Early Number Sense and Success in Math

For the last few months, I’ve been teaching Algebra II to a class of one, a high-school senior who’s struggled with math for years. After spending two or three hours a week together for 11 weeks, I’m happy to report that Ellie (not her real name) has unlearned a lot of wrong ideas and learned enough right ones to get an A- on her first test (factoring quadratics, solving quadratic equations by factoring, etc.). Ellie told me the last time she felt she understood math in school was 6th grade and she hasn’t gotten better than a C or D (she’s not sure which) on a test since then. So she was happy with the A-, too!

I’ve always wondered how strong the connection is between number sense and learning math. The other day I mentioned to Ellie the recent news item (widely reprinted on the Web, e.g., http://www.8newsnow.com/story/21786760/early-number-sense-plays-role-in-later-math-skills) about University of Missouri research showing kids with poor number sense in primary grades have trouble with math years later. She responded that she remembers struggling with concepts like adding 4 and 4 in 1st grade — unless she used her fingers so she could see what the numbers meant. Yep.