“[I]t has been well demonstrated that children who do not acquire number sense early in their mathematics education struggle throughout their entire subsequent school and college years, and generally find themselves cut off from any career that requires some mathematical ability”. — Keith Devlin, Stanford Mathematician
With technology changing, tomorrow’s job market will be dramatically different than today’s. High tech careers, which demand excellent STEM skills, will grow exponentially and many jobs that don’t require a college education will be exported to lower wage countries – or replaced by new inventions. Already college graduates enjoy a lower rate of unemployment and higher wage growth than those with a high school diploma, according to a recent Georgetown University report.
So, how do parents make sure their child is primed for success in the STEM-oriented job market they will ultimately face after graduation?
Part of developing a strong background in STEM will involve a good foundation in math. Studies show that children who fall behind in the early grades tend to stay behind in high school. A good grounding in math requires excellent number sense. In fact, current US Common Core standards for math emphasize number sense as a fundamental goal.
Number sense means:
A basic understanding of what numbers mean (including fractions, decimals, negative numbers)
Being able to use different ways to express the same number, for example, 50% or ½ or 0.5
Determining the degree of precision needed in a situation
Choosing measurement units to make sense for a particular task
Comparing physical measurements between various systems of measurement (such as the English system and the metric system)
People with number sense are those who can use numbers flexibly. Research with low and high achieving math students between the ages of 7 and 12 has demonstrated that the high achieving students use number sense. The researchers concluded that low achievers are often struggling not because they have fewer memorized math facts at their disposal, but because they don’t use numbers flexibly. A 3 minute video demonstrates this flexibility associated with number sense as applied to multiplication.
Without number sense, there is no foundation for advanced math understanding – just as without a knowledge of phonics and word meanings there is no advanced reading. Mere memorization of math facts and regurgitation under timed test pressure is no substitute for understanding. Today’s kids will need to build a strong base in number sense for tomorrow’s economy.