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Not everyone can learn certain things (no matter how hard they try).

 
 
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 07:11 pm
I ran into this article today that I found interesting...

http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2006/07/separating-programming-sheep-from-non-programming-goats.html

It posits that in the field of computer programming there are two groups of people. One that will learn how to program relatively easily, and one group that will never learn (in spite of the effort). There is a particular skill, a type of abstract thought, that apparently some people have and others don't.

Some researchers have devised a test that can be given to beginning students that can predict to a high degree of accuracy whether they will ever be successful or not. They conclude that a proportion of people who enter computer science programs will never be able to program in spite of working very hard to learn.

http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/SD_PPIG_2009.pdf

I find this idea a little bit troubling, you want to believe that anyone can achieve if they work hard enough. But then again, I will ever run a five minute mile.

A friend of mine teaches high school physics. When he started his mentor told him that 20% of the students would fully understand the difference between mass and weight (an abstract concept in physics) in the first 10 minutes, and that the rest of the students would never get it no matter how hard they tried. The conclusion is that a teacher should never spend more than 10 minutes on this topic (and that a lot of students would have to be able to pass the course without this understanding).

Does anyone find this interesting or troubling?
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Type: Discussion • Score: 13 • Views: 5,279 • Replies: 28
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fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 07:31 pm
My father tried to learn English as hard as he could. He used every method available (except full immersion in an English speaking country, I must say). But he never got beyond: "Hello", "Whatsematta" and "Hamanegs".

My father was a very intelligent man. He had little schooling, but became a manager and vicepresident for a big company, had encyclopedic knowledge of many things... but no gift at all for foreign languages.
It's something about the brain's early wiring, I suppose.

maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 07:48 pm
@fbaezer,
Language is an interesting case because everyone learns one. The process of learning the second language is a lot different than learning the first.

We tried to raise my daughter to be bilingual from when she started talking. As a toddler she insisted in mastering the one she felt was most important. She can speak the second language on a basic level, but it is definitely her second language.
fbaezer
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 07:52 pm
@maxdancona,
My son, a neuroscientist explained to me that when your speak your mother tongue you activate a part of your brain totally different that the one you activate when you speak a second or third language.

It was the case of a soccer player from Paraguay who had been shot in the head, and, during his early recovery, could only speak in GuaranĂ­, a South American Indian language, not in Spanish.

I wonder what will happen with his baby daughter, who lives in England but is spoken to in German and Spanish at home.
RST
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 07:53 pm
@maxdancona,
Quote:
The conclusion is that a teacher should never spend more than 10 minutes on this topic


That's too bad for kids with adhd.

Some will learn faster than others, that's a given.
Although, I won't give the ideas conveyed in these article any serious significance. If you have the determination and the drive to commit to hard work, and given time, anything can be learned. Unless of course there are some physical defect with the brain. People overrate intelligence and underrate hard work.

And I think your friend, the incompetent teacher (having 20% success rate), who has a vested interest in believing that there are people incapable of learning one of the most simplest physics concept, should face the reality: that he or she, and his or her current methods of teaching physics are terrible.
Indeed, I find such a teacher teaching at a high school very troubling.

maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 07:57 pm
@RST,
Quote:
If you have the determination and the drive to commit to hard work, anything can be learned.


This is the interesting question. The scientific research seems to contradict this. Could this just be wishful thinking on your part?

Quote:
And I think your friend, the incompetent teacher (having 20% success rate), who has a vested interest in believing that there are people incapable of learning


This is awfully judgmental of you toward someone you have never met. My understanding is that the fact that not all students can learn everything is common knowledge among educators.

You are stating what you would like to be true. But if you are going to state it as what is actually true, then you need to back it up with a little more than insults.
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 08:01 pm
Not everyone can learn certain things (no matter how hard they try).

http://republicseabee.com/Images/Far%20Side%20First%20Pants%20Then%20Your%20Shoes.jpg
0 Replies
 
RST
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 09:07 pm
@maxdancona,
How do you feel about different styles of learning and comprehending things?

