Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peek into Brain Shows How Kids Learn Math

Peek into Brain Shows How Kids Learn Math

I came across this article last week that I found very interesting. It discusses how children's brains go through different transitions as they age in the ways that they interpret and figure out math. Some excerpts that I found interesting from the article are below:

Students start off at the foundation of counting fingers or objects to figure early problems. "Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what's called fact retrieval when they're 8 years old to 9 years old, when they're still working on fundamental addition and subtraction. How well kids make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement."

"Stanford University researchers first peeked into the brains of 28 children as they solved a series of simple addition problems inside a brain-scanning MRI machine. The children were tested twice, roughly a year apart. As the kids got older, their answers relied more on memory and became faster and more accurate, and it showed in the brain. There was less activity in the prefrontal and parietal regions associated with counting and more in the brain's memory center, the hippocampus. The stronger the connections, the greater each individual's ability to retrieve facts from memory," said Dr. Vinod Menon, a psychiatry professor at Stanford and the study's senior author."

"Next, Menon's team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults don't use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, Menon said."

"If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math. " The study provides new evidence that this experience with math actually changes the hippocampal patterns, or the connections. They become more stable with skill development," she said. "So learning your addition and multiplication tables and having them in rote memory helps."

"Stanford's Menon said the next step is to study what goes wrong with this system in children with math learning disabilities, so that scientists might try new strategies to help them learn."

The quote: "If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math. " really stuck out to me. I have always felt that math instruction needed to combine both the rote memory of basic facts and give students a good foundation in number sense and higher order math skills. Unfortunately many of the different math curriculums out there today don't emphasize both. It always seems like it is basic facts vs. high order thinking. Problem is good math students have BOTH of these skills in their repertoire and good math curriculum should contain both as well! I have blogged about the frustrations I have held with the math curriculum being taught in my children's school in the past (Basic Math Facts Made Easy!)

What are your thoughts regarding helping students become fluent in the basic facts? What are your tricks and tips?

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