When we’re shopping at a grocery store sometimes we find ourselves guesstimating how much we’ve spent, but how can this translate over to improvement in calculus or other math subjects?
Elizabeth Brannon and Joonkoo Park, researchers at Duke University, wanted to know if practice in guesstimating could help improve math skills.
The team took 26 adult volunteers and first tested their higher level math skills, then the group completed 10 training sessions geared to improve their approximation skills by adding or subtracting many quantities of dots without counting. Another group of volunteers were also tested, but without the 10 training sessions.
The participants were shown two sets of 9-to-36 dots then they were asked if a third set of dots were bigger, smaller, or same in value compared to the sum of the first two sets. “It’s not about counting, it’s about rough estimates,” says Park.
Volunteers that participated in the 10 training sessions on approximate arithmetic showed higher scores in their math test compared to those who did not.
“We are conducting additional studies to try and figure out what’s driving the effect, and we are particularly excited about the possibility that games designed to hone approximate number sense in preschoolers might facilitate math learning,” says Park.
Although Park and Brannon have yet to identify the cause behind the improvement, the study does suggest there’s an important link between guesstimating and higher level math abilities. “We think this might be the seeds — the building blocks — of mathematical thinking,” says Brannon.