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What babies (and brain science) say about elementary school mathematics

Paul Goldenberg
Other Presenter(s): 
Cindy Carter
NCTM Annual Meeting
April 14, 2011

Babies know more than you think! Elements of number, arithmetic, symmetry, transformations, probability, and even algebra are built in, or develop in early childhood. You’ll learn some of what’s known and how it’s been discovered, and you’ll see ways it can affect teaching and learning up through the grades. This has enormous equity implications!

The objective is to change the common belief that mathematical ability is grossly inequitably distributed. Except at the extremes, brain science tells us otherwise: mathematical capabilities that are often thought to belong only to “the top kids” are, in fact, built in to all normal babies. The huge gaps we see in school are artifacts of opportunity and expectation. We will present engaging images and fascinating facts about early mathematical ability, and implications for school learning.

Teachers can be more effective if they understand how children learn mathematics. Teachers will see familiar elementary school topics—transformational geometry and its surprising connection to reading, addition and subtraction, algebra and early algebra, and more—from a new perspective guided by cognitive and developmental science.