A Numbers Game

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Science  01 Aug 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5889, pp. 612
DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5889.612d

Low-tech inexpensive means for enhancing childhood proficiency in mathematics would be of broad utility, and if applied early on and as unobtrusively as possible, might well yield long-lasting benefits. Siegler and Mu find that Chinese kindergartners (5 to 6 years old) score higher than U.S. children of the same age on two tests: the addition of single-digit numbers and the placement of numbers on a number line. The former result is not unexpected as it fits with previous reports of extensive parental involvement in explicit numerical instruction (such as counting) in China. The latter outcome, however, reveals a precocious and implicitly acquired transition from a logarithmic to a linear representation of magnitude, which occurs at elementary school age in the United States and does not appear to occur at all in the absence of formal education (see Dehaene et al., Reports, 30 May, p. 1217). Ramani and Siegler show that the number-line skills of preschoolers from low-income households can be improved by playing simple board games designed to instill multimodal instantiation of numerical concepts. A follow-up analysis revealed that mathematical proficiency in this cohort correlated with commercial board games played outside of preschool, but not with video gaming. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 19, 633 (2008); Child Dev. 79, 375 (2008).

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