What a Simple Game Can Teach Us About Math Intuition

math game, math games, math app, early child education, eceThere is a common perception that you are either born good or bad at math. At Matific, we have spoken several times about why this is wrong. However, researchers at John Hopkins University have gone an extra step to quash this theory for good.

The researchers have recently published a new study about the way in which a basic numbers game can actually help kids do better at math.

“Math ability is not static—it’s not the case that if you’re bad at math, you’re bad at it the rest of your life. It’s not only changeable; it can be changeable in a very short period of time,”  one of the authors of the study said.

The way they proved this was by hooking up 40 five-year-olds to a math game designed by John Hopkins researchers. The game was based on the concept that humans and animals are born with an innate sense of quantities. A sense of intuition known as “the approximate numbers system.” This is so ingrained into us that babies who are offered two plates of the same food will gravitate towards the bigger meal.

The computer game built upon that notion. Blue and yellow dots appeared on the screen and children were asked to choose which color there was more of and were told if they were correct after each activity. Some children played the game in consecutive order going from the easiest task to the hardest. Others were assigned activities in a random order and others completed the activities going from hardest to easiest.


Following the game, the researchers quizzed the children on their math understanding. The quiz was derived from a standardized math ability test and tasks involved counting backward, understanding the size of spoken numbers and working out the answers to spoken math problems. Children were also asked to write down numbers relevant to specific problems.

The game seemed to have no impact on the children’s vocabulary. However, the kids who played the activities in the game consecutively (from easiest to hardest) seemed to score much higher on the math test, getting 80% of the answers correct. The children who did the activities in a random order had results that were 70% correct, and those who completed the test backwards (hardest to easiest) scored lowest on the quiz and only answered 60% of the questions correctly.


So what does this mean? Well, the game clearly improved the way that the cohort of children understood numbers and helped them with their short-term math scores. Now researchers will look into whether those results can last.

“We’re excited to follow up on these questions,” the authors of the study, said. Perhaps, in the future, math comprehension and numeracy will get an instant boost with just a five-minute math game.

Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of two.  She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.