Talk title TBC
Professor Marco Zorzi, University of Padova, Italy
Perceptions of number in Anindilyakwa-speaking Australian Aboriginal children: evidence of a universal cognitive prerequisite for early arithmetic
Professor Robert Reeve, The University of Melbourne, Australia
The importance of visuo-spatial abilities for early numerical cognition in North American and European cultures raises the issue whether these abilities are similarly important for children in cultures that lack counting words. If the same visuo-spatial factors predict culturally-appropriate arithmetic, it would support the hypothesis that the same cognitive representations are deployed by individuals with and without counting words. In numerate societies, early arithmetic development is associated with visuo-spatial working memory, executive functions, nonverbal intelligence, and magnitude comparison abilities. Here we ask to what extent are these associations due to cultural practices or to general cognitive prerequisites? To answer this question, Anindilyakwa-speaking Aboriginal children living on a remote island in northern Australia, whose culture contains few counting words or counting practices, and non-indigenous children from an Australian city were administered standardised tests of cognitive abilities (Corsi Blocks, Raven’s Coloured Progressive Matrices, Porteus Maze). The indigenous children completed a non-verbal addition task, and the non-indigenous children completed a single-digit addition task. Consistent with previous observations, indigenous children exhibited superior spatial abilities. Nevertheless, correlation matrices among variables show similar patterns of relationships, and parallel regression analyses showed visuo-spatial working memory was the main predictor of addition performance, in both groups. The findings contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting the hypothesis that the same cognitive abilities are deployed by individuals with and without counting words. The implications of this hypothesis and of these findings for a more complete account of numerical cognition will be discussed.
The real preschoolers of Orange County, and their numerical abilities
Professor Barbara Sarnecka, University of California, Irvine, USA
In recent years, researchers have become interested in the question of how children's innate, approximate numerical abilities are related to their mastery of symbolic (spoken and written) numbers, counting and mathematics. Some have even expressed optimism that interventions targeting the approximate number system may improve children's mathematics learning and achievement. In this talk, Professor Sarnecka will argue that while the connection between approximate and exact number representations is theoretically interesting, most children's struggles with maths do not stem from deficits in the approximate number system. And the most problematic gaps in maths achievement - those related to children's socio-economic status - have little or nothing to do with the approximate number system. Finally, Professor Sarnecka will argue that researchers' standard ways of measuring approximate-number-system acuity are invalid for use with children who have not yet grasped the cardinality principle of counting. All of these arguments support the conclusion that in the real world, variations in maths performance are much more likely to stem from differences in mastery of the symbolic number system than from differences in individuals' nonsymbolic numerical abilities.
Learning number sense from adaptive digital games
Professor Diana Laurillard, University College London, UK
Neuroimaging studies show that for dyscalculic learners there is a local structural abnormality, with less activation in the parietal cortex for numerical tasks. These studies suggest that dyscalculics fail to understand basic number concepts, and this needs to be remediated before moving on to formal arithmetic. There is already some evidence that remedial interventions can improve performance, and can also modify brain structure and function.
However, although the findings from cognitive science and neuroscience have identified targets for intervention, they have not, so far, informed pedagogy. Typically interventions have used answer selection to rehearse facts and concepts already encountered. By contrast, an effective pedagogic design would recruit the way the brain learns about the world without a teacher, using prediction-error learning with informational feedback. For learning about numbers, this would mean learners engaging with a world in which numbers become objects whose properties the learner can predict, observe, and manipulate to achieve a goal.
Professor Laurillard will present examples of adaptive, constructionist, digital games that create such a world. They enable the learner not only to rehearse known facts and concepts, but also to develop new concepts.
A research programme for interventions for dyscalculia – and other types of low attainment in numeracy – should test their effectiveness against improved numerical competence, and also against predictable changes in neural structures and functioning.