Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Do the Math - Schools, Brains, and Dyscalculia

With some improvements in reading and writing standards, math teaching and achievement are now in the crosshairs for schools -

Excerpt from NYT article, As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics: "It was a report from this same group in 1989 that influenced a generation of teachers to let children explore their own solutions to problems, write and draw pictures about math, and use tools like the calculator at the same time they learn algorithms.

But this fall, the group changed course, recommending a tighter focus on basic math skills and an end to “mile wide, inch deep” state standards that force schools to teach dozens of math topics in each grade. In fourth grade, for example, the report recommends that the curriculum should center on the “quick recall” of multiplication and division, the area of two-dimensional shapes and an understanding of decimals."

There are many cognitive skills required for elementary and advanced mathematics - not the least of them working, verbal, and visual-spatial memory, estimation, basic numeracy, automaticity of math facts retrieval, writing / writing automaticity, inference, and language comprehension... so it is not surprising that math may be the weakest of the 3 R's.

Check out the Butterworth chapter below for an excellent review of dyscalculia. There are many pearls -

Excerpt: e.g. for some dyscalculics, it takes them "longer to decide that 9 is larger than 2 than that 9 is larger than 8. Thhis seems to be due to some kind of counting strategy in which it takes longer to count from 2 to 9 than from 8 to 9."

Or " intelligent and industrious graduate, was 30 years old when we first tested him, but despite his best efforts, he was several times slower than controls on single-digit addition and subtraction, was quite unable to do multiplications involving numbers above 5, could not do two-digit subtraction at all, and was severely disabled on dot counting and number comparison..."

The authors also discuss the high co-morbidity between dyslexia and dyscalculia, and argue forcefully for better identification in the schools. This is particularly important here in the U.S. where the math standards are becoming the focus of NCLB.

"...Developmental Dyscalculia is not widely recognized by governments or by educators. It is still confused as dyslexia used to be with stupidity...only with better understanding of the nature of developmental dyscalculia can we devise effective ways of helping the millions of our fellow citizens..."

As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics - New York Times
Developmental Dyscalculia Chapter
Scientists Discover the Part of the Brain That Causes Some People to Be Lousy in Math
Discrete and analogue quantity processing in the parietal lobe

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1 comment:

  1. Many readers of "As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics" will be interested to know that Milgram, Howe (Yale), Richard Askey (Wisconsin), Retakh (Rutgers), Fuson (Northwestern), the leaders of the math education system in Hungary (including International Mathematical Union President Lovász) and in Russia (including Ilyashenko (Cornell), Gutenmacher, Rabbot, Toom, Yashchenko and many Moscow Center for Continuing Mathematical Education team members), Namikawa (Nagoya), and Gardiner (Birmingham) and other European school mathematics leaders are behind the new mathematics programs (inspired early on by LiPing Ma) of ( The math programs are designed to bring the math competence of North American and Western European teachers and students up to that of their peers in the countries that consistently score at the top of international education rankings.'s Board group includes the likes of former Senator Bill Bradley, former Labor Secretary and current Berkeley Professor Robert Reich, Sun co-founder John Gage, and a growing list of European former Ministers of Education.

    The mathematics programs encompass separate Master's Degree-earning programs for elementary and middle school teachers (starting 2007/January) as well as after-school programs (starting 2006/December), both for elite students and for students who need remedial guidance.

    As will be expected by those who know members of the content team the learning approach is fundamentally different from the one of Kumon, in that it is based on fewer, harder, richer problems that develop a deep understanding of mathematical concepts. is at the absolute technological forefront in that the company's classrooms are set up so that the Master Instructors and program participants all see each other, from schools or their home, through high-quality Internet video, and in that the community knowledge is quickly expanded by the consistent use of wikis.'s infrastructure will soon allow it to serve, with much live and rich media interaction, some 300,000 teacher program participants and a similar number of student program participants.

    In New York City is preparing to run sessions for math coaches - this as a stepping stone towards serving many of the more than 10,000 NYCDOE teachers who need extensive professional development even if strict subject specialization is introduced at the elementary school level.

    For information email, with the Subject line preferably set to precisely
    Policy and marketing/United States/National and Multi-State/Mathematics/General

    Erik Syring