As a Writing, Literature and Publishing major, the joke among my friends and family is how lacking my math skills are, and unfortunately, it’s somewhat true. I say, “Thank goodness for cell phone calculators!” A new study, reported in the journal Developmental Science, may partly explain why my math skills are deficient and what I could have done years ago that might have provided me with the title “math whiz.”
The secret, according to the study, is number sense: our intuitive understanding, without relying upon counting and regardless of our education, of the concept of more or less. Past studies have shown a positive link between number sense and overall math skills in teenagers, and this new study shows the same results in children as young as three. Preschoolers were asked to identify which of two groups of colored dots was larger in number. The images of the dots quickly flashed on a screen so that the children had to rely on their number sense rather than counting. Although too young to have had much formal education, the children who displayed a stronger number sense were also more successful with simple math problems such as reading numbers and counting.
Going forward, studies such as this can be used to strengthen students’ mathematical aptitude by demonstrating the benefits of improving number sense—whether that be early on, or later in education. Textbooks, games, and other study tools can be developed to level the playing field and improve overall student performance when it comes to math skills. With any luck, products such as these will be created in the very near future. Who knows, I might just become a rocket scientist yet!