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Dr. Melissa Libertus, Johns Hopkins University - Numbers Sense in Children


Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Melissa Libertus of Johns Hopkins University reveals that a student's math ability may be well established before formal math education ever begins.

Melissa Libertus is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Lab for Child Development at Johns Hopkins University. Her research program focuses on the way numerical information is represented and processed in the human mind and how it changes over the course of development. She holds a Ph.D. from Duke University.

About Dr. Libertus

Dr. Melissa Libertus - Numbers Sense in Children

We all share an intuitive sense of number that does not require verbal counting or explicit teaching to learn. For example, we easily estimate the number of people in a crowded room without verbally counting them. This intuitive sense of number provides us with a quick and effortless way to approximate quantities, and this ability seems to be present already in infancy and early childhood. However, the intuitive sense of number is imprecise and some people may be more accurate than others.

Previous studies have found that teenagers with a more precise intuitive sense of number scored higher on standardized math tests all the way back from elementary school through middle school, but it is unclear whether this relationship is due to children's exposure to math classes or whether there is an inherent relationship between their intuitive sense of number and formal school math abilities.

In our recent study published in the journal Developmental Science we investigated the relationship between preschoolers' intuitive sense of number and their math abilities before children received any formal instruction in mathematics. We measured 3- to 5-year old children's earliest counting, arithmetic and word problem solving skills. We also tested children's intuitive sense of number by briefly flashing arrays of blue and yellow dots on a computer screen and asking children to tell us whether there were more blue or more yellow dots. We found that children who were more accurate and faster at identifying the more numerous dot array also scored higher on the standardized math test.

These results suggest that there is a strong relationship between our intuitive sense of number and explicit math abilities already long before children enter school. These findings open exciting avenues for future research to explore the possibilities of training children's intuitive sense of number early to strengthen later math abilities.

You can test your own intuitive sense of number or your children's by visiting panamath.org.

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