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Developing the skills of analysis

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

When I was at a teacher training college, we were sort of envious at students of the engineering department who were so adept at solving mathematical problems. Some thought that the competence was acquired through the science of calculus; others were of the opinion that the skills were inborn. Be that as they may be, I was intrigued at the idea of having or rather developing an analytical mind.

Then came the Spassky-Fischer chess championship tiff. Again it was sort of a mystery to me how these grandmasters view the board, think of the myriad possibilities and effects of such and such moves. Later, much, much later I came across an article that may have a role in introducing me to the skill of analysis. The article featured four geometrical shapes: a rectangle, a circle, a triangle, and a heart. It asked the identities of the shapes, which shape belong to each other and what was the basis for classifying them into categories.

After some time I was able to get identify them and classified them into proper categories. Reflecting on my success, I reviewed my step and it dawned on me that the procedure I followed is just one approach in analysis. Analysis starts first with identifying the element or geometrical shape I was presented. That was the easy part: the first was a rectangle, next was a circle, third was a triangle, and the last was a heart.

The next step was a bit advanced for me: I must find the common features and differences among the figures I was confronted with. Well the rectangle and triangle go together and the circle and heart go together. Then came the whammy question: What is the basis of your classification? This was most difficult for me as I barely passed mathematics in high school! Of course it was a no-brainer to most but certainly formidable for me. Thunder and lightning! It dawned on me that figures bound by straight lines are squares and triangles while figures bound by curved lines can be circles, ellipses, and even hearts!

A teaching stint in graduate school refined the procedure. During one session on problem identification, I was able to put across the procedure in a not-so-pedantic a tone: First identify elements in a milieu, break them down, look for patterns, similarities and differences. Find a way to organize them so that they assume significance and state the rule for organizing them in the chosen manner.



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