Teenagers and Abstract Thinking: Unclear on the Concept?

Shawn Cornally, Engadget, Mar 06, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Another of my early learning confessions: I had a terrible time with the whole concept of abstract reasoning when I was young. On reflection, I think it was because most of my learning was focused on the concrete: phonics and reading texts, mathematical operations, facts in science and history, and the like. What I didn't learn from school was this: "the ability to simultaneously consider multiple states of a system in order to analyze it for patterns, behavior and predictability." As a result, when I hit university, I struggled with math, and flailed at logic. Gradually, I got the concept - but only after teaching logic for a number of years (to my early students in those years: I'm sorry). I still deal with a lot of people who simply don't see the world abstractly. Not even slightly abstractly. Fortunately, my background gives me a bridge to them. But there are things that are nearly impossible to express to someone rooted in the concrete (like, say, recursion, fractals, complexity, etc) that are really the basis of 21st century thinking.

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