Bad At Numbers? New Method Can Boost Learning In Math

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  • Researchers from the University of Geneva developed an intervention that may help boost learning in Math
  • More than half of the students who took part in the intervention were able to solve difficult problems
  • Only 29.8 percent of those who followed the standard course of the study were able to solve the difficult number problems

Many children (and even adults) struggle with numbers, but a new approach may help boost learning in Math.

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Emmanuel Sander and Katarina Gvozdic, both from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, developed an intervention aimed at promoting learning of Mathematics in school and it’s something that is worth our attention.

School children instinctively use mental simulations of situations described by Math problems to come up with solutions. This method, however, leads to errors when the problem becomes more complex.

To address this problem, the researchers came up with a program designed to help schoolchildren surpass their intuitions and information knowledge. The approach instead have the children rely on arithmetic principles.

The approach, which is based on semantic re-encoding, spurs students to learn arithmetic at an early age.

“To get the students to practice semantic re-encoding, we provided them with different tools such as line diagrams and box diagrams,” Sander said.

Sander said that in a Math problem involving subtraction, students should detach themselves from the idea that subtraction always involves a search for what remains after a loss. Instead, students should see the problem as a calculation of difference or distance that has to be measured.

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Teachers in a primary school arithmetic course called ACE-ArithmEcole put the new method in practice. At the end of the intervention period, more than half of the students who took part in the intervention were able to solve difficult problems. In those who followed the standard course of the study, only 29.8 percent were able to solve the difficult number problems.

The researchers said that the significant gap in learning is due to the ACE-ArithmEcole students’ frequent recourse to the use of mathematical principles instead of resorting to mental simulations.

“Informal strategies reflecting the representation of a situation described in an arithmetic word problem mediate students’ solving processes,” the researchers wrote in their study published in the journal ZDM Mathematics Education.

“When the informal strategies are inefficient, teaching students to make way for more efficient ways to find the solution is an important educational issue in Mathematics.”