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Friday, October 23, 2015

What’s the secret to being good at math?

"There is a common belief that Asians are naturally gifted at maths." reports

'Asian-American Student in a Library' [Shutterstock]

Asian countries like Singapore and Japan lead the ranks in first and second position on maths performance in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tables – an international survey that ranks education systems worldwide – while Australia sits around 12th.

What is the secret to being good at maths? Are you simply born clever, or is it the result of a lot of hard work?

To understand the reasons behind exceptional maths performance, I travelled to Japan to see how Japanese children are able to instantly multiply three- or four-digit numbers together in their head.

How children are taught maths in Japan 

From the age of 7 or 8, all Japanese children are taught the times table jingle kuku.

“Ku” is the Japanese word for “nine”, and the title reflects the final line of the jingle, which is simply “nine nine (is) eight-one”.

Children rote learn the jingle and are made to recite it with speed in class and at home.

Local competitions pitch second-graders against each other to see how fast they can rap all 81 lines of the kuku.

This takes lots of practice with a stopwatch. The constant association between the problem and the correct answer eventually allows the child to know the answer to the problem as soon as they see it.

As the popular science writer Alex Bellos noted, Japanese adults know that 7×7=49, not because they can remember the maths, but because the music of “seven seven forty-nine” sounds right.

Learning maths with the abacus.Issei Kato/Reuters

Some Japanese children also attend after-school maths programs. In May, I visited a school in Tokyo specialising in abacus instruction for primary and high school students. 
This was one of about 20,000 schools operating independently throughout Japan.

Here, the students start by learning how to use a physical abacus to perform arithmetic calculations. They then progress to using the mental abacus by simply imagining the movement of the beads.

Children at the abacus school dedicate a phenomenal one to two hours on two to four evenings a week to practising arithmetic drills on pre-set worksheets at speed.

This is on top of the four 45-minute maths lessons per week allotted by the Japanese government.

Source: Raw Story

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