# APS 2008: What Chutes and Ladders has to do with learning Math

This morning I attended a session on the Science of Learning, and heard a bunch of great talks.

I was especially impressed by “There’s Nothing so Practical as a Good Theory,” by Robert Seigler.

Siegler discussed his work with children’s learning of the number line. As children get older, they develop better and better representations of numbers — this is research we’ve discussed on Cognitive Daily.

These results correlate significantly with math achievement test scores — kids who have better representations of numbers score better on the tests.

So what causes math ability in these kids? What factors lead to kids doing better in math as they grow older? One consistent result that has been found is that low-income kids do worse on these tasks. So is there something different in the way that low-income students are raised and educated that explains the difference?

Seigler’s research suggests that games like chutes and ladders may provide an answer. They trained kids on one of two games — a number game, or a color game. In the number game, the board was like a number line, with numbered squares extending from 1 to 10. In the color game, there were ten squares, just like in the number game, but the squares were labeled only with colors. The kids who played the number game four times over two weeks did better on the number line test.

In a separate study, Seigler and others surveyed low-income and middle income kids on games they played: Middle income kids played more card and board games, low income kids played more video games. Whether kids played board games correlated with number line success, but playing video games did not.

1. #1 Tony Jeremiah
May 23, 2008

Seigler’s research suggests that games like chutes and ladders may provide an answer. They trained kids on one of two games — a number game, or a color game. In the number game, the board was like a number line, with numbered squares extending from 1 to 10. In the color game, there were ten squares, just like in the number game, but the squares were labeled only with colors. The kids who played the number game four times over two weeks did better on the number line test.

In a separate study, Seigler and others surveyed low-income and middle income kids on games they played: Middle income kids played more card and board games, low income kids played more video games. Whether kids played board games correlated with number line success, but playing video games did not.

This is consistent with activities found in the Number Worlds Program, based on research suggesting that low SES children are at a disadvantage in developing numerical cognition because they have fewer experiences (e.g., toys) necessary for developing it.

2. #2 Rich Osborne
June 2, 2008

I have to take issue with the line “playing video games did not”. A repeated issue with research into video game culture is treating all video games the same. This is a huge genre – what if the video game was one that simulated the board game? The huge benefit of video game technology is it’s ability to simulate almost anything, and move beyond the barriers imposed upon us by physical spaces. When referring to them I feel we must be much more specific as to their specific content in order to have any worthwhile comparison.