Bad at math? Blame your brain, suggests the San Jose Mercury News.
Recent findings indicate that how well 3-year-olds estimate quantities predicts their math ability in elementary school. Another study funded by the National Institutes of Health showed that the innate capacity to estimate is impaired in children who have a math learning disability.
An estimated five to eight percent of the population suffers from dyscalculia, researchers say, though they have no clear definition of the condition, much less what to do about it.
“Children are being considered lazy or unmotivated, or not to have potential, when in fact they have a disability in processing numbers,” said Michele Mazzocco, the lead researcher on the studies. “We need to learn how this can be overcome.”
Students in the bottom 10 percent of math achievement are poor at estimating, yet those in the bottom 11 to 25 percent don’t have problems with estimation.
What dyscalculic children lack is “number sense,” something that most people take for granted but is a construct that can’t always be taught. “You can’t just tell somebody that 8 is more than 4,” Mazzocco said. “It’s not like memorizing states and their capitals.”
Children with dyscalculia don’t activate the parietal cortex, which is critical for number processing, in the same way that other children do, said Daniel Ansari, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario.