Number knowledge as a powerful predictor of arithmetic skills

By Monica McDonnell
On January 26, 2018

Number knowledge as a powerful predictor of arithmetic skills

In 2014, Dr Silke Göbel, of the Department of Psychology at York University, and her collaborators Sarah Watson, Arne Lervag & Charles Hulme, published an article entitled:  Children’s arithmetic development: it is number knowledge, not the approximate number sense, that counts.

The article presents the results of an 11-month study looking for factors that could predict a child’s arithmetic skills.  The study began by recruiting participants that were 6 years old, and returning to test their skills 11 months later.  The focus of the study was twofold:

  1. Measures of the Approximate Number Sense (ANS).
    This is the ability to estimate the number of items presented to a person without relying on language, symbols or counting.
  1. Knowledge of the Arabic numeral system.
    This is an understanding of how to recognize numbers written using the digits 0 to 9.

The results of the initial study (in English) showed a strong correlation between good ANS (magnitude judgement) and future arithmetic skills when tested 11 months later.  However, variations in ANS  were not able to predict variations in future arithmetic skills.  Using structural equation models, the researchers found that knowledge of Arabic numerals at 6 years was a powerful predictor of the growth in arithmetic skills over the 11 month period.  The results of the research suggest that verbal processes concerned with learning the labels for Arabic numerals, and the ability to translate between Arabic numerals and verbal codes, places critical constraints on arithmetic development.

The experiment is currently being repeated in the German language, and has also been coded into Duck on the Run.  The original number recognition test is captured in the ‘Which is the number’ mini-game at the request of Dr Göbel.  By including this test in the platform, we hope to gather additional data points to understand the correlation between strong knowledge of the Arabic number system and the ability to improve arithmetical skills.

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