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I'm just not good at math. If you've ever said that and you're a parent, you might also worry about how you're going to help your child learn math. Well, there's an app for that, and a study published today in the journal Science suggests it actually works. Eric Westervelt, of the NPR Ed team, explains.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: I read to my 5-year-old just about every day. A book about disgruntled crayons and one about a frog who lost his underwear are current favorites. Full disclosure though - I'm not a big math lover. So no, I don't read bedtime math tales or make up where the wild improper fractions roam stories. But University of Chicago psychology professor Sian Beilock says all of us should consider a little good night math.
SIAN BEILOCK: Our study suggests that doing Bedtime Math with your kids can help advance their math achievement over the school year, and that this might be especially important for parents who are a little bit nervous about their own math ability.
WESTERVELT: Beilock and her team followed a demographically diverse group of first-graders and their parents, nearly 600 in all, across Chicago for a year. One group got an iPad math story app to use regularly, called Bedtime Math, built by a nonprofit with the same name. The no-frills app uses stories with math problems and sound effects, like this...
(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND EFFECT)
WESTERVELT: And this...
(SOUNDBITE OF SOUND EFFECT)
WESTERVELT: Parents and kids solve the problems together. The control group was given a reading app with similar stories but no math problems to solve. The result at the end of the school year?
BEILOCK: Those who used the math app were three months ahead in terms of math achievement relative to those kids who just did the reading app.
WESTERVELT: And there's more. Beilock wrote the book about anxiety and performance, "Choke: What The Secrets Of The Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To." The study, published today in the journal Science, found that the Bedtime Math app worked even better for children whose parents tend to be anxious or uncomfortable about their own math ability.
BEILOCK: In essence, these kids looked like kids whose parents weren't anxious about math by school year's end.
WESTERVELT: The more families used the math story app the better they did. But in something of a surprise to Beilock's research team, even children who used the app with their parents as little as once a week saw significant math improvement.
BEILOCK: We think that when parents get comfortable with talking with their kids about math that they likely engage in math talk even when they're not using the app. And we know that parents who talk more to their kids about math, whether you're counting out how many cookies they're going to get or how many minutes till bedtime, those kids tend to achieve at higher rates in math.
WESTERVELT: So a little math can go a long way. Remember that next time you're measuring flour or cutting a two-by-four. Meantime, tonight at my house, I think I'll make up something about how four to the eighth power went walking in the woods. Eric Westervelt, NPR News.
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