Science Daily is a blog that covers the latest research journal publications, and this academically oriented site has covered a number of stories about numbers, counting, and number perception in the past. This entry, however, covers research by Michael Ramscar, Melody Dye, Hanna Muenke Popick, and Fiona O’Donnell-McCarthy, which makes specific recommendations about how educators might alter the way they talk about numbers in order to improve young children’s perceptions of them.
Specifically, they suggest that using the two sentence structure “Look at the bears. There are three!” is a more effective technique for getting young children to learn numbers than the single sentence “Look at the three bears.” According to the research, the first strategy was 30% more effective than the second.
Although the blog suggests that this is related to the fact that the sentence “There are three bears” is strictly true even when there are more than three, there may also be another, more linguisticky reason for this finding. Namely, the two-sentence structure means that there is less information per sentence. Thus, the first sentence says “bears,” and the second sentence says “three.” Spacing out these two different pieces of information likely helps with attention and focus, thus making children more likely to process the number information.
Clearly more research is needed, but as the Science Daily editors note, “These experimental findings provide the first evidence that the ‘number sense’ can be improved by properly targeted training, while the computational modeling provides a formal account of why the training works, as well as offering the first formal model of how the number sense is learned, and how numerical capacity limits arise.” These are very important findings, and ones that all educators should learn about.