[Numeracy 97] Re: how age affects learning math

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Susan Jones SUJones at parkland.edu
Wed Feb 3 10:45:03 EST 2010

I'm reframing the question, since I don't think "style" is the issue.

I do find some patterns when dealing with students who've been away from "school math" for many years, which makes sense given the research indicating that all too many people process mathematical problems differently if it's "a math problem for school" vs. a situation outside of school.

My fresher-out-of-school folks are sometimes overwhelmed by the way our math courses do mean and horrible things like put extra information in a problem, as a number. I work with them on really imagining the situation, drawing sketches, etc.

My older students have less trouble with that -- but are far more likely to have incredible trouble unlearning things like "+ means you add." -5 + 3 ... it has to be 8, and we'll debate the sign, because it says to add, right there!

When I became aware of the "old models" that had to be torn down and rebuilt, it really helped. I'll sometimes compare it to child development and how a child will, at first, think all hairy four-legged thigns are dogs (or moose, if you're in Alaska) and call out that name... but that as they grow, their understanding grows. It's not that the "rules changed," it's that our understanding deepens.

And yea, the older students are more likely to know the times tables if they went to school before memorization became "beneath" so-called "authentic" learning.

Susan Jones
Academic Development Specialist
Center for Academic Success
Parkland College
Champaign, IL 61821
sujones at parkland.edu