According to a study by John Hopkins University researchers, published last week, preschoolers who demonstrate a strong 'number sense' appear to be born with an inherent ability to do better at a wide range of mathematical skills.
Researchers assessed 200 pre-schoolers. The study focused on this age group wanting a sample not influenced by any prior learning associated with mathematics.
However, the study also acknowledged the question of nature versus nurture in this issue.
"Still in question, of course, is the root cause of the link between number sense and math ability. Do children born with better number sense have an easier time learning to count and to understand the symbolic nature of numbers? Or, is it just that children born with less accurate number sense may end up avoiding math-related activities before they develop competency?" said John Hopkins post-doctoral fellow, Melissa Libertus.
Why I totally sucked at Maths....
When I grew up it suited me to claim I was an 'English' student. I was 'good' at English and received oodles of extrinsic motivators - praise, marks, awards, head pats...
On the other hand, I totally sucked at Maths!
I just didn't get Maths, couldn't understand its purpose, struggled to keep up with class instruction. All through junior high school I drove my Maths teacher (yes, the same one for four years) mad because he couldn't get that I didn't get it - if you can see the dilemma. At times, his frustration at my apparent time-wasting was palpable. He'd sigh. His eyes would almost roll. His tone became clipped.
He may as well been saying: "Blah, Blah, Blah, Mumble, Mumble, Blah', for all the good his attempts at explanation did me.
So, where did the responsibility for my Maths-suckyness lie? And does such self-reflection hold any value for my classroom practise as an adult?
Firstly, I liked to read, and much of what I was required to do in English was to do with responding to stories and writing my own. No right or wrong answers there - just an opportunity to practise something I enjoyed. Unlike Maths, where I always felt an inherent pressure to be correct. Or wrong. There weren't any alternatives.
Lesson number ONE: Give students plenty of varied opportunities for assessment success.
Secondly, I missed a chunk of Maths in Year 7 when my family went on holidays during term. I never caught up with Algebra, and anything associated, from that point on.
Lesson number TWO: Offer catch-up time and work for students who miss class time. Don't try and start new concepts when large numbers of students are absent - which can happen regularly in a typical, busy high school.
Thirdly, English was the subject for which I received the most encouragement and praise. I'm positive many of my scribblings were total rubbish, but I was blessed with a range of teachers who made me feel good about attempting them, playing with language, expanding my vocabulary, creating, reading beyond my age limits ... And, my English teachers delivered specific constructive comments that I took to heart and learned from.
Maths, on the other hand ... it wasn't that I had a slack teacher, or one completely incompetent. Not at all. He just had no luck in explaining things in a way that I could understand, leaving both of us frustrated. Later I realised during Maths in Society in Years 11 and 12 that all I needed was a connection between the subject and real life, for me to succeed at the subject.
Lesson number THREE: Make real-life connections for students. Think of ways to give students opportunities to 'teach' each other - teaching something is a great way of enforcing learning, and often all that is needed for something to be understood, is for a different explanation to be made. Encourage, encourage, encourage.
Over to you....
1. How did your school days prepare you to be a teacher?
2. Do you believe individuals are 'good' at one subject or another? Why?