it works well for those types of tests.

Another instance of the winnower clashing with how our brains learn most effectively. The study of memory and learning is a large field with many unanswered questions. But there is one point on which almost everyone can agree: Cramming is detrimental to learning. This is related to a process known as long-term potentiation, in which synapses get stronger over time. It turns out that synapses get more strongly reinforced when learning is spread out.

You may put spaced learning into action in a variety of ways. For instance, before the real examination, schools might administer pre-tests to the pupils. As a result, being forced to call up information more than once, can be beneficial in the long term. An alternative study method called interleaving includes rotating between several study topics, much like switching between golf clubs at the driving range. It has been demonstrated that both boost retention.

To forget more can be a different strategy. Ironically, forgetting a bit helps us recall things better. Some ideas contend that forgetting may be a method of memory pruning since, if we recalled everything, we’d struggle to operate. When we lose track of something and subsequently remember it, we blaze a path through the maze of rejected connections and create a strong, enduring relationship.

Consider the scenario when you repeat someone’s name to yourself after meeting them at a party. Because repetition only aids in short-term memory retention, there’s a good chance you’ll forget it a little time later. However, it is far more likely to stick if you focus on anything else for a bit, allow yourself to forget the name, and then remember it.

These are only a few examples of the cognitive science discoveries that education has yet to fully understand. We must return to the shore so that we can investigate some others.

Chapter 4 – Curiosity may speed up learning and play a significant role in better learning.

Okay, you’re back at the beach as a child. You plant your feet firmly in the sand and survey the coastline in quest of anything fresh. To your left is a little area of gravel, but why stay there? Then you notice a flash in a nearby tidepool. You get closer after noticing a stunning coral specimen. Your mind suddenly fills with inquiries: What is it? How was it made? How did it get here?

Curiosity, as we all know, is what compelled you to glance at the coral and skip over the pebbles. It is what occurs when the brain becomes aware that it is missing information that it is capable of knowing. Recent neuroscience research has demonstrated how curiosity may accelerate learning and long-term potentiation. But many educators had previously acknowledged the power of curiosity and attempted to harness it to improve schools decades before methods like fMRIs permitted that process to be investigated in depth.

For instance, even though his schools never really took off, prominent American educator John Dewey worked hard to create learning settings that were designed around students’ natural interests. Within the same tradition, the more well-known Montessori schools have recently had more success. A young kid playing freely with colorful sticks or blocks is the traditional representation of a Montessori student; in this image, learning and play are seamlessly merged, much like on that beach.

There are several experimental teaching methods, or “discovery education,” including Montessori. The concept that personal motivations and creativity can and should drive the educational process unites them. The well-known psychologist Jean Piaget made the bold claim at the beginning of the 20th century that knowledge is not something we passively consume, as in those tedious lectures in the classroom, but rather something individuals actively produce.

There is proof that methods based on theories like Piaget’s are effective. For instance, in several studies, Montessori alumni outscored their colleagues from traditional institutions.

However, they are not without their flaws and restrictions. They are difficult to scale up and duplicate, in part because they need a lot of resources and qualified teachers. Education must be affordable for the majority of people, not just the fortunate few, for it to be effective.

Perhaps even more crucially, the motivating power of discovery and curiosity is limited in its ability to inspire action without at least some guidance. Thus, we return to the classroom.

Chapter 5 – Effective learning at scale requires structure and formal teaching.

Unfortunately, it’s time to say goodbye to the beach forever. However, you gained a lot of knowledge that you will now carry with you about the world. similar to how damp sand collects into clumps. You still don’t understand the origins of sand or why it behaves in that manner. Perhaps you make up a narrative about how little gnomes created it.

You return to the classroom later on. Sand is the subject of the science lesson, as you would have guessed. The instructor goes into great detail regarding molecular structures, erosion, and friction. Your time spent at the beach now makes sense. Then then, it wasn’t gnomes.

Of course, the idea here is that while curiosity and creativity are strong motivators, there are occasions when simple, conventional instruction is necessary to connect your knowledge. When done properly, organized teaching may enrich your understanding of the universe by providing life to inert knowledge rather than suffocating it.

