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On Learning

Learning and teaching through absurdity

I believe more complex a concept the absurd should be the method to learn it or teach it. Simple examples may not be good enough to drive home the point. They are termed as mnemonics but I feel they are examples that border on the absurd.

Absurd = the good definition for me is that which is absolutely surd – read terribly irrational !

How to remember the rainbow colours? VIBGYOR – almost all of us have learnt it this way. The word by itself has no meaning. In trigonometry we learnt how to remember the quandrant where the functions are positive – “All Silver Tea Cups” or “A Smart Trig Class” where ASTC stood for All functions, Sine, Tan and Cos respectively in the quadrant 1st through 4th.

In our electronic class to remember the resistor codes we had “Bad Booze Rots Our Young Guts, But Vodka Goes Well” a fairly complicated peace with lots of variations. Notice how far removed the methods to remember are.

My own favourite involves the two following the syntax in COBOL and in BASIC. Both pertain to the reading a file until there are no more records in the file. In COBOL we have


In the Read-file module we would have


In BASIC we would have

While .not eof(1)…Wend

Students who learnt BASIC after COBOL always used to ask me the difference. The example I used often was absurd but I found rather effective.

Imagine lot of chocolates in large shallow dish. When the person who takes the last chocolate he would know that he is taking the last chocolate and that there are no more.

On the other hand imagine lot of chocolates in a narrow-mouthed deep vase. Here the last person taking the chocolate would not know that he is taking the last chocolate. The last person attempting to take the last would have put his hand in the vase, grope around and find no chocolate and then announce that there are no more!

COBOL is like the vase – only when the read fails the end of file is known. BASIC is like the dish – when the last record is successfully read the end of file situation is known.

I have had the opportunity to use on many occasions to teach the concepts through absurdity. Your experiences?



One thought on “Learning and teaching through absurdity

  1. Yes!! Periodic tables.. rows and columns!!

    Posted by Karthik Eswaran | March 4, 2012, 1:34 am

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