The Secret To Success On The PSAT: Knowing That 5+2=7
The PSAT includes some pretty sophisticated math. But new brain-imaging studies show that students who are well-versed in very basic single digit arithmetic—and I mean very basic, as in 5+2=7 and 7-3=4—are better equipped to achieve high scores on the PSAT (and, by extension, the SAT). ScienceDaily reports:
“In findings published January 4 in The Journal of Neuroscience, fMRI scans performed on high school seniors found a significant link between their brain responses while solving extremely basic, single digit calculation problems and their scores on the PSAT.
Students who scored better on the math section of the PSAT generated greater positive activation in a brain region in the left side of the brain, called the supramarginal gyrus, which is known to be linked to fact retrieval, while students who scored lower produced more activity in an area in the right side of the brain, called the intraparietal sulcus, which is involved in quantity processing and more effortful problem solving.
‘Essentially, this means that those high school students that don’t do so well on the PSAT use more problem solving strategies when they are doing very elementary sums and subtractions,’ says Daniel Ansari, a psychology professor at Western University. ‘If you are a high school student and you are using brain circuits that we know are associated with fact retrieval and fluency, we see evidence that you are also going to score better on the math portion of the college admission test. There is a clear link between fluency and high level abilities—being fluent at basic math counts.’
This new knowledge is important from a math education perspective, concludes Ansari, because traditionally, debate rages between the ‘drill and kill’ style approach versus more conceptual, problem-solving based pedagogy. It is now clear that both methods are important in elementary education. These findings suggest that the way in which the brain is organized for single digit arithmetic calculation predicts performance on more complex math skills, illustrating the critical role that arithmetic fluency plays in building mathematical proficiency among students.” (Read more here.)
Let’s repeat that again for emphasis: It is now clear that both fact-based and conceptual methods are important in elementary education.
You must know your math facts to be able to do advanced math well. At the same time, knowing only facts and not the conceptual relationships connecting them leads to a shallow and inflexible approach to the subject.
I hope this will settle the long-running debate between the two sides. But I doubt it.