Computer-Based Estimation Game Could Improve Math Skills

(Photo: Petr Kratochvil, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Petr Kratochvil, Creative Commons)

Children often struggle with math in school, but a recent study by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University gives parents a new reason to believe they can help their kids succeed.

The research paper, published in The Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, explains how young children can significantly improve their math skills by carrying out a series of simple computer exercises unrelated to math symbols and numbers.

Numerous previous studies have suggested that video games improve cognition, reasoning, and mathematical abilities in young kids, particularly those around pre-school age when the brain is undergoing an important period of development. One of the latest findings reveals how even the most basic digitized number games could make learning mathematics easier at this stage.

The Johns Hopkins department of psychological and brain sciences showed that 5-year-old kids who played a five-minute computer game — and played it in a specific way — achieved significantly higher results than their peers on a pre-defined set of math exercises.

The ‘intuitive number’game did not feature any math symbols, but instead used a series of colorful dots, reports IFL Science. The researchers had a group of 40 children to whom they showed a series of split-screen pictures that featured blue dots on one side and yellow dots on the other. The 5-year-olds were required to determine, without counting, whether there were more blue or yellow dots.

The researchers divided the kids in groups. They gave one group of the children the most difficult screens first and worked their way toward the easiest. A second group had the hardest and easiest screens in random order. A third was given the easiest screens first and were led progressively to the hardest — a sequence that best resembles the way in which the adults learn.

According to the scientists, writes Jonathan Pitts of The Baltimore Sun, only five minutes of the simple estimation task each day can boost kids’ abilities to grasp values and quantities. The game shows children that they can be intuitively good at mathematics without forcing new skills or techniques upon them for the first time. They also argue that even the youngest baby possesses an inherent sense of understanding quantity, telling the difference between what is more and what is less using his/her “approximate number system.”

Lisa Feigenson, a professor of psychological and brain sciences and a senior author of the study, commented:

“These findings emphasize the sense in which core cognition, seen across species and across development, serves as a foundation for more sophisticated thought.”

Feigenson, reports Cheyenne Macdonald of the Daily Mail, admitted that further work will follow to determine whether this kind of quick improvement lasts for a significant period of time, and whether it enhances other types of skills.