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How ST Math Helps Students with Dyscalculia Learn

Many students will struggle with math at some point in their lives, but some have a much more difficult time than others. If a student in your class is experiencing problems understanding fundamental math facts like number sense, you may wonder if it could be due to developmental dyscalculia. 

What is Dyscalculia? 

Dyscalculia is a complex neurological condition characterized by a core deficit in number sense, working memory, and arithmetic skills. Dyscalculic individuals do not intuitively grasp quantities, symbols, and calculation procedures. Common signs of dyscalculia can include experiencing difficulty with:

  • Subitizing
  • Counting 
  • Connecting numbers to groups of projects
  • Estimation
  • Memorizing math facts
  • Mental math - individual continues to use fingers to count  
  • Understanding sets 
  • Recognizing if digits are increasing or decreasing in value 
  • Arithmetic 

Developmental dyscalculia affects 5-7% of the population. It can appear in otherwise typically developing children or can occur along with other neurological conditions, such as dyslexia, ADHD, and Fragile X. While researchers continue to study effective strategies for dyscalculia intervention, our mathematicians believe that ST Math’s spatial-temporal approach can help students with developmental dyscalculia overcome learning challenges and improve math skills.

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Leveraging ST Math to Help Students with Dyscalculia Learn

ST Math is uniquely positioned to help students with dyscalculia because of its emphasis on visual models and building schema, or mental maps that help us understand how things work. ST Math begins by introducing math concepts through fun, interactive games and gradually layers in traditional symbols and language.

With visual game-based learning, the procedural element of solving math problems is removed, enabling students to build conceptual understanding. Although ST Math games can be done independently, teachers and math coaches can easily work alongside students with dyscalculia and assist when needed. 

ST Math Games Provide a Different Construct 

Word problems and symbolic equations can be confusing to students with dyscalculia. In ST Math, our games and puzzles help students build mental models of equations by presenting mathematics as a challenge that needs to be solved practically. The common objective is to get JiJi, ST Math's penguin mascot, across the screen. Instead of memorizing algorithms to solve problems quickly, students can take their time applying different strategies to overcome a puzzle. This format allows children with dyscalculia to focus on one aspect of the puzzle at a time and build mathematical meaning for themselves at their own rate of understanding. 

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ST Math Games Can Easily Incorporate Manipulatives

Using manipulatives during ST Math lessons can help students with dyscalculia make connections between mathematical ideas. Seeing and handling a tangible object adds another sensory dimension to the lesson and can help students see physical relationships between numbers. During ST Math time, teachers can help facilitate learning by working alongside students using number lines, blocks, or tiles to cement the knowledge as they move through specific puzzles.  

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ST Math Helps Build Math Vocabulary

Teachers should encourage students with dyscalculia to talk aloud as they work through a problem or new math concept to expand their math vocabulary. Children with dyscalculia may have strong language skills that could help make the mathematical process easier. 

It's a good idea for students to express their thinking using a variety of math terms so they know which operations to use in different situations. For example, when discussing a puzzle that focuses on addition, encourage students to use words such as "plus," "increase," and "more than" to build their math vocabulary. ST Math Puzzle Talks are an effective method of engaging large and small groups in step-by-step conversations about the math problem in front of them.

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ST Math Makes Homework Manageable

Worksheets assigned for homework can be overwhelming for students with dyscalculia. An assignment that would typically take half an hour can turn into an extremely frustrating night. ST Math is ideal for students with dyscalculia because each level is entirely self-paced. Students cannot move on to the next conceptual level until they have mastered the current concept. In addition, there are no timers that add unnecessary pressure that could cause students to make rushed mistakes. If a student attempts to solve a puzzle incorrectly, they can replay the animation and use ST Math’s formative feedback to identify what went wrong and how they should try again. 

On the backend, teachers can see what concepts and puzzles students are particularly struggling with and assign additional work to fortify their understanding. For students with dyscalculia, teachers can continuously monitor areas where the student needs extra support. 

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ST Math Enables Progress Tracking

Students with dyscalculia often experience higher levels of math anxiety. Their lack of understanding can cause them to feel frustrated and discouraged. That's why it's essential to keep track of the progress being made, help build their confidence, and celebrate milestones to validate their efforts. 

We encourage all ST Math users to keep records of their goals and progress. Students can check their total number of puzzles and minutes by clicking the dropdown menu at the top of their screen. You can also download free printable resources on our help site. Students and teachers can use our data trackers, game mats, and journal pages to set goals and see how far they’ve come in ST Math. These tangible reminders of growth will encourage students to keep persevering. 

Conquering Dyscalculia 

Students with dyscalculia will inevitably face challenges in and outside of the classroom. However, ST Math can give teachers more flexibility in their lessons to help students understand math in a way that works for them. With classroom accommodations, specialized instruction and practice, students can conquer learning challenges and grow to see themselves as capable problem solvers. 

Parker Erickson

About the Author

Parker is MIND's Content and Community Specialist.

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