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The importance of visual mathematics - 1.Introduction


This is a 4 part series discussing the importance of visuals when it comes to learning mathematics.

When it comes to mathematics regardless of level, there seems to be a common belief that visuals are for low level work and struggling students. This is backed up by a statement made by author Thomas West, “ there is a centuries-old belief that words and mathematical symbols are “for serious professionals, where as pictures and diagrams” are “for the lay public and children” ” (Thomas West,2004). This badly thought out misconception is a classic example of a damaging myth in the education system. In this article and the following parts, we will dispel this myth and further explain how visuals are not for ‘the lay public and children’ but however, are a quintessential part of learning and understanding mathematics.

Scientific studies have shown that when students are taught using visual approaches, mathematics changes for them, and they are given access to deep and new understandings. (Boaler, Lang, Williams & Cordero, 2016). With this in mind, there is an urgent need to change the century-old mindset that many parents and educators may have. It is time to adopt a new approach to the learning methods that our children use to help them develop a better foundation and understanding of mathematics at a very young age.

How our brains process mathematics

In a study done by University professor Jo Boaler, combining neuroscience and mathematical education, the impact of 'seeing' numbers on a visual scale has been proven to change the way the brain processes the presented information, leading to a more in-depth understanding of the subject as a whole. When we are faced with any form of information, our brains will light up in different sections and these different sections will interact with each other. When it comes to mathematical problems, our brain activity and interaction increases. The research done by Prof. Boaler shows that when people work on mathematical calculations, the brain will work out the problem through visual processing.

The area of the brain shown in green, the dorsal visual pathway, has reliably been shown to be involved when working on mathematics tasks, in both children and adults. This area of the brain particularly comes into play when students consider visual or spatial representations of quantity, for example, a number line. A number line representation of number quantity has been shown in cognitive studies to be particularly important for the development of numerical knowledge and a precursor of children’s academic success (Kucian et al., 2011; Hubbard et al., 2005, Booth & Siegler 2004; Schneider et al., 2009).

Researchers even found that after four 15-minute sessions of playing a game with a number line, differences in knowledge between students from low-income backgrounds and those from middle-income backgrounds were eliminated (Siegler & Ramani, 2008).

With all this being said, how does this affect you child and how can you apply this knowledge to your teaching approach in the future ? All these concerns will be covered in the next article coming out next week. Do subscribe to our mailing list to stay posted on our latest uploads.

Refferences: Boaler, Jo & Chen, Lang & Williams, Cathy & Cordero, Montserrat. (2016). Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning. Journal of Applied & Computational Mathematics.

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