Select cognitive exercises help children improve math skills

May 21, 2021
Select cognitive exercises help children improve math skills

Visual memory and reasoning tasks helped children improve their math skills more than spatial rotation exercises, according to a recent study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The findings highlight that the type of training matters when it comes to math, over overall academic performance – “[…] cognitive training transfers to an ability that is different from the one practiced,” said Dr. Torkel Klingberg, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.

In this study, more than 17,000 Swedish schoolchildren between the ages of six and eight completed cognitive training via an app for either 20 or 33 minutes per day over the course of seven weeks; the children were given identical exercises in the first week, after which they were randomly split into one of five training plans consisting of mathematical number line tasks and cognitive training in the form of rotation tasks (2D mental rotation and tangram puzzle), visual working memory tasks or non-verbal reasoning tasks. The children’s math performance was tested in the first, fifth and seventh week.

The researchers found that whilst all groups improved on mathematical performance, reasoning training had the largest positive impact; both reasoning and memory training also significantly outperformed rotation training when it came to mathematical improvement.

Additionally, the researchers noted that the benefits of cognitive training could differ threefold between individuals – which explains the differences in results from some previous studies seeing as individual characteristics of study participants tend to impact the results.

“While it is likely that for any given test, training on that particular skill is the most time-effective way to improve test results, our study offers a proof of principle that spatial cognitive training transfers to academic abilities,” said Dr. Klingberg.

“Given the wide range of areas associated with spatial cognition, it is possible that training transfers to multiple areas and we believe this should be included in any calculation by teachers and policymakers of how time-efficient spatial training is relative to training for a particular test.”

Spatial cognition—the capacity to understand and remember dimensional relations among objects – has been linked to performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In the working world, some employers in these fields use spatial cognition tests to vet candidates during the hiring process. This has also fueled an interest in spatial cognition training, which focuses on improving one’s ability to memorise and manipulate various shapes and objects and spot patterns in recurring sequences; spatial exercises are even included in some schools today as part of their curriculum.

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Category: Education, Features

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