Thursday, March 8, 2012

Number Talk - Math Matters

When I first starting teaching gifted kids I attended a professional development conference in Athens, Georgia. For the most part, it was pretty standard in that there were more vendors than new ideas, but one speaker (whose name escapes me, unfortunately) stood out. Her presentation was about profoundly gifted kids and what to do with them in class, and she used as one of her examples a nine-year-old who was taking college-level math with college students.

The speaker asked his parents, both high school dropouts, the mom a stay-at-home mom and the dad a mechanic, what they had done to encourage their son's math ability.

"Nothing, really," said the dad. "We just talked to him about numbers." They played with numbers in the car the way most families play with words (the license plate game, the alphabet game, etc). They talked about money, counted and moved numbers around. Nothing formal, nothing extra, just daily conversations.

Turns out, this is one big change you can make today to help your kid with math:

The frequency of number talk in the children’s homes had a big impact on how well the youngsters understood basic mathematical concepts such as the cardinal number principle, which holds that the last number reached when counting a set of objects determines the size of the set (“One, two,
three—three apples in the bowl!”). A 
subsequent study by Levine found that the kind of number talk that most strongly predicted later knowledge of numbers involved counting or labeling sets of objects that are right there in front of parent and child–especially large sets, containing between four and ten objects.

Also turns out that there is gender bias starting at home with math, with parents speaking to boys about numbers about twice as often as girls.

Does talking about math guarantee that your kid will be profoundly gifted? Well, no, but it gives them a leg up as they move through school and familiarizes them with simple concepts early on, perhaps making them more comfortable down the road, and that is one simple change everyone can get behind.

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