Mental Math


Basics of Mathematics

Mathematics is often thought of as a subject that a student either understands or doesn’t, with little in between. In reality, mathematics encompasses a wide variety of skills and concepts. Although these skills and concepts are related and often build on one another, it is possible to master some and still struggle with others. For instance, a child who has difficulty with basic multiplication facts may be successful in another area, such as geometry. An individual student may have some areas of relative strength and others of real vulnerability.

In recent years, researchers have examined aspects of the brain that are involved when children think with numbers. Most researchers agree that memory, language, attention, temporal-sequential ordering, higher-order cognition, and spatial ordering are among the neurodevelopmental functions that play a role when children think with numbers. These components become part of an ongoing process in which children constantly integrate new concepts and procedural skills as they solve more advanced math problems.

For children to succeed in mathematics, a number of brain functions need to work together. Children must be able to use memory to recall rules and formulas and recognize patterns; use language to understand vocabulary, instructions, and explain their thinking; and use sequential ordering to solve multi-step problems and use procedures. In addition, children must use spatial ordering to recognize symbols and deal with geometric forms. Higher-order cognition helps children to review alternative strategies while solving problems, to monitor their thinking, to assess the reasonableness of their answers, and to transfer and apply learned skills to new problems. Often, several of these brain functions need to operate simultaneously.