Dyscalculia – Math learning disabilities

Have you heard of Dyscalculia? It’s a learning disability like Dyslexia, but for math. Dyslexia has become a household word, but Dyscalculia? Even my computer thinks it’s a typo.

Math learning builds on itself. Children with dyscalculia have difficulty learning the meaning of numbers, what we call number sense. Parents may remember these children having trouble with tasks like sorting objects by shape, size or color; recognizing groups and patterns; and comparing and contrasting heights, weights, sizes when they are very young. Learning to count, recognizing and matching numbers can also be difficult for these children.

When they start school, they struggle to remember and retain basic math facts (i.e. addition facts, times tables). Word problems are challenging to them as they have trouble figuring out how to apply what they already know to solve math problems.

Like most learning disabilities, Dyscalculia varies from person to person and affect people differently in school and throughout life. Among those with dyscalculia, some can develop math phobia, or a fear of math, because of bad experiences with math, being embarrassed in math class, or simply because of poor self-confidence in the subject.

Parents naturally want to know how to help their children if they have Discalculia.

First, get a professional diagnosis. Many children lack practice in math, or have difficulty concentrating (ADD, ADHD) in class which affect their ability to succeed in math, but the fix for that is very different from the approach dyscalculia kids need.

Second, recognize that it does not correlate to intelligence. Children with dyscalculia often live with the belief that they are stupid – and they may be told so by parents and teachers too. They may portray difficulty in memorizing their multiplication tables, add up, or subtract, and in fact numbers may make no sense to them at all. They may not be able to tell time easily on a non- digital clock, tie their shoe laces or read music notes. If these children don’t get help, and they end up shutting themselves from math, yes, they will grow up and find themselves not being able to participate in many intelligent conversations about sales discounts, restaurant tips, investments, economic trends, and cooking (lots of fractions!) – but that’s not because they are not intelligent, it’s because they closed the window on learning math.

Third, provide them more individualized learning environments where the instructor can tweak the way math is taught to them. This is not possible in a classroom of 25 to 30 kids. Dyscalculia kids need more individualized instruction – if one way of explaining fraction addition doesn’t sink in, the instructor can attempt another way, or switch to manipulatives for example, and not be tied down to the class clock and 30 other kids. When the instructor teaches a child, it’s to, for, with that child only. While the child is working on practice drills to reinforce the learning, the instructor can check on other students.

When teaching children with dyscalculia, it’s crucial that the teaching makes sense to them. Memorizing, flash cards are not as effective because they have a hard time retaining the information. Read about our student Lance, you know math makes sense to him when he starts taking it so personally : I demand a recount.

I’m not planning to be a mathematician!

Does your child ask you why they need to work so hard at math if they are not planning to be a mathematician? How do you answer your child?

We get asked that a lot, sad to say by girls, more than by boys. Here’s how the discussion goes. Share yours in the Comment section below.

Student: “Why do I need to study so much math? I’m not planning to be a mathematician when I grow up.”
Instructor: So what are you planning to be when you grow up?
Student: I don’t know, but definitely not a mathematician.
Instructor:: Especially because you don’t know, you’d better keep working on your math.
Student:: Why?
Instructor: Because you want to leave your options open. What if you decide to be an Olympic gymnast, an entrepreneur, a football coach, a neurosurgeon, a pre-school teacher, a bounty-digger, a chef, a TV producer – you can bet your money they rely on math everyday.
Student: But you can just hire someone to do the math.
Instructor: And that’s what many people do. That’s why, if you know math, you’ll always have a job.

Even an actress, like Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years) needs math. If you have a middle-school daughter, give her Danica’s book: Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. It is sprinkled with testimonials of her friends, how they felt about math, what their careers are now, and how important math is in their work.

“We’ve seen girls perform similarly [to boys], but what we have seen also is that in high school, when we arrive and give them surveys about how they feel about math . . . they score worse. They feel more frustrated and anxious than boys,’’ said Ivon Arroyo, a research scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is working on the software being tested at Turners Falls, called Wayang Outpost.

“That may make girls not persevere as much in the harder problems.’’

Encourage your daughters to do well in math so they really can be anything they want to me. And don’t forget, share with us how you answer your child when he/she asks you why they need math.

Problem of the Week – June 8, 2010

Grade 1 to 3
#1 Question :
Sally has to be at school at 8:15 am. If it takes her 25 minutes to get ready, 10 minutes to eat breakfast, and 15 minutes to get to school, what time should Sally wake up in the morning to make sure she gets to school on time?

Grade 3 to 5
#2. Question
: Every Friday the students in Mrs. Hull class get a chance to win a homework pass using a spinner. The spinner contains the letters F, I, J, Q, S, and the numbers 2, 6, 9, 11, 15. To win a homework pass a student must spin either a vowel or a prime number. What is the probability of a student winning a homework pass each week?

6 – 8th Grade
#3 Question
: If two monkeys can eat two bananas in two minutes, how many monkeys will it take to eat 18 bananas in six minutes?

Algebra and Higher
#4 Question:
A square has a side length of 8″ . An isosceles right triangle with legs that are 8″ has its vertex at the center of the square. What is the area of overlap of the triangle and the square?

#1 Answer: 7:25 am
Note: We assume that the time that Sally should wake up gives her the minimum amount of time she needs to get ready.
#2. Answer: 3/10 or 30%
#3 Answer: 6 monkeys
Note: Since it takes two monkeys to eat two bananas in two minutes, it takes one money two minutes to eat one banana. So in six minutes one monkey can eat 3 bananas. That means it will take 6 monkeys to eat 18 bananas in six minutes.
#4 Answer: 16 inches2
Note: Because the vertex angle is a right angle at the center of the square the legs of the triangle iintersect adjacent corners of the square. This means the overlap is a fourth of the area of the square. 64 / 4 = 16.