TítuloCard Games: A way to improve math skills through stimulating ANS
Tipo de publicaciónArtículo
Año de Publicación2016
AutoresMaiche, A, González, M, Kittredge, A, Sánchez, I, Fleischer, B, Spelke, E
JournalNeuro Educação / Segmento

Teaching math at Primary school seems to be one of the most challenging things  teachers have to do: most of the time children find it too difficult (Baroody & Dowker, 2003). Moreover, some recent work shows that children who are economically disadvantaged are particularly likely to experience difficulty in math (Sirin, 2005).

However, it is known that human beings (from newborns to adults) have a specific representational system that allows them to build amodal representations of the number of items or individuals in a given set (e.g., dots, light flashes, beeps and touches on the skin). This system is usually known as the Approximate Number System (ANS). It is thought to be an evolutionarily ancient system through which we are able to approximately represent quantity without the need for symbolic numbers or counting skills (Butterworth, 1999; Dehaene, 1997; Halberda, Mazzocco, & Feigenson, 2008).

The ANS represents quantity information in an imprecise manner on a ‘mental number  line’, where smaller quantities are represented more precisely than larger quantities  according to Weber’s Law (Dehaene, 1997; Feigenson, Dehaene & Spelke, 2004). The Weber fraction can thus be understood as an index of ANS acuity (Dehaene, 1997).

Recently, de Hevia, Izard, Coubart, Spelke & Streri (2014) found that newborns just 48 –hours- old are capable of discriminating between 2 groups of dots. This piece of evidence strongly suggests that the ANS is innate (Xu & Spelke, 2000; Xu, Spelke & Goddard, 2005). Nevertheless, the precision of the ANS increases with cognitive development, indicating some flexibility of this capacity (Halberda & Feigenson, 2008). Six-month-olds can discriminate numerosity in a 1:2 ratio (e.g. 8 vs 16 dots), and 10- month-olds can discriminate quantities in a 1:3 ratio.

Finally, there is a robust positive correlation between ANS acuity and symbolic math performance throughout development and into adulthood (Halberda, Mazzocco & Feigenson, 2008; Halberda et al., 2012). For example, ANS acuity at 6 months of age predicts symbolic number skills three years later (Starr, Libertus & Brannon, 2014; see also Jordan, Kaplan, Olah & Locuniak, 2006). There are also significant correlations between ANS acuity and school math achievement (Butterworth, 2010; Mussolini, Mejias & Noël, 2010; Mazzocco, Feigenson & Halberda, 2011). Furthermore, some recent work suggests that training ANS precision produces improvements in symbolic mathematics (Halberda and Odic, 2014), both in children (Hyde, Khanum & Spelke, 2014) and adults (Park & Brannon, 2013). These and other findings suggest that the ANS may be a cognitive foundation for symbolic mathematics (Dehaene, 1997; Feigenson et al., 2004; Gallistel & Gelman, 1992; Piazza, 2010).

These studies raise the question of whether ANS training should be implemented in  schools. To date, however, there is no experimental evidence in school contexts to support such a change in educational policy. The present study addresses this issue by assessing the effect of a classroom card game on first grade students’ ANS acuity and symbolic math performance.

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