talk at teachers college ed lab

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting our project to Ed Lab, an amazing organization at Teachers College, Columbia University that promotes educational uses of technology. They were great hosts and the audience had some great questions at the end! 

Can doing finger exercises improve math scores?

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Ever feel your fingers move unconsciously when you’re figuring out simple math problems? It may be you’re sensing the strong neural connection between our fingers and numbers. Scientists became interested in this topic when noticing that the same areas of the brain that control the fingers light up when solving math problems even though people were not actually moving their fingers.

Researchers have found a strong connection between math skills and finger gnosia, or knowledge of your fingers. They test young kids by asking them to put their hands in a box with an open side. The researcher then touches one or more of the kid’s fingers, removes the box, and asks which finger was just touched. Children’s ability to recognize which finger has been touched predicts how well that child will perform on a variety of math tests over years.

Yet anytime we talk about how one skill predicts another, as researchers we need to figure out which skill causes the other. Is it that kids who are already predisposed to be good at math have great finger gnosia when they are young? Or can we teach finger gnosia to young children and see effects later in math performance?

For instance, does playing a musical instrument, which indirectly involves finger awareness, improve math skills? Unfortunately, there is no strong evidence to suggest this connection. But there is some early evidence that direct finger awareness training can affect students’ later math performance (Gracia-Bafalluy & Noel, 2008). However, before you run off to find finger gnosia training materials for your 5-year-old, this research is still very new, and it’s still too early to make suggestions about teaching finger awareness. Nonetheless, it is fascinating. Check out the research articles below to learn more:


Where in the world IS Carmen Sandiego?

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Did you learn to type with Mavis Beacon, program with Logo, or explore the world with Carmen Sandiego? Me, too! Yet where is the love for technology in early childhood? Just the other day, I was playing with my 5-year-old niece on my laptop, and my brother couldn’t believe all the things she could do.  He thought she was too young to know how to use and handle a computer. I was shocked, but then realized, he’s not alone. A lot of people think young children and technology don’t mix. Adults see computers and are sometimes reminded of staring at a screen all day at work.  

News flash: Using technology with kids does not mean giving them boring spreadsheets or mindless tasks. With the latest touch screen devices, it now means tilting, touching and even blowing. Who knew?

Forget about everything you thought you knew about teaching and learning. New technologies have the ability to teach your child in fascinating ways. Take virtual manipulatives, for example. Every kindergarten classroom has a set of physical unifix cubes. While a great tool, counting and linking these cubes together takes a lot of time and coordination. Children often think they’ve stacked 10 cubes but have really made 11. With virtual blocks, kids can stack, group, and count accurately and quickly, making it easier to focus on the mathematics.

Through this blog, we’ll explore more ways technology can and should be used with young children. One thing we’ve learned from experience is that great ideas come through collaboration. So help us shape this blog by adding your ideas and comments. We want to hear from you!


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 Rachael