Washington | Parents, rejoice! Researchers have found a way to boost kindergarteners’ arithmetic performance – simply by exercising their intuitive number sense with a quick computer game.
Maths ability is not static – it is not the case that if you are bad at math, you are bad at it the rest of your life, said Jinjing Wang from Johns Hopkins University in the US. It is not only changeable, it can be changeable in a very short period of time. We used a five-minute game to change kids’ math performance, he said.
Humans and animals are born with an intuitive sense of quantities and can demonstrate this knowledge as infants. For instance, when presented with a choice between a plate with a few crackers and another with more of them, even a baby will gravitate to the option with more.
This intuition about numbers is called the approximate number system, researchers said. Although this primitive sense of number is imprecise, and therefore quite different than the numerical exactitude of mathematics, studies have shown the two abilities are linked. For instance, researchers have demonstrated that a strong early gut sense of approximate number can predict math ability later when a child attends school.
But until now, no one has shown that grooming that gut sense could make a child better at math. Researchers created a five-minute computer game to train the intuitive number sense of 40 five-year-olds.
Blue dots and yellow dots flashed on a laptop screen. The children were asked to indicate whether there were more blue ones or more yellow ones – and to do so quickly, without counting. Children received feedback after each trial. After correct responses, a pre-recorded voice told them, that is right. After wrong answers, they heard, oh, that is not right. Some of the kids started with easier questions that gradually became harder.
Other kids started with the hard questions, and a third group worked through a mix of hard and easy problems. After the dots game, researchers gave all of the children a vocabulary quiz or a math quiz. With the math quiz, derived from a standardised math ability assessment test, the kids were asked to count backward, to judge the magnitude of spoken numbers (which is more, 7 or 6?), to calculate answers to word problems (Joey has one block and gets two more; how many does he have?), and to write down numbers.
Though researchers detected no change in any of the children’s vocabulary skills, the kids who performed the dots game in the proper training fashion easiest to hardest scored much higher on the math test, getting about 80 percent of the answers correct.
The kids given the hardest dot questions first got just 60 per cent of the math test right, while the control group kids who got the mix of easy and hard questions got scored about a 70 per cent, researchers said.
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