The importance of visual mathematics - 2. Starting Young


This is the second instalment of a 4 part series discussing the importance of visuals when it comes to learning mathematics. (Click here to read the previous part)

As previously discussed, visuals play a significant role in learning mathematics regardless of age or level. By starting at a young age and learning mathematics through visuals, a child will be able to build a strong foundation in mathematics, a precursor to future mathematical success.

Fingers as a Visual

There is a common misconception that counting with your fingers is for young or weaker students, this however, is not the case. In a 2015 study, by Ilaria Berteletti and James R Booth, looked into a section of the brain in charge of perception and representation of fingers, known as the somatosensory finger area of the brain, and how it lights up when we make mathematical calculations. Their research showed how the brain subconsciously looks at mathematical calculations as a representation of fingers even when we are not using our fingers to make the calculation.

Further studies in both behavioural and neuroscience have reflected how people whom are taught how to better represent their fingers at a young age, are predisposed to attain higher mathematical achievements. Researchers even found that when a 6 year old child improves in quality of finger representation, their arithmetic knowledge improves, particularly skills such as counting and number ordering.

Neuroscientists still debate on why finger knowledge directly relates to future mathematical prowess. However, one thing they all agree on is; finger knowledge is critical in the mathematical learning process of a child. The age old myth of counting with fingers is useless and to be halted as early on as possible, has been further perpetuated by many schools and enrichment centres.

“Kumon, for example, an after-school tutoring program used by thousands of families in dozens of countries, tells parents that finger-counting is a “no no” and that those who see their children doing so should report them to the instructor.” - (Jo Boaler, 2016)

By stopping a child from counting with their fingers, you are essentially slowing down their mathematical development. The importance and strength of finger perception could even be the reason why musicians such as pianists often display a stronger understanding of mathematics as compared to people who don’t play any instrument. With this knowledge in mind it is critical to celebrate and even encourage the use of fingers in counting, amongst our younger learners.

Here at PSLEMath we encourage our students to learn through visuals, from pre-school all the way to secondary school. We base our programme around the concept of visual learning, be it fingers, building blocks or model drawing. You may be wondering, How does model drawing help in the visual learning process ? Stay tuned to next week’s article, where we cover how the drawing of models help students visualise, break down and solve even the most complex of questions. Do subscribe to our mailing list to stay posted on our latest uploads.

Refferences: Boaler, Jo & Chen, Lang & Williams, Cathy & Cordero, Montserrat. (2016). Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning. Journal of Applied & Computational Mathematics.

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