The "scientific research" you posted didn't really have a very strong conclusion that suggest not everyone can learn certain things. In the conclusion of the study: "Although the test introduced by this study measures the ability to learn programming with some accuracy, without a solid method of measuring programming skill an optimum result cannot be achieved."

The study makes a good point. If you're asking that with an average intelligence, can anyone learn and comprehend any topic? It depends upon how you are evaluating "learning," and how you are defining "intelligence," and "comprehension," then there is the matter accurately measuring interest vs non-interest and how that correlates with learning, influence of nature vs nurture, and so on and on.

And I don't see how a scientific test can ever be setup to evaluate a very general hypothesis: "Not everyone can learn certain things (no matter how hard they try)." The attempt in trying to define most of these abstract concepts will leave the study not being any, or if at all, accurate. In a way, similar to the IQ test, which can't accurately pinpoint intelligence of any individual, intelligence being something that can't be defined down to a T.
Ceili
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 10:01 pm
I totally believe this. I'll tell you why. My brother, who is dyslexic - car accident when he was a kid, is a freaking genius with computers. I took an 8 month course on computer programming and failed miserably.
I'm not logical it seems. Actually, I was told.. lol
I could not, for the life of me, wrap my brain around the language, the programs, ugh! I hated it. I've never felt so stupid in my life.
I have no problem as an end user. I aced all the drafting programs, CAD, photoshop and what not,
I'm musical, one of my favourite topics in school was physics, I had honours marks most of my way through school.
Maybe I had shitty teachers, but I honestly believe either you've got it or you don't.
Not every one can sing, right?
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 10:04 pm
@RST,
No it's not. This is very easy to test scientifically. In this case we are not measuring something abstract, like IQ. We are measuring a specific ability to solve a specific type of problem. We can easily test the ability to solve a specific type of problem.

For example, there are thousands of problems that involve a concept called recursion. Many people have trouble using recursion to solve problems (although this ability is a requirement for a software engineer).

To test this hypothesis you give people a set of simple recursion problems. There will be one group of people who solve these problems fairly easily (after a short introduction) and another group of people who will have difficulty. Then you give training and time for study and give the test again (you can select different but similar problems randomly).

If the hypothesis is correct then you will see no improvement in the second group of people (the people who had trouble before the training).

This is precisely the study that was done (in the paper I linked) and precisely the results they found.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 10:19 pm
@RST,
RST, would you like to do a non-scientific experiment?

I will give you a quick programming problem using recursion and I will give you any help you need until you can solve that particular problem.

Then I will give you as much time as you need to study up on recursion until you are sure that you can solve any simple problem on recursion (the point is that you master recursion, not just learn to solve the one specific problem).

Then I will give you an equally simple, but different, problem using recursion to see if you you were able to pick it up.

My belief (and the articles in question support this) is that only a relatively small number of people have the mental capability to master recursion, not because it takes a bigger brain, but because it requires a specific type of abstract thinking that not everyone is built for. And I believe that no amount of effort will give someone that ability. You either have it or you don't.

It is funny that I have accepted that I will never be 7 feet tall or even 6 feet tall, and I have accepted that I will never be able to run a mile in 5 minutes. Some people are born with athletic ability and some people aren't.

Why is it easier to accept this truth with physical strength than it is with mental ability?

0 Replies
 
RST
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 10:38 pm
@maxdancona,
From the same authors' latest work within their conclusion section, quote:

"In the meantime we present this work as a case study in good science. Having some preliminary results that appeared extremely promising, we and col-leagues have re fined the test instrument, conducted further experiments, and applied the appropriate analysis. It is unfortunate that the outcome does not live up to the initial promise, but it has not quite closed the door on our explorations."

