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Math not an innate skill, has to be practiced

While it may not be a natural skill, researchers suggest that practice can stimulate and activate different neural connections that can help students get better at math.

By
Ananth Baliga

Math, contrary to popular belief, is not a natural skill and has to be learned and practiced to achieve proficiency, according to Norwegian researchers.

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology suggest that being good at math is not a skill you are born with, rather one that has to be taught and practiced.

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They looked at 70 Norwegian fifth graders and tested nine types of math, from normal addition and subtraction to oral multiplication to understanding the clock and the calendar, and published their findings in the journal Psychological Reports.

"Our study shows little correlation between (being good at) the nine different mathematical skills," said Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson, one of the three researchers involved in the project.

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They suggest that being good at one type of math doesn't mean a person will be good at another if they don't practice it.

Additionally, "there is little correlation between being able to solve a normal addition in the form of '23 + 67' and addition in the form of a word problem."

Though this finding suggests difficulty not with basic math, but with reading, especially considering up to 20 percent of Norwegian boys in secondary school have reading difficulties, according to the researchers.

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While some students were good at geometry they were not as adept at algebra. Researchers say that only practice can help the student get better at algebra, and that practice has an effect on the brain, activating different neural connections.

"At the same time this means there is hope for some students," said Sigmundsson, who believes the research could affect the way math is taught. "Some just can't be good at all types of math, but at least they can be good at geometry, for example."

[Psychological Reports]

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