When it comes to arithmetic, repetition is a key to successful learning. Children may start off using their fingers to help them count. But eventually they commit the basics to memory. The value of constant practice of basic math is well known. But now we have a better appreciation of how this works, and why laying a strong math foundation through rote practice is so important.
This new understanding comes from the results of a recent study. A team of scientists at Stanford University used brain imaging to study what happens in a child’s brain when asked basic math equations. They chose kids between the ages of 7 and 9, which is about the time children switch from counting to “fact retrieval” or recall. The scientists recorded how quickly the children responded and what parts of their brains became active as they did.
They tested the same children about a year later, and found that now kids relied more on memory, and gave more accurate, faster answers. There was less activity in the areas of the brain associated with counting, and more in the brain’s memory center, than in the first tests.
Importantly, the scientists found that the connections between the short and long term memory areas of the brain increased with a child’s math performance. Over time, if a child’s brain doesn’t have to work as hard on basic math, they have more “working memory” free to learn more complex math.
So how can you apply these findings in your classroom?
–Continue to focus on your arithmetic tables
–Quiz the students and mix up the order of your questions, ie, 4 times 3, then 8 times 7, to make sure kids are using their memory and don’t have to work through the equation
–Encourage parents and children to practice at home.
To learn more about this study, go to http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.3788.html