Saturday, November 14, 2015

The role of the brain when kids learn math

An article titled "Kids'brains reorganize when learning math", appeared in Associated Press in August 2014, describes the role of the long-term memory in the improvement of the learning of addition by kids. The article doesn't describe specifically what happens in the kid's brain when they automatically answer a question to a simple addition without counting on their fingers. However there are key elements in the article related to the role of the kids' brain in learning math and how this could help in learning math better. The discoveries are also related to the chid's cognitive development specifically how memories are recorded and retrieved in the brain.

The scientists scanned the kids' brain to study how they were able to transition from counting to their fingers to simply answer a question related to a simple addition. They repeated the study a year later and did the same experiment in adolescents and adults. The results of the study are:

  • At some point kids makes the transition from counting from their fingers to automatically answer a question related to a simple addition. If they make this transition well their performance in the future learning of math will improve.
  •  Older kids are able to do the simple addition quicker than the younger. In other words performance increases with age. 
  • Being able to retrieve simple math addition in the memory helps kids to learn new math concepts. In other words this process allows children to use free space in the work memory in order to learn new math concepts.
  • This retrieval process improves the ability of the hippocampus which is the region of the brain where new memories come in before being transferred in long term memories.
The implications of this study are important in learning math and in learning in general. It stresses the importance of the use of memory in learning math. Learning uses long-term memory as a storage where different concepts can be retrieved when one learns new things or things related to the previous concepts. Imagine that you are not able to remember your telephone number. For this reason you either write it somewhere or save it in your telephone memory. It would be annoying to loook for this number each time you have to dial it, However if you are able to remember the telephone number dial it each time becomes easier. In fact the use of our memory is a natural process in living. There are many things that are transferred in the long term memory without our conscious will. Once certain things are stored in the long term memory the retrieval becomes automatic after performing certain actions related to the information stored. When you learn to drive a car you store certain information in the brain. Once you know how to drive the car the retrieval information related to driving becomes automatic.  You don't have to consciously remember the driving information.

One tends to think that learning math is simply related to thinking and solving problems only. The role of the memory is important in these processes. We retrieve procedures, theorems, rules, etc in the memory in order to learn new concepts and solve problems. One would think that in using the memory one would record things without understanding them. Quite the contrary when you understand something you can better store it in the long term memory and retrieve it from there. The long term memory is where you store things that are important to you. Sometimes things are stored verbatim when it's necessary, For example you store formulas verbatim so that they can be retrieved for future use. Other times only representations of things are stored in the long memory. These representations are not exactly a reproduction of the reality but a way for you to figure them out. Learning involves processes in the brain. It is important to understand these processes to improve learning.
 Interested in learning to use effective study skills? For free tutoring by email fill out this form:Free Tutoring by Email . For paid tutoring and courses visit New Directions Education Services at