A very interesting research has been conducted by Stanford researchers. According to co-authors Stanford University mathematics researcher Dr. Jo Boaler and brain researcher Dr. Lang Chen, the human brain can visualize a representation of the fingers while doing math problems even without using fingers.
Therefore they have postulated that if mathematics is taught using a visual approach in the K-12 and higher-ed levels it could dramatically alter brain development as it will reinforce the brain visualization and will create more chances of future math success.
“Neuroimaging has shown that even when people work on a number calculation, such as 12 x 25, with symbolic digits (12 and 25) our mathematical thinking is grounded in visual processing,” according to the paper.
In fact, the Stanford research cited the findings of a 2015 study which conclusively found that when 8-13-year-olds were given complicated subtraction problems, the somatosensory finger area region of the brain that deals with perception and representation of the fingers, lit up, even when the students were not using fingers.
In a press release Dr. Jo Boaler, co-author and co-founder of youcubed, a Stanford University center that provides research-based resources for teaching and learning mathematics said, “Schools do not know about this important brain research and many schools even ban students from using fingers in classrooms. While Kumon learning centers tell parents they should not allow fingers to be used and it is a “no, no” for math learners, new research suggests that stopping students from counting on their fingers is akin to halting their mathematical development.”
The findings of this research throws open ways for parents and educators to increase the math achievements of their children. All they have to do is help their wards develop the visual areas of the brain. Here are a few ways how:
Employing visuals, manipulatives and motion in maths class
1. Providing opportunities and allowing students to use drawing, visualizing or working models while solving mathematic problems
2. Teaching algebra visually through pattern study and generalization
3. Giving an opportunity to students to represent mathematical ideas in multi-modal ways example - pictures, models, graphs, even doodles or cartoons
4. “Visual mathematics helps students at any level formulate ideas and develop understanding,” said Dr. Boaler. “In fact, the quality of six-year-olds’ perception and representation of fingers has been found to be a better predictor of future mathematics success than performance on tests of cognition.”
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