WHY MATH MATTERS: EARLY PREDICTORS OF LATER SUCCESS

When trying to predict academic ability in elementary school children from early childhood cognitive abilities, it is no surprise that research has found that math is important. 
 What does the research say?
Research produced by Clark and colleagues, and Lyons and colleagues, has identified mathematical competency to be strongly predictive of later academic success (2010, 2014).
Clark has suggested that the development of strong executive functioning ( at the age of four years old is directly related to children’s mathematical competence at age six (2010). In addition to these executive functioning abilities,
Lyons and colleagues have found unique contributions of specific number skills to be predictive of later arithmetic ability at a greater age range of six to twelve years old (2014).

What does that mean for teachers?
1. The development of executive functioning is pivotal to success in math.
Teachers can help foster executive functioning by helping children develop memory and problem solving abilities.
  • Memory development can be advanced by teaching children different strategies; such as rehearsal, or mnemonic devices.
    • Mnemonic devices, such as remembering the colors of the rainbow as ROYBGIV, helps children organize their information and make it more accessible.
  • Direct strategy instruction can also develop executive functioning.
    • This can be accomplished by working through problems in a systematic manner with children, as a means of modeling problem solving behaviour.
    •  Having children plan and think about their approach to solving problems can do this.
    • Requiring students to plan a step-by-step approach to their problem solving process before they actually complete the task would be effective.
    •  Emphasize the process of the math and not only focus on the correct solution.
2. Explicit math instruction needs to be started earlier with a higher emphasis.
  • Early elementary school math curriculum should focus on children’s abilities to assess the relative magnitude of numbers.
    •  This ability can be taught by having children directly compare numerals, through manipulative like counters directly, or indirectly allowing students to work with number lines. These practices allow students to start visually mapping the number system.
    • Keep number sense activities as part of their daily routines in the classroom, not just during math lessons. For example,
      • Going through the calendar each day children can work on their counting abilities and number sequence skills.
To set children up for future success in mathematics, it is important to emphasize these skills throughout their early education. Not only should math education focus on teaching the foundations of the magnitude of numbers, but it also should address the executive functioning skills needed in order succeed in math problems.
Sources
Clark, C. A. C., Pritchard, V. E., & Woodward, L. J. (2010). Preschool executive  functioning abilities predict early mathematics achievement. Developmental Psychology, 46, 1176–1191.
Lyons, I. M., Price, G.R., Vaessen, A., Blomert, L. & Ansari, D. (2014) Numerical predictors of arithmetic success in grades 1-6. Developmental Science, 17(5), 714–726.
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