Your child’s brain works through difficult sums


By Cas Olivier

In my many years of striving for children to master a subject like mathematics, I have often come across gems that make the world of difference for children. “Difficult” sums become easy when the brain looks at them instead of the eyes. I am happy to share one of these gems.

Children struggle with math because the emphasis is on input instead of the brain’s ability to think. In mathematics, children’s brains receive input in the form of pictures or sketches, written text or sound via teachers and textbooks and then, as the saying goes, it goes in one ear and out the other.

We have all learned tables that the rushes tremble. So you couldn’t recall it quickly. This proves that the hours and hours spent memorizing with your eyes have not engrained the tables in the brain. Something that is established in the brain cannot just disappear.

For decades, it was believed that if you learn visually, pictures are captured in your brain. It is not true. First, look at any object, what jumps into your brain, the picture or a word? Second, when you hear the word ‘chair’, what do you see in your mind’s eye, the word chair or a picture? You have just proven that the brain turns pictures into words and words into pictures.

You may have visual or auditory preferences, but your brain cannot distinguish afterwards whether the information came in visually or auditorily. This is because the brain can only work with concepts or ideas that are grouped and arranged all the time.

When the brain thinks (verb), brain cells chemically connect to form thought constructs – let’s call it a “thunk”, which is the noun for something thought up. If you can see your child’s dunk, you know exactly what your child knows or doesn’t know. Getting children to show you their thoughts is possible and easy.

On a practical note, when children tackle geometry and trigonometry sums, they usually start by analyzing the input or sketch with their eyes, hoping that answers will jump out. However, the brain is stuck in a corner because it has no words. The gears of their brains need to be changed by the teacher so that they can start with words. Where do they get the words? These are the words in the sentences of the sum that they must use to create a set of thinking eyes with which the sketch can be analyzed to roll out the sum’s answer.

With tables it works the other way around. 7 x 8 = 56 are words for which the brain does not have pictures. With appropriate instruction, children should discover for themselves that calculating areas of rectangles and squares are actually pictures of multiplication sums. This thunk is the brain’s set of eyes to see that three rectangles can be drawn for the number 12. With this approach, children can already notice in grade 3 that 1, 4, 9, 16 are ‘different’ from the other numbers. It lays down brain pathways for square numbers and square roots in higher degrees.

Every dunk construction that is created is a success for the brain which goes hand in hand with the release of the ‘feel good’ hormone, endorphin, which contributes to making children eager to learn, motivated self-regulating learners.

This approach is in line with Albert Einstein’s position that a problem cannot be solved with the same way of thinking in which the problem arose.

“Dr. Cas Olivier is a seasoned mentor, author and educator with a passion for helping children, locally and internationally, to reach their full potential with his unique brain-based teaching approach. Schools, teachers and parents can take note of his solid theoretical foundation, but especially his many years of experience in practice, which makes him an expert artist in teaching thinking skills – a true master teacher.” – André Badenhorst: Researcher in teaching and learning at the Solidarity School Support Centrem.