Which suggests that their modeled test is less predictive than they though it would be.
0 Replies
 
RST
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 10:43 pm
@maxdancona,
Quote:
RST, would you like to do a non-scientific experiment?

I will give you a quick programming problem using recursion and I will give you any help you need until you can solve that particular problem.

Then I will give you as much time as you need to study up on recursion until you are sure that you can solve any simple problem on recursion (the point is that you master recursion, not just learn to solve the one specific problem).

Then I will give you an equally simple, but different, problem using recursion to see if you you were able to pick it up.


Oooooh a challenge.
Not now, maybe later. Maybe next weekend.

And does this require any background in programming?
-------------------------------------------------

Just a curious side question, from your experience where you've worked so far, have you encountered people who are good at learning how to program, but not at being a good programmer?

maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 10:57 pm
@RST,
My theory is that it doesn't require a background in programming for some people. I would need thousands of you to test that out, but it could be done with enough experimental subjects.
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Tue 4 Dec, 2012 11:06 pm
@RST,
Yes, this fits in with my experience as an engineer, a learner and an occasional tutor.

For certain people, this stuff just clicks. The abstraction is simple and after 5 or 10 minutes you get the basic concept and the rest is details. For other people it doesn't click. No matter how you try to explain it they get stuck in the details and can't get the abstraction.

And it really is the ability think in a certain way that is difficult for many people. You have to reach beyond the details into the ideas and then apply the ideas to different situations. It is difficult to explain it, but for some people this is easy and for others it is apparently impossible.

When I have tried to help people who aren't able to see the abstraction, they just get stuck on the details until we both get frustrated.

I don't think the problem is the teacher, at least I have never seen any other teacher get any better results.
JPB
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 05:46 am
@maxdancona,
Quote:
The abstraction is simple and after 5 or 10 minutes you get the basic concept and the rest is details. For other people it doesn't click. No matter how you try to explain it they get stuck in the details and can't get the abstraction.


Algebra vs geometry. I've seen time and time again that some people find one easy to grasp and the other nearly impossible. Within my own family we have abstract thinkers (algebra) and concrete thinkers (geometry). I fall on the algebra side of the spectrum. One of my daughters is totally on the geometry side, as is my sister. Mr B and my other daughter get it all. I think there's a continuum where the number of people who are all one or the other are much fewer than those who fall somewhere in between.
Ragman
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 05:54 am
@JPB,
I was good at Algebra, disliked geometry (bad teacher) but handled it. What did me in was calculus.
0 Replies
 
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 07:58 am
@JPB,
Quote:
I think there's a continuum where the number of people who are all one or the other are much fewer than those who fall somewhere in between.


This is the opposite of the claim the article is making.

They claim a "bipolar distribution" where a group of people master these concepts in a very short time with little effort, and another group of people are never able to master these concepts no matter how hard they try. This matches with my personal experience.

There are very few people who fall in between.

The implication is that there are some cognitive tasks that can't be learned. You either are able to do them instinctively, or you aren't.

0 Replies
 
Mame
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 11:50 am
Yep, I believe that. I can pick up a language in weeks, whereas my husband struggles. I aced algebra and chem but performed dismally in geometry. I can do cryptograms in seconds but will struggle through those logic problems... it's just wiring.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 5 Dec, 2012 11:58 am
@fbaezer,
fbaezer wrote:

I wonder what will happen with his baby daughter, who lives in England but is spoken to in German and Spanish at home.


My daughter was bilingual from birth until a bit after age two. She was able to sign well before she could speak, and we would communicate in both languages. She was up to about 250 signs and could communicate fluently (and unexpectedly).

But when she started to talk, she pretty much stopped signing, and now she doesn't remember that much ASL.

However, she just started taking Spanish at school, and she's absolutely gobbling it up. She finds it stupendously easy and is really annoyed with how slow the class is going. I do think that has to do with her first two years, though she isn't currently bilingual.
0 Replies
 
 

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