math counting

Why the future is all about visual Mathematics, says Stanford

Stanford University researchers aim to dispel the belief that students should not use their fingers to learn mathematics

Taking a more visual approach to math instruction at the K-12 and higher-ed levels could dramatically change brain development as it relates to future math success, according to a new paper from Stanford researchers.

SEEING AS UNDERSTANDING: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning,” supports the use of visual mathematics and developing “finger discrimination” in students because it could result in higher math achievement.

According to co-authors Stanford University mathematics researcher Dr. Jo Boaler and brain researcher Dr. Lang Chen, the human brain can visualize a representation of the fingers during math problems. This provides an opportunity for further research and pedagogical development.

“Neuroimaging has shown that even when people work on a number calculation, such as 12 x 25, with symbolic digits (12 and 25) our mathematical thinking is grounded in visual processing,” according to the paper.

In fact, a 2015 study cited in the paper found that found that when 8-13-year-olds were given complicated subtraction problems, the region of the brain that deals with perception and representation of the fingers, called the somatosensory finger area, lit up, even though the students did not use their fingers.

(Next page: Strategies to help students take a more visual approach to math learning)

Laura Ascione

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