Mathematical Brain
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Naze sugaku ga tokui na hito to nigate na hito ga irunoka?
(Why are some people good, but others bad at maths?)

Mathematical Brain
Brian Butterworth
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Schools will test for genetic "number blindness"
by Macer Hall
The Sunday Telegraph: 14th April, 2002.

Thousands of schoolchildren are to be tested for dyscalculia, a "number blindness" condition which is increasingly being cited as the reason many youngsters are failing at maths.

Scientists believe that up to six per cent of the population, the equivalent of nearly two children in every classroom, suffers from the little-known genetic disorder, which is related to dyslexia. Educationists fear that dyscalculic children are falling behind in mathematics because teachers are not aware that the condition exists.

In an attempt to identify possible sufferers, the tests are to be introduced in schools across the country in September as part of research into dyscalculia backed by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). The tests have been devised by Brian Butterworth, the professor of cognitive neuropsychology at University College London, with the British Dyslexia Association. Dyscalculia sufferers are often unable to understand mathematical concepts as simple as 2+2=4. It is thought that they are born lacking the ability to understand different numbers and the relationships between them.

The condition is far less widely recognised than dyslexia, Prof Butterworth said. Although many people had both conditions, it was possible to have good language and literacy skills but still be "number blind". Dyscalculia was first discovered in 1919 by Salomon Henschen, a Swedish neurologist. He found that it was possible for a person to have impaired mathematical abilities that did not affect intelligence in general. The DfES tests involve a series of simple maths questions, including counting dots on a computer screen, or comparing two sets of images and indicating which is the larger.

Children will be graded according to the time they take to answer the questions, with different response times expected for various groups. The tests this year, which will involve children at all school ages, are being seen programme.

"Dyscalculia is a big problem that is only just being recognised," said Prof Butterworth. "My own guess is that it is rather like colourblindness; there will be ways of working round it, but there won't be a cure as such. "We found that some children with very severe dyscalculia can still achieve A-level mathematics. They can understand abstract mathematics but struggle with the simpler number stuff."

He added that the Government's national numeracy strategy had been bad for dyscalculic children. "It requires them to participate in whole-class teaching when they can never answer the question." The tests will be available to local education authorities (LEAs) this September from nferNelson, which supplies a range of educational assessments to schools throughout Britain. Although the decision on testing will be left to LEAs, the DfES is monitoring the scheme.

A DfES spokesman said: "We provide special educational-needs training for our teachers, and that includes guidelines on dyscalculia. The national numeracy strategy is designed to raise standards in maths for all children and, since September last year, we have been sending out specific information on dyscalculia."

Pauline Clayton, the principal tutor in maths at the Dyslexia Institute, feared however that the tests would simply add to the burden of assessment on schoolchildren. "Good teachers get a gut feeling about their children, they know those who are underachieving," she said. "Greater awareness of dyscalculia is needed but I don't think we should go down the route of testing."


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A child for whom the clock is a mystery
by Macer Hall
The Sunday Telegraph: 14th April, 2002.

Sharon Barnard became convinced that her nineyear- old son Joseph was dyscalculic after years of watching him struggle with his maths homework. Describing his problems, she said that he had difficulty remembering the answers to simple addition problems involving single-digit numbers. Mrs Barnard, of Worthing, West Sussex, said: "He still hasn't grasped adding on. He cannot subtract in his head.

"Joseph may grasp a concept one day, but then he fails to understand it when he comes across it again later. Maths has its own language which is sometimes difficult for him to understand. He sometimes confuses 'take away' with 'multiply'."

Mrs Barnard said that Joseph's maths problems also brought confusion when attempting to tell the time. She said: "Joseph can work out the hour from a clock face but has difficulty with minutes and assessing whether those minutes are past or to the hour. He has difficulty judging spans of time. For example, if he is told at 10am that an event will start at 3pm, he has no idea how long he will have to wait.

"We have to break it down into mental pictures, for example saying: "It will happen after lunch and after you have played for a bit".

Joseph, who attends Broadwater Church of England School in Worthing, became increasingly frustrated when doing homework and worried about school. Mrs Barnard said: "Just recently he told me that he spent most of a numeracy session with 'my head on the desk' because 'I couldn't understand my maths'." Despite his problems, Mrs Barnard has been unable to convince the education authorities that Joseph needed special teaching. "We noticed early on in his education that while he learnt to read very quickly, maths didn't come quite so easily. But, at that stage, we were not unduly worried," she said.

She became worried when Joseph began attending middle school yet still struggled with simple sums.

Last year, the school applied for special-needs funding for Joseph but the request was turned down by West Sussex Education Authority on the grounds that his difficulties were "not severe". Joseph recently took Prof Butterworth's test in London and his parents are awaiting the results.

Mrs Barnard said: "His school appears to be doing all it can but we believe Joseph's needs are severe enough to warrant specialist help, ideally away from the Numeracy Hour, with its emphasis on whole-class interaction.

"The education authority believes that the school can meet Joseph's needs, but we do not think that the school's resources can meet them."


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