Early number sense may dictate later math achievements

Deep Understanding of Math:
When reviewing the Common Core State Standards for mathematics, it can clearly be seen that there is an emphasis placed on developing a deep understanding of math relationships and practices in students, rather than asking them to memorize a bunch of formulas and rules. Because the goal is to prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century, it’s important to the developers of the CCSS that students be able to take the mathematical principles that they have learned and apply them to their everyday lives.

At its core, this means that it’s important for teachers make sure that students truly internalize and understand the concepts that they’re being taught. Approximately one in five adults in the United States lack the math competence that would ordinarily be expected of a middle schooler, leaving them unqualified for many 21st century jobs.

“It’s not just, can you do well in school? It’s how well can you do in your life,” Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health told The Associated Press. “We are in the midst of math all the time.”

Measure Students:
The Common Core State Standards direct teachers to measure students’ understanding of math concepts by asking the students to explain why a particular mathematical statement is true or where a mathematical rule comes from. The ability of elementary math students to complete this task all boils down to their number sense, a developing concept in education circles.

Broadly defined, number sense refers to having the intuition to not only understand numbers and number relationships, but also developing the ability to flexibly use this knowledge to solve mathematical problems. It’s a skill that’s developed early on in a child’s education, sometimes as young as age 2. According to the University of Cambridge’s NRICH Project, young children can identify the difference between one, two or three objects before they even learn to count.

Research:
Number sense is honed in elementary school, and researchers are beginning to study whether or not the early development of number sense can predict whether students will have the math skills later in life that will need to function as 21st century adults.

A study from the University of Missouri tested this very theory, and came up with some pretty explosive results. Researchers looked at 180 seventh graders to see if those who lagged behind the core math skills of their peers were the same kids who had the smallest amount of number sense in first grade. The answer? Yes.

“The gap they started with, they don’t close it,” Dr. David Geary, a cognitive psychologist and one of the authors of the study, told the AP. “They’re not catching up.”

Math Skills:
As it turns out, the foundational math skills and number sense that kids develop as first graders can be a powerful predictor of their later math success. Students continue to build on the math they learned at a young age as they are introduced to new concepts and problems. As a result, a strong number sense as a child can dictate important life outcomes in adulthood, explaining why the Common Core State Standards are so intent on instilling a strong number sense in elementary school students.

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Neal Manegold

Producer, DreamBox Learning | MBA, Technology Management | NBCT, Middle Childhood