Professor Michael von Aster and James Wright discuss dyscalculia and the technology available to support pupils and teachers.
Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty that affects a person’s ability to perform arithmetic operations and tackle mathematical tasks. Studies show that it affects 5 to 7% of the population, but is often overlooked and misdiagnosed. That is why researchers are working hard to understand the underlying causes and developmental pathways of dyscalculia and find effective interventions.
According to the British Dyslexia Association, ‘Dyscalculia is a specific and persistent difficulty in understanding numbers which
can lead to a diverse range of difficulties with mathematics. It will be unexpected in relation to age, level of education and experience and occurs across all ages and abilities.’
Recently, scientists have been using brain imaging data to see if there are any differences between the brains of people with dyscalculia and those without. They have found differences in structural and functional activation patterns of neural networks underlying mathematical proficiency, comprising frontal and parietal brain regions.
Dyscalculia can make education more challenging, which is why it is essential to strive to make the process more inclusive. A recent study found that teachers who held positive attitudes towards students with dyscalculia and were well-informed about the learning difference were more likely to provide effective support, so it is crucial for teachers to have the necessary resources and training to understand and support their students with dyscalculia.
So, how can pupils with dyscalculia be supported effectively?
It has been suggested that a neurodevelopmental approach that supports the automatisation of basic numerical processing skills and mental number line reasoning abilities to teach maths can be most effective. The latter skills are building blocks that, beyond facilitating access to mathematical concepts, are also helpful in furthering pupils’ understanding and using structured problem-solving approaches.
Moreover, the increasing technological advances play a significant role in supporting students with dyscalculia. Researchers have been developing educational software and apps specifically for students with learning difficulties. One study found that using a computer-based maths program led to improvements in basic arithmetic skills in students with dyscalculia.
Adaptive software that constantly (after each response) identifies users’ needs and proficiencies with the help of AI, can help create a truly inclusive learning environment. This type of approach can be beneficial for people affected by dyscalculia,as it can improve arithmetic skills by using the neurodevelopmental approach in teaching maths and providing structured strategy instruction. The software can present mathematical concepts employing visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities, thus making it easier for all students to understand and remember what they have learned. People with dyscalculia are showing significant improvement in their arithmetic skills and an accompanying increase in their neural activity in critical neural networks underlying maths proficiency, when they practise consistently for six weeks.
Empirically evaluated technology-based interventions are of particular interest to primary school teachers, as they can support all learners in an inclusive setting without separating them into groups. They make self-paced learning a reality. The game-based approach engages children and helps teachers and parents see actual learning outcomes while giving teachers time to concentrate on other priorities.