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One Math Skill You Need to Succeed at Work

university of missouri center for educational statistics mathematics skills employment opportunities journal plos one

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#1 Hum

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 13:55

The key to improving today's workforce could lie in the elementary school math class, new research shows.

A study by University of Missouri researchers identified how a lack of a specific math skill in first grade correlated to lower scores on a seventh-grade math test used to determine employability and wages in adults.

David Geary, a Missouri professor and the study's lead author, said the research made a connection between child psychology and labor economics in order to examine the roots of America's shortage of mathematically proficient workers. Data from the United States Center for Educational Statistics revealed that one in five adults lacks the math competency expected of an eighth-grader.

"We isolated a specific skill that has real-world importance in employability and observed how that skill related to grade-school mathematical performance," Geary said. "By identifying a specific numerical skill as a target, we can focus education efforts on helping deficient students as early as kindergarten and thereby give them a better chance at career success in adulthood."

The math skill researchers identified was "number system knowledge," which is the ability to conceptualize a numeral as a symbol for a quantity and understand systematic relationships between numbers. The study found that having this knowledge at the beginning of first grade predicted better functional mathematical ability in adolescence.

Geary said an early deficit in number system knowledge creates a weak foundation for later learning, which can lead to a lifetime of problems, not limited to reduced employment opportunities.

"Poor understanding of mathematical concepts can make a person easy prey for predatory lenders," he said. "Numerical literacy, or numeracy, also helps with saving for big purchases and managing mortgages and credit-card debt."

The researchers believe intervention programs designed to overcome this early math deficiency could prepare students for later employment, help them make wiser economic choices and improve the future U.S. workforce.

The study, which was co-authored by Missouri senior researchers Mary Hoard and Lara Nugent and Missouri doctoral graduate Drew Bailey, involved 180 13-year-olds who had been assessed every year since kindergarten for intelligence, memory, mathematical cognition, attention span and achievement. The research was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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#2 Nick H.

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 14:00

The math skill researchers identified was "number system knowledge," which is the ability to conceptualize a numeral as a symbol for a quantity and understand systematic relationships between numbers.

I was never good at maths, and it sounds like what they are referring to has roots in algebra, something that I could never get my head around.

When playing darts I still use my fingers to help me subtract my score from the total. That's how bad it is at times. :(

#3 threetonesun

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 14:09

I was never good at maths, and it sounds like what they are referring to has roots in algebra, something that I could never get my head around.

When playing darts I still use my fingers to help me subtract my score from the total. That's how bad it is at times. :(


It's more basic than algebra, it's just an ability to understand that number represent something else. They talk about predatory lending in the article, which is a problem with people who only understand that a loan = money, and have no concept of how much or what the interest is going to be or how incredibly terrible it will be for them in the long run.

#4 spacer

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 14:11

So...what they're saying is that children would perform better in school/life if they actually learned what they are supposed to, when they are supposed to learn it...instead of barely passing and being shipped off to the next grade to half-ass learn the next set of information?

Tell me again, why are we paying any attention to academics coming out of Missouri?

#5 billyea

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 14:15

Wait, there are people who don't understand that a number is a quantity?
What do they think a number is then? Just a weirdly shaped symbol that sometimes gets inserted into sentences and financial documents?

#6 threetonesun

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 14:20

Wait, there are people who don't understand that a number is a quantity?
What do they think a number is then? Just a weirdly shaped symbol that sometimes gets inserted into sentences and financial documents?


Yes? I mean, it's quite basic on the "I need five apples" level, but when you start getting into things like interest over time, or relatively abstract concepts like money that's being only dealt with on paper (e.g, a home mortgage), obviously some people can't conceptualize it.

#7 billyea

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 14:44

Yes? I mean, it's quite basic on the "I need five apples" level, but when you start getting into things like interest over time, or relatively abstract concepts like money that's being only dealt with on paper (e.g, a home mortgage), obviously some people can't conceptualize it.

Maybe I'm just taking for granted my level of education, but this is quite ridiculous. I mean time is an abstract concept, using an arbitrary measurement scheme, represented by numbers in partially base 60, and most people don't seem to have a problem with that.

#8 Oni Ray

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 14:44

Mathematics. Bah! One of the only things in life I can honestly say that I'm good at. One of the only subjects - along with Computer Sc. and Physics (to some extent) - that interested me while in school. :p

Thank God for Math and Comp. I'll have died if I had to study History and Geography all my life :crazy:

#9 Mr. Dee

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 15:04

I gave up on Mathematics about 10 years ago. I failed the high school exam for Mathematics about 5 times. In the UK its called GCE I believe, although GCE is a bit harder.

1. High School - failed Math
2. Community college - failed Math
3. Repeated Community College just for Math - failed Math again
4. Did it at my old high school as an after work program - failed Math again
5. Started again - didn't even bother attending the exam, because I knew I would fail - failed Math again

Yes, Math has held me back to some extent, its an entry requirement to college here, regardless I have distinction passes in English A, Information Technology and several other subjects.

I still managed to survive, but I believe I could have a better life if I was good at it. I struggle with it sometimes at work. Although, I am glad to have a job I am good at and I rarely encounter hard Mathematics in IT. The only area is some basic accounting since I am Library Assistant in addition to a Sys Admin. I still feel lucky, because I know persons who have graduated from college and don't have a job, so I am blessed. But, I know persons who excelled in Math who are in very good jobs right now.

One Math I would like to get is the Super Lotto. That is one Math I can definitely deal with. :)

#10 Colin McGregor

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 15:11

You can tell the ones that suck at math when the cash registers go down somewhere and they refuse to take any sales lol. Even if they can access the money to give you change.

#11 Arpit

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 15:12

i'm a math major with a focus towards business/finance, and now accounting designation.. i like 'applicable math', when it's attached with $ :p but i'm definitely an artsy at heart. didn't follow my heart because i'm also essay-phobic to the point that i was willing to put up with math just so i wouldn't have to write essays.

#12 Growled

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 05:04

The math skill researchers identified was "number system knowledge," which is the ability to conceptualize a numeral as a symbol for a quantity and understand systematic relationships between numbers.


This is such a basic idea that you wonder how our educational system could fail to teach so many about it.