If only our Policy on Mathematics Education could Change

Some people, no matter how many years of practice they get trying to do simple math in their heads, just never learn to do well. Could there be an explanation for this – an explanation for instance that gets them off the hook? Well, research at the Johns Hopkins University actually may be able to do that. Apparently, some of us are just genetically hopeless at math (as if anyone needed proof of that). Math education really would benefit from a bit of awareness of this.

Apparently, to do well in math, a person needs something that the researchers call a number sense. What is a number sense, you ask? Take for instance how some people can look into a doctor’s waiting room or something for just a second, and come away with an impression of exactly how many people there are there. They don’t even need to count. Some people can just know how many minutes have passed since a phone call started or something. They don’t need to count. Apparently, your ability to do real high school math depends in great part on how good you are with your number sense.

So researchers are now wondering if before schools try to go and teach a kid any real book-math (to coin the term), they should try to teach them a number sense if they don’t have one already. This could get them ready for real school math. This could be very important for the way math education is done.

In general, humans are born with a number sense. For the study, they rounded up a couple of hundred four-year-olds to test them for number sense. They were for instance, shown a bunch of dots of different colors on a computer for a second. And then, they were asked to estimate what dots were the most numerous. The children also given a test for elementary math of the kind that children their age are usually given in school. They found that kids who did well with the flashing dots test did well in elementary math as well.

It’s important to remember for those who have a stake in mathematics education that while a number sense may be inborn in some, it is completely learnable to others.

America today is a country that’s losing touch with its roots, so struck with fear as if that India and China may be overtaking it in math. There is even talk of America taking inspiration from India’s mathematics education system (which isn’t a good one and all as anyone in the know will tell you). Perhaps all America should do is to take up mathematics education in a scientific way instead.