# No math gene: Learning mathematics takes practice

December 13, 2013New research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim could have an effect on how math is taught.

If you want to be really good at all types of math, you need to practice them all. You can't trust your innate natural talent to do most of the job for you.

This might seem obvious to some, but it goes against the traditional view that if you are good at math, it is a skill that you are simply born with.

Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson at Department of Psychology is one of three researchers involved in the project. The results have been published in

*Psychological Reports*.

**The numbers**

The researchers tested the math skills of 70 Norwegian fifth graders, aged 10.5 years on average. Their results suggest that it is important to practice every single kind of math subject to be good at all of them, and that these skills aren't something you are born with.

"We found support for a task specificity hypothesis. You become good at exactly what you practice," Sigmundsson says.

Nine types of math tasks were tested, from normal addition and subtraction, both orally and in writing, to oral multiplication and understanding the clock and the calendar.

"Our study shows little correlation between (being good at) the nine different mathematical skills, Sigmundsson said. "For instance there is little correlation between being able to solve a normal addition in the form of '23 + 67' and addition in the form of a word problem."

This example might raise a few eyebrows. Perhaps basic math is not a problem for the student, but the reading itself is. Up to 20 per cent of Norwegian boys in secondary school have problems with reading.

Sigmundsson also finds support in everyday examples.

"Some students will be good at geometry, but not so good at algebra," he says.

If that is the case they have to practice more algebra, which is the area where most students in secondary school have problems.

"At the same time this means there is hope for some students. Some just can't be good at all types of math, but at least they can be good at geometry, for example," he says.

It is this finding that might in the end help change the way math is taught.

**Support in neurology**

The fact that you are good at precisely what you practice is probably due to the fact that different kinds of practice activate different neural connections.

The results can also be transferred to other areas. The football player who practices hitting the goal from 25 yards with a perfectly placed shot will become good at exactly this. But she is not necessarily good at tackling or reading the game.

"This is also supported by new insights in neurology. With practice you develop specific neural connections," says Sigmundsson.

-end-

The research has been carried out in cooperation with Professor Remco C. J. Polmand at Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia and PhD candidate Håvard Lorås at the Faculty of Health Education and Social Work, Division of Physiotherapy, Sør-Trøndelag University College, Trondheim.**The journal article citation is:**

H. Sigmundsson, R. C. J. Polman, and H. Lorås (2013) EXPLORING INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN'S MATHEMATICAL SKILLS: A CORRELATIONAL AND DIMENSIONAL APPROACH1.

*Psychological Reports*: Volume 113, Issue, pp. 23-30. doi: 10.2466/04.10.PR0.113x12z2

Norwegian University of Science and Technology

## Related Math Articles from Brightsurf:

Smokers good at math are more likely to want to quit

For smokers who are better at math, the decision to quit just adds up, a new study suggests.

Not a 'math person'? You may be better at learning to code than you think

New research from the University of Washington finds that a natural aptitude for learning languages is a stronger predictor of learning to program than basic math knowledge.

Speak math, not code

Writing algorithms in mathematics rather than code is not only more elegant but also more efficient, says 2013 Turing Award winner Leslie Lamport.

Math that feels good

Mathematics and science Braille textbooks are expensive and require an enormous effort to produce -- until now.

Using math to blend musical notes seamlessly

MIT researchers have invented an algorithm that produces a real-time portamento effect, gliding a note at one pitch into a note of another pitch, between any two audio signals, such as a piano note gliding into a human voice.

Novel math could bring machine learning to the next level

In recent years, a theory called 'Topological Data Analysis,' stemmed from a branch of Mathematics so abstract that it did not seem to have any application whatsoever in the real world, has been making computers much better at recognizing meaningful structure inside all kinds of large datasets (a.k.a.

Study shows we like our math like we like our art: Beautiful

A beautiful landscape painting, a beautiful piano sonata -- art and music are almost exclusively described in terms of aesthetics, but what about math?

Phase transitions: The math behind the music

Physics Professor Jesse Berezovsky contends that until now, much of the thinking about math and music has been a top-down approach, applying mathematical ideas to existing musical compositions as a way of understanding already existing music.

IQ a better predictor of adult economic success than math

IQ in childhood is a better indicator of adult wealth than math for very preterm and very low-weight babies, according to a new study in PLOS ONE.

Math + good posture = better scores

A San Francisco State University study finding that students perform better at math while sitting with good posture could have implications for other kinds of performance under pressure.

Read More: Math News and Math Current Events

For smokers who are better at math, the decision to quit just adds up, a new study suggests.

Not a 'math person'? You may be better at learning to code than you think

New research from the University of Washington finds that a natural aptitude for learning languages is a stronger predictor of learning to program than basic math knowledge.

Speak math, not code

Writing algorithms in mathematics rather than code is not only more elegant but also more efficient, says 2013 Turing Award winner Leslie Lamport.

Math that feels good

Mathematics and science Braille textbooks are expensive and require an enormous effort to produce -- until now.

Using math to blend musical notes seamlessly

MIT researchers have invented an algorithm that produces a real-time portamento effect, gliding a note at one pitch into a note of another pitch, between any two audio signals, such as a piano note gliding into a human voice.

Novel math could bring machine learning to the next level

In recent years, a theory called 'Topological Data Analysis,' stemmed from a branch of Mathematics so abstract that it did not seem to have any application whatsoever in the real world, has been making computers much better at recognizing meaningful structure inside all kinds of large datasets (a.k.a.

Study shows we like our math like we like our art: Beautiful

A beautiful landscape painting, a beautiful piano sonata -- art and music are almost exclusively described in terms of aesthetics, but what about math?

Phase transitions: The math behind the music

Physics Professor Jesse Berezovsky contends that until now, much of the thinking about math and music has been a top-down approach, applying mathematical ideas to existing musical compositions as a way of understanding already existing music.

IQ a better predictor of adult economic success than math

IQ in childhood is a better indicator of adult wealth than math for very preterm and very low-weight babies, according to a new study in PLOS ONE.

Math + good posture = better scores

A San Francisco State University study finding that students perform better at math while sitting with good posture could have implications for other kinds of performance under pressure.

Read More: Math News and Math Current Events

Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.