Got (Number) Sense?
by Danielle Wood
My son is only five years old, but he’s already a geek. He proudly proclaims that he’s “a math guy”. His favorite word is googol (the number, not the company). And he likes to talk about infinity.
All of this, while incredibly weird for his math-phobic mom, is good news. A new report from Johns Hopkins University links “good number sense” in the early years with math sense all the way up through high school. Oddly enough, knowing how well a high school freshman can estimate the amount of objects in a group gives you a window into how well she’s done in math since she was sitting on a rug with a bunch of blocks all the way back in kindergarten.
In other words, whether your child is destined for a life of breezy math, or a life banging her head against the desk in high school algebra, can be predicted as early as the age of five. It turns out that there may be some genetic component at work when it comes to prowess in the math department…
How the researchers figured this out is pretty interesting. They asked a group of 14-year-olds to look at a bunch of flashing blue and yellow dots on a computer screen, then estimate which type was more numerous. The bulk of kids had no problem when there was a big spread—for example, only 10 blue dots and 25 yellow ones. But once the number of dots in each color set got closer to equal, it was pretty clear that some students had better innate number sense than others. And when researchers looked at the standardized math test scores of those number-sense-savvy kids, not only did they notice a correlation, but they could trace it back all the way to the primary grades.