Math Learning: The Role of Math Practice

Educational Challenge: Math is perhaps the most troubling shortfall of the current education system. Many students do not reach proficiency, a problem particularly acute for children from traditionally disadvantaged populations.

Complexity Theory: In math, very few symbols convey a great deal of unique information. Note, for example, how the meaning of the symbol [2] changes here: 2+0.22-1/2. The mind needs a lot of time to build this understanding, far more than what it takes to become a fluent reader or to learn a sport. Importantly, children differ in how much time it takes to become proficient.

Our Activities: The typical curriculum expects children to learn in lockstep, making it difficult for those who need more time to develop a stable math understanding. We are working on developing ways in which children can catch up. “Modulative practice” is a potential solution.

Implications: Education agencies need to do more to expose children to math practice. This exposure needs to be (1) at the child’s own level of competence, (2) tightly coupled to feedback, and (3) positive. Technology might help.