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Math Abilities Are Not Innate: New Theory May Help In Identifying, Teaching Students With Math Learning Disabilities

4 November 2016, 9:03 am EDT By Saranya Palanisamy Tech Times
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A group of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev claims that the knowledge about how humans first learn math could help identify and treat children with difficulties in learning the subject.

The new theory challenges the widely accepted "sense of numbers" theory. It is also believed that people are born with the ability to process numbers, for instance, recognizing the number of items in a basket and so on. The innate ability of sense of number is believed to improve as people grow.

According to the new theory, "sense of magnitude" has a role to play in person's ability to learn math. The researchers suggest that the number sense alongside continuous magnitude would help process numerosities better. The study also noted that the sense of number in a person might not be an innate quality as widely believed.

Dr. Tali Leibovich from the University of Western Ontario in Canada noted that by understanding how human brain learns math and how various complex math concepts are processed, it is possible to make children understand and learn the subject in a more enthusiastic way. And the present study is an eye-opener to the novel approach, Leibovich noted.

The researchers noted in the study published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences that understanding the concept of size as well as number is mandatory in learning math. To be able to make quick decisions, the sizes like area, density and perimeter as well as the number need to be processed holistically.

The best example to explain the concept is choosing the checkout queue in supermarkets. Some people tend to follow the person whose cart appears to be partially filled than one with a fully filled cart. However, the person with the cart with bigger but fewer items would checkout more quickly than the other with a half-filled cart with more items. Therefore, it is clear that combining the sense of number with continuous magnitude helps in better decision making.

The investigators noted that this theory could help in early diagnosis of dyscalculia in children as the disorder could currently be identified only in school-aged children. Being able to identify the issue past early childhood makes the children lag in their ability to learn math when compared to their peers.

"This new approach will allow us to develop diagnostic tools that do not require any formal math knowledge, thus allowing diagnosis and treatment of dyscalculia before school age," said Dr. Leibovich, in a press release.

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