Space Math: what that means to learning your most hated school subject

Math is not typically a favorite subject among kids.

Often times, that is because it is hard to understand and visualize the numbers in the problems.

Michigan State University found a link in a new study between the ability to picture how objects move in the mind and performing math problems. It is called spatial reasoning, and it could help change the way math is taught in schools.2967752733_9179ce199e_o

That sounds confusing, but here’s how it works:

Someone who is able to picture a shape moving, rotating in their head, is also able to do the same thing in a math problem.

“The ability to rotate objects in your mind,” explained Kelly Mix, co-founder of the study, “related specifically to something like 1 plus blank equals 8. And we think that the mental ability to rotate an object might be related to the mental activity of moving that blank to the other side of the equal sign.

The concept of spatial reasoning is what is used to visualize planets moving in the solar system. It is also how radiologists read images on x-rays.

The study tested 6 to 8-year-olds on mental spatial questions. After that, they took a math test. What was found was that the kids who stretched their ability to think in space actually did better on the math portion.

An example of the mental rotation test given to kids prior to completing a math exam

An example of the mental rotation test given to kids prior to completing a math exam

“People use space as a medium for thought,” Mix said, “So you understand abstract concepts like 2, 3, and 10, and you understand those symbols as a relation to space.”

Mix explains that learning this connection is especially important for elementary schools. It can help subtract some of the struggles students have learning math by discovering how they think.

-Alana Holland, Michigan Radio Newsroom



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