Why Math Is Hard For So Many Children

April 2, 2013 by DrDonna

Why Math Is Hard For So Many Children

Math requires a sound cognitive skills foundation

why math is hardIf your child is having difficulty in math, he or she is not alone. If you look at the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results for 2009, you’d find that by age 15, American students fall to 31st place in a roll call of 65 different countries.

What’s quite interesting is that in fourth grade, their scores were highly ranked in 11th place. And by 8th grade, they rose two notches to 9th place out of 56 different countries.

Questions About How Math Is Taught

At an education conference at Temple University in Washington, D.C., Dr. Steven G. Feifer, a neuropsychologist specializing in learning disabilities, explained the reason for this decline in math ability.

One reason why math is hard has to do with how students are quizzed and how they learn math. In elementary school, children are taught the basics of math and how to get answers. By high school, they’re expected to apply math to the real world. The problem is that Americans are taught to focus not on process or real-world problem solving, but on simply getting correct answers.

One part of the problem is that Americans spend less than an hour in math and science per day in school. In some Asian countries, students spend 10 to 12 hours in school compared to Americans who have a six-hour day. Asians also are required to go to school up to 243 days a year, compared with only 180 days in America.

The final reason math is hard relates to our number system. Asian countries have a number system that is centered on a base 10-system, but tells a story through symbols. Our system is harder for the brain to process. When we think of a number, we focus on the actual word representing a number. That is, we think of the words “twenty-five” instead of the symbols “25.”

This all has repercussions for the struggling learner.

Improving Cognitive Skills

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