As you can see, a lot of our present educational institutions are still woefully inadequate in that regard. Too many schools have a bias in favor of things that can be counted, measured, and scaled. However, there are indications that more adaptable teaching methods can make use of cognitive science’s findings while still maintaining the strength and scalability of organized learning.

A fascinating instance is “42,” a private, nonprofit coding school with locations in California and Paris. Students advance only after completing projects of increasing complexity, a process known as mastery learning, rather than passing through classes and obtaining marks. Another irony is that there aren’t many teachers at the school, thus pupils frequently tutor one another.

Similar advancements have been made by MIT’s TEAL system, which stands for technology-enabled active learning. Here, collaborative projects, simulations, lectures, and experiments are all combined into one seamless experience. It has been demonstrated that TEAL enhances academic performance and aids students in overcoming detrimental elements like the stereotype threat, where disadvantaged groups continue to perform poorly because they are preoccupied with pessimistic beliefs about their capabilities.

It appears that there is no real difference between conventional, organized learning and exploration learning. You can choose both options. How? by releasing the mind’s capacity for motivation. through fostering gaps in knowledge. by using technology to mold unstructured knowledge. And by applying that concept at a bigger scale to more established educational systems.

Chapter 6 – There are no easy cures, but the time is right for a new approach to education.

Both the classroom and the beach are now fond memories from my youth. Time to take things seriously now. You are now enrolled at MIT, which is a college.

The robots on show in Course 2.007 after the semester are of astounding caliber. You find it hard to believe that a handful of pathetic first-year students could conjure them into existence as you see them destroy boundaries, clear hurdles, and soar into the skies.

The hardest difficulty for the course to tackle was encouraging students to put the ideas they had learned into practice rather than merely remember them. And it did so by allowing pupils the freedom to explore and put their new knowledge into practice as well as by imparting difficult material through teaching.

This type of education must incorporate both halves of the Latin phrase “mens et manus,” which means “mind and hand.” Although it’s a delicate balance, Course 2.007 demonstrates that it is feasible.

Naturally, it would be fantastic if we could just export MIT classes around the globe. Even if modern technology has greatly increased the possibility of putting the school’s best practices into effect, that is regretfully still not attainable.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to improve. We reside in a turbulent world. Why do we take this opportunity to consider the history of our educational systems and replace antiquated, unquestionable procedures with more modern, scientific ones?

It’s important to keep in mind that technology is not a magic fix as we proceed. A technology’s social and economic setting cannot be isolated. For example, e-learning has been employed in certain impoverished schools to replace actual instructors who were lost as a result of budget cuts. That serves no useful purpose.

There are further pitfalls. While technology gives educators the potential to reach more kids, it can also be used to record and monitor their every move, classify them based on their facial expressions, and keep a permanent record of every pen stroke they make. Do we want this?

Nevertheless, there is no denying the necessity of change. We must all question the elements of our educational system that have kept us back. It’s time to expand access, stop emphasizing fundamental disparities, and create teaching strategies that equip students with both knowledge and practical skills.

Although there is still a long way to go, the technology is available and the time is right. A lot better than losing another generation of Einsteins to the winnower is taking the chance.

Grasp: The Science Transforming How We Learn by Sanjay Sarma, Luke Yoquinto Book Review

Not always do our educational institutions take into account how our brains work. By using current science, we may harness the inherent abilities of our minds as well as new technology to create significant advancements. For instance, interleaving and spacing out study sessions can both significantly increase retention. Additionally, innovative schools are developing new strategies for utilizing our inherent curiosity and passion for learning.

Try forgetting it first the next time you’re attempting to recall anything.

The next time you want to be sure you remember anything crucial, repeat it to yourself first before letting yourself go on to other things. Recheck it after some time has passed. You will be significantly strengthening the memory encoding of that knowledge if you recollect it after some time has passed.

Buy this book from Amazon

Download Pdf

Download Epub


Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile:

Recent Posts