Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning

Brain Fact Friday “Understanding Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability”

June 4, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #137.

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday You Will Learn:

✔︎ Why the Foundational Skills in Literacy and Mathematics are so Important.

✔︎ How Students with Reading Difficulties and Like Students with Math Difficulties.

✔︎ An Introduction to Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability.

✔︎ How to Recognize Dyscalculia, and Strategies to Assist Students Who Struggle with Math.

✔︎ Many Celebrities Have Dyscalculia and Dyslexia: It’s Not a Matter of Intelligence.

I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Our goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. The idea is that these strategies will give you a new angle and provide you with a new way of looking at learning, with the brain in mind. As I am researching and learning new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

The Importance of The Foundational Skills: Literacy and Mathematics

Which brings us to this week’s Brain Fact Friday and the connections I made while recording episode #136[i] with Lois Letchford, and her son who failed first grade in 1994 when testing revealed he could only read 10 words, had no strengths and a low IQ and was clearly struggling with his academics in his early years.  Thank goodness his Mother figured out that he needed to learn how to read with different learning strategies that you can learn about in episode #136, and see how her son defied the odds he was given at an early age and graduated from Oxford University with his Ph.D.

What would have happened to Nicholas Letchford if he didn’t have such a happy ending to his story? If he did not find a different way to build those foundational skills that he needed for literacy achievement?  I remembered a webinar I prepared for the educational publisher, Voyager Sopris Learning in 2018 on “Nine Brain-Based Strategies to Skyrocket Literacy Achievement”[ii] and in the introduction to this webinar, I talk about the U.S. statistics that emphasize the importance of our children learning to read proficiently by 3rd grade.

Did you know that:

  • 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  • 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read at all.
  • Students who don't read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school.
  • Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.

And these shocking statistics lead to high drop-out rates, low graduation rates and college completion, illiteracy, incarceration, and welfare, proving that when a student is struggling with their reading, there is so much more at stake than what meets the eye.

Then I began researching for episode #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari, a professor, and Canada Research Chair[iii] in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning in the Department of Psychology and the Brain in Mind Institute[iv] at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario where he heads the Numerical Cognition Laboratory[v] and I learned from Dr. Ansari that in addition to the importance of developing these foundational reading skills, he emphasized the importance of developing the foundational skills in numeracy and math saying that “low numeracy skills is associated with physical illness, depression and incarceration”[vi] and even that “students with poor math skills were likely to default on their mortgage”[vii] later in life. This builds a clear case for the need for intervention if a student is struggling with reading or math in their early years.

 

For this week’s Brain Fact Friday, I am sure you have heard of the term dyslexia for students who have difficulty with reading, problems with spelling and mispronunciation of words, but did you know there was a term like this for those who have specific difficulties learning mathematics?

Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability

Dyscalculia: “is a math learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve, and perform other basic math skills”[viii]  and usually “co-occurs with dyslexia.”[ix]  I will dive deeper into this brain-based disorder on my interview with Dr. Ansari next week, but until then, if you want to learn more about recognizing the signs and symptoms of dyscalculia, with engaging and fun strategies to help your students or children learn mathematics, you can learn more with these resources below.

To learn more about Dyscalculia, watch the video with Dr. Ansari here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRJS-jeZ7Is

You will learn:

  • What is Dyscalculia?[x]
  • Areas of difficulty (seeing how numbers fit together, counting, calculating, recalling math facts, using concepts like less than, greater than, reading a clock, working with money, not able to count backwards reliably, tendency not to notice patterns, inability to manage time in daily life).
  • Strategies to help students learn: Using manipulatives for counting, number lines and other visual tools to help solve problems and provide students with extra time so they can organize their thinking.
  • Educational Companies: Like ETA Cuisenaire (now Hand2Mind)[xi] who have created what they call “Cuisenaire Rods[xii]” to help students learn math in a more fun and enjoyable way.

Remember that students who have learning challenges like dyslexia with reading, or dyscalculia with math, can be just as successful in their life, future, and careers as those who do not have these challenges.  Just ask Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Muhammed Ali, Steven Spielberg, Henry Winkler, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Walt Disney, Jay Leno and Keira Knightly, who all grew up with dyslexia and it was noted that Bill Gates, Henry Winkler, Cher, Mary Tyler Moore, and Benjamin Franklin also had dyscalculia.  Like we saw in episode #136 with Lois Letchford’s son Nicholas, children can be extremely successful in their life and future, if they are given the learning strategies that they need to help them to succeed whether it’s with learning to read, or with mathematics.

 

REVIEW OF THIS WEEK’S BRAIN FACT FRIDAY:

Dyscalculia: “is a common math learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve, and perform other basic math skills”[xiii]  and usually “co-occurs with dyslexia.”[xiv] 

Stay tuned for episode #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari, who I know will open our eyes with new connections with the neuroscience of learning.

See you next week.

RESOURCES:

What is Dyscalculia with Dr. Daniel Ansari https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia  

One page information sheet about Dyscalculia https://assets.ctfassets.net/p0qf7j048i0q/5RsIIt1qjD0YvAsE9snkHV/21d0ca1ccedcdc87385fbe591506d10e/Dyscalculia_Fact_Sheet_Understood.pdf

Celebrities with dyslexia, ADHD and dyscalculia by Amanda Morin  https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/personal-stories/famous-people/success-stories-celebrities-with-dyslexia-adhd-and-dyscalculia

https://drlindasblog.com/famous-people-with-dyscalculia/

The Difference Between Dyslexia and Dyscalculia by Peg Rosen https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/the-difference-between-dyslexia-and-dyscalculia

Dyscalculia and Dyslexia: Different behavioral, yet similar brain activities during arithmetic by Lien Peters, Jessica Bulthe, Nicky Daniels, Hans Op de Beeck, Bert De Smedt July 4, 2017 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213158218300731

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #136 with Lois Letchford on “

[ii] Nine Brain-Based Strategies to Skyrocket Literacy Achievement Voyager Sopris Learning EDVIEW 360 Webinar Series with Andrea Samadi https://www.voyagersopris.com/webinar-series/andrea-samadi-webinar-form

[iii] https://www.psychology.uwo.ca/about_us/achievements.html

[iv] Brain in Mind Institute https://www.uwo.ca/bmi/

[v] http://www.numericalcognition.org/

[vi] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s

[vii] Ibid.

[viii]American Psychiatric Association. (2018, November). What is Specific Learning Disorder?  https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder

[ix] Morsanyi, K., van Bers, B., McCormack, T., & McGourty, J. (2018). The prevalence of specific learning disorder in mathematics and comorbidity with other developmental disorders in primary school-age children. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953), 109(4), 917–940. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12322

[x] What is Dyscalculia with Dr. Daniel Ansari https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia  

[xi] ETA Cuisenaire, now Hand2Mind https://www.hand2mind.com/

[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisenaire_rods

[xiii]American Psychiatric Association. (2018, November). What is Specific Learning Disorder?  https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder

[xiv] Morsanyi, K., van Bers, B., McCormack, T., & McGourty, J. (2018). The prevalence of specific learning disorder in mathematics and comorbidity with other developmental disorders in primary school-age children. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953), 109(4), 917–940. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12322

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