Understanding numbers and the quantities they represent
COLUMBIA, 7/29/11 (Beat Byte) -- First-graders who understand numbers and quantities will have better success learning mathematics later on, say psychologists at the University of Missouri.
"We wanted to identify the beginning of school knowledge needed to learn math over the next five years," says David Geary, Curator’s Professor of Psychological Sciences. "We found that understanding numbers and quantity is a necessary foundation for success as the student progresses to more complex math topics."
Geary and his research team monitored 177 elementary students from 12 different elementary schools since kindergarten, with the intention of following them through their first algebra class in the 10th grade. They found that first-graders who understood the number line; how to place numbers on the line; and knew some basic arithmetic showed faster growth in math skills than their counterparts during the next five years.
"This study reinforces the idea that math knowledge is incremental, and without a good foundation, a student won’t do well because the math gets more complex," Geary said. "The kids that can go back and forth easily and quickly in translating numerals into quantities and in breaking complex problems into smaller parts had a very good head start."
The paper, "Cognitive Predictors of Achievement Growth in Mathematics: A Five Year Longitudinal Study," will be published in the journal Developmental Psychology.
"Math is critical for success in many fields, and the United States is not doing a great job of teaching math," said Geary. "Once students fall behind, it’s almost impossible to get them back on track."