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Your Brain on Math: It All Adds Up
Your Brain on Math: It All Adds Up
Tara Terry, LS, MS, TR Principal

Last month, I was honored to represent The Howard School at the IDA (International Dyslexia Association) international meeting

Last month, I was honored to represent The Howard School at the IDA (International Dyslexia Association) international meeting held in Atlanta and present on the topic of math education. Along with Tom Pittard, the developer of the Math Lab here at The Howard School and now a Math Resource Specialist at The Children's School, we shared the latest research findings on understanding how students develop mathematical thinking. We also shared our best practices, used by both schools, for providing a supportive environment for encouraging math development. Lastly, we introduced successful teaching methods for students with and without math learning disabilities to help children 'crack the code' in math.

It Starts with Spatial Judgement

Mathematic ability develops over time. Humans first display an innate sense of spatial judgement seen first in infancy. Babies can display an understanding that a group of nine is more than a group of 3. Another example is how children can quickly tell us which line in the grocery store is longer just by scanning the groups. Once we begin school, symbols are placed on those spatial quantities; we now know 3 is the symbol that represents a certain amount of an object.

For many children, the language of math itself can makes things confusing. For example, we say '25' is 'twenty-five', and '35' is 'thirty-five', but '15' is not 'tenty-five'. These quirks in the math language have to be explained. Teachers must provide the right structure and framework for objects to help children better identify quantity. This is why tally marks, ten-frames, and number talks are introduced in the classroom to help provide reference points and make connections back to their innate spatial abilities.

To help students understand that numbers have meaning, we encourage them to use their fingers and other manipulatives. These physical representations help students connect the symbolic number to the nonsymbolic amount. As students get more proficient, they don't need to use their fingers for basic math facts. Over time, we hope to see math fact fluency deepen and retrieval speeds increase, freeing up the frontal cortex and working memory for more sophisticated math problem solving. In order to help students develop math fact fluency and retrieval, our teachers rely on repeated application to grapple with problem. As some of you witnessed at Lower School Math Night, we use real world situations, puzzles, and games to bring these to life.

Thinking Flexibly and Solving Problems

At The Howard School, we place greater value on the ability to think flexibly and we help students think critically about the most efficient way to solve a problem. These skills teach children how to create problem solving strategies rather than blindly follow a rote procedure without understanding the "why" in the process. Math achievement results from the growth in a student's problem solving skills.

Compelling research shows that students who learn math facts without memorization are actually more secure with their facts and better at applying them compared to students simply memorizing math facts. Memorizing math facts uses an entirely different brain pathway; and. this application is not always the best program to use for children with learning differences. At The Howard School, we use knowledge gained from researchers to ensure that our students can tackle and increase their math achievement than they might otherwise do in another school setting.