Every year, we hope, researchers gain new insights into what works in the classroom—and what doesn’t. In 2017, a group of scientists made the case for why social and emotional learning is essential in schools. We learned that negative stereotypes can discourage students of color from going to college, and that a reflective writing exercise can help. We also learned that it’s OK for second graders to use their fingers to count, and that text messages sent to parents boost family engagement and student attendance.
In the glittery bustle of the holidays, teachers often scramble to fit in last-minute lessons and refocus students dreaming of vacation excitement. It’s worthwhile to pause in the middle of all that excitement to build in reflective moments of gratefulness.
The trauma and adversity that students are carrying into classrooms are changing how educators need to address learning and academic performance. Fifty-one percent of children in public schools live in low-income households, and when poverty levels exceed 50 percent, there’s a significant drop in academic performance across all grade levels. At the same time, 25 percent of all adolescents—including 30 percent of adolescent girls—are experiencing anxiety disorders.
Teachers generally start telling children to stop counting on their fingers around the end of first grade—they’re learning to do math in their heads, and finger counting is sometimes seen as a crutch or even a sign of weak math ability.
A new British study published in Frontiers in Education suggests that this may be a mistake because finger counting seems to boost math learning when paired with number games.
In the four-week experiment, 137 6- and 7-year-old children were split into five groups. One group participated in finger-counting exercises such as counting from 1 to 10 using each finger, showing the correct number of fingers when told a specific number, and doing simple addition or subtraction problems using their fingers. The second group played number games (e.g., dominoes and card games). The third and fourth groups did both—they performed finger-counting exercises and played number games. The final group was the control and didn’t participate in either the exercises or the games.