The Surprising Reason Older Kids Are Better at Math

Health & Wellness on 06.07.11

 

Though the results of a new study suggest that kids are better at problem-solving after third grade than they are after second grade don't sound that surprising, the twist comes in why they're better: Not because they've necessarily learned more, but because what they've learned has changed the way their brains work, reports CNN.

The 90 children who participated in the study -- half of whom had just finished second grade and the rest of whom were recent third grade-grads -- were tasked with math problems of varying degrees apprpriate to their education level. The third graders got more of the answers correct -- though neither group had a perfect success rate -- but the two groups showed differences in how their brains got them to the answer:

 

While the second graders' brains treated these kinds of tasks similarly, third graders showed distinct brain responses for simple and difficult problems. The older children showed greater engagement in a brain system related to quantity representation, and in another related to working memory.

The third graders' brains also showed greater "cross-talk," or signal transfer, along pathways that deal with information between those two regions, and help with more efficient numerical problem solving.

 

The researchers theorize that, as more studies are completed, they could use the brain imaging results to develop new education and tutoring techniques for students who have trouble with math. 

"Hopefully at some point we'll be able to translate and use this information to examine children with dyscalculia and related learning disabilities," said neuroscientist Vinod Menon.

 

Photo: ansik/Creative Commons

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