Learning Math: Why a Vision Problem May be Holding You Back
For some students, math is fun. It comes easy to them, and they can readily solve the most difficult problems. For other students, math can be a struggle. Not only do they have problems grasping the concept, they also see little point in learning the skill. Why the division? Despite the conventional wisdom that some kids just don’t “get” math, a vision problem may be the root cause.
Why is it that some kids just seem so good at math?
A post on the blog Gifted Exchange explores this innate mathematical ability some kids seem to have. It refers to an article in the 10/2008 issue in Nature. The article discussed a study on the “Approximate Number System” (ANS), which is an innate counting sense, present in animals, infants and others who have had training in math. “Those who have this acuity wind up doing better on standardized math tests, even controlling for IQ,” the post states.
Gifted Exchange then makes an interesting point. “If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years,” the post continues, “It’s that some point numbers have little to do with it...as my older brother once wrote as a math graduate student at Princeton, ‘Despite what the general public thinks, math isn’t just about being able to multiply numbers in your head quickly, or memorizing thirty digits of pi. We’ve got computers and calculators for that. Mathematics is about finding structures and truths in the world of patterns, and explaining why they’re there.”
The author concurs with his brother. “Ultimately, it’s not the quick counting that will help them – it’s the ability to see patterns and draw inferences.
Vision holds the key
The ability to see patterns and draw inferences is heavily dependent upon our visual sense. Of all six senses, vision is the most important for understanding how to measure space and time.
As we’ve seen time and time again, children who fail to comprehend spatial concepts often do poorly in math. More importantly, if a child doesn’t understand spatial concepts relevant to their age and learning ability, they’ll find future instruction in math increasingly difficult and irrelevant.
What do we mean by “spatial concepts?” This refers to a child’s ability to understand space. For example, how well does the child understand the difference between 3 items, 22 items or 100? Do they really get it that you need a lot more room to put 100 items compared to 20? A bit higher level example: Ask your child which is bigger--the space between the number 3 and 4 or the space between 53 and 54? Many children who have difficulty with basic math will think that the space between 53 and 54 is definitely bigger.
Not understanding that each number is one equal unit makes it difficult to understand and use math operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing). Students need to be able to automatically:
- Visualize the space that different numbers represent when compared to each other
- Know where numbers are in relation to each other
Finding “structures and patterns” in numbers is difficult without being able to visualize these types of spatial concepts. Good visual functioning, including good depth perception, makes understanding spatial concepts much easier. As a result, math becomes more meaningful and errors decrease.
(Photo by ddluong_)
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The Vision Therapy Center has helped over 2,000 people overcome vision problems since 1995, and has Wisconsin vision therapy offices in Brookfield and Madison.