## Sunday, October 9, 2011

### The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics

I just discovered this book from +Liz Krane on Google+.  It is going to the top of my reading list!

Here's what Liz had to say about the The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics:
I'm just blazing through this book, The Number Sense by Stanislas Dehaene. It's fascinating!

Here's a tidbit I just picked up:

Have you heard that people can generally only remember up to 7 digits? Well, throw that out the window.

This "magical number seven" is derived from the population "on which more than 90% of psychological studies happen to be focused, the American undergraduate!" (p. 103)

Because Chinese uses single-syllable words for numbers, Chinese speakers can easily remember 9 digits, whereas English speakers can only remember 7.

The oral numeral system in Chinese is also much simpler than ours; instead of memorizing separate words for 0 all the way to 19 and then special words for 20, 30, etc., Chinese speakers simply have to say, for example, "one ten two" for twelve or "three ten five" for 35. An experiment found that at age four, American children can count up to about 15, whereas Chinese children can already count up to 40.

I don't need to remind you that China is WAY ahead of the U.S. in math. So, that's one of the main reasons: their spoken numeral system perfectly matches the written system, making counting easier and making the concept of base-10 much easier to grasp.

So, maybe a simple solution to improving U.S. math education is to teach kids to count the way the Chinese do, at least at first. They can memorize the words for 11 to 19 and 20, 30, and so on when they're older, AFTER they've mastered the decimal system. Or, y'know, we could just change the English language. =P It sucks anyway, am I right?
I'm not sure that I agree with the assessment about the Chinese language and math instruction in the US.  But, I'm anxious to read the book and develop a more informed opinion on the matter.  Regardless, it sounds like this book will be worth reading.

If you've read the book, tell us your opinion of it.  What insights did you take away from this book?  Did it change the way you approach math instruction?

If you decide to read the book after reading this post, come back and comment as you make your way through the book.  Let us know if this book will impact your teaching in any way.  I'll do the same.