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Research Identifies Key Early Math Skills for Later Learning

A new study offers insights into the kinds of math skills children should learn early on to be best prepared for success in the subject as they advance into higher grades.

Key concepts for beginning 1st graders to learn include understanding numbers, the quantities those numbers represent, and low-level arithmetic, according to a press release describing the study by University of Missouri psychologist David Geary. Students who learn about those topics will have better success in learning math through the 5th grade, the study finds.

Geary and a team of researchers plan to continue following the students through the 10th grade.

"Math is critical for success in many fields," Geary said in the press release. "Once students fall behind, it's almost impossible to get them back on track."

Geary explained further what the study, released this month, was aiming to do.

"We wanted to identify the beginning of school knowledge needed to learn math over the next five years. We found that understanding numbers and quantity is a necessary foundation for success as the student progresses to more complex math topics."

He added: "In order to improve basic instruction, we have to know what to instruct. These are the factors that make a difference in the 1st grade above and beyond intelligence and other abilities."

Geary and the team of researchers came to their conclusions by monitoring a group of 177 elementary students from 12 schools from the time they entered kindergarten until 5th grade.

The research, "Cognitive Predictors of Achievement Growth in Mathematics: A Longitudinal Study," will be published in the journal Development Psychology, though the date is not yet available.

On this blog, I've reported on a number of other recent studies about math learning. Here's a taste:

Access to challenging math courses varies widely;

Brain research offers insights into math anxiety;

Little benefit for staff development in math;

Talking to toddlers about numbers; and

Rural graduates earn fewer math credits.

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