When a researcher sets out to understand how children learn, or better yet, don’t learn math, some interesting information comes to light, especially when the research focuses in on the early years when preschoolers are just beginning to be introduced to fundamental mathematical concepts. Such was the case in a recent study conducted by Dr. Nicole McNeil and her team at the University of Notre Dame.
What the researchers found was interesting. How the concepts were presented and labeled had a significant impact on how well the children understood and applied the concepts.
Something minor, which in this study was giving the mathematical patterns an abstract label (i.e., A, B, A, B) instead of a concrete label (i.e., naming the colors in the pattern), was actually very major. The children in the study who worked with the abstract levels solved more problems correctly than the children who worked with the concrete labels.
More than abstract or concrete labeling, the key finding in this study was this:
…[E]ven differences in relatively specific, microlevel factors can affect how children understand certain concepts. I think this means that we need to be very purposeful about structuring lessons and our instructional input to ensure that we are setting children up to construct an understanding of the most important concepts.
A small change in planning and presentation, but a giant leap indeed for children’s understanding and success in learning.