By Katrina Schwartz
There’s a part of the brain that enables us to perceive magnitude — we can compare loudness when hearing different tones or compare the number of dots in a group at a glance. Neuroscientists have identified this region responsible for perceptual comparison (the intraparietal sulcus) as linked to symbolic comparisons, including integers in math. That discovery led scientists to realize that symmetry plays a big role in how humans compare integers
Building on this background research, Stanford education researchers tested a teaching strategy explicitly focused on using symmetry to teach integers to fourth-graders. They wanted to see if recruiting the visual symmetry parts of the brain would improve students’ facility and understanding of the concept. Their findings, published in “Cognition and Instruction” in May, indicate that teaching with symmetry could have a big impact not just on students’ understanding of integers, but also on more advanced concepts that go well beyond the scope of instruction as well.