Question Sheet: Wired for Math
Before reading:
 When do you think that you started to understand how to add numbers? What
helped you to learn how to add?
 Why do you think that some people are better at math than other people are?
During reading:
 Elizabeth Spelke says, “Our brains seem to come equipped with systems for
estimating amounts and doing arithmetic.” Explain why she makes this statement.
 Why is Spelke interested in learning about children’s “inborn sense of
number”?
 What does it mean that “a number is a symbol”? Give two examples.
 What evidence did the researchers have to conclude that young children are
able to “add and compare amounts”?
 Why do Spelke and her team conclude that a child’s sense of number is not
dependent on language?
 What do young children have a particularly hard time learning?
After reading:
 Design an experiment, giving some sample problems, that would provide
additional information about the ability of young children to estimate amounts.
 Do you think that kids who are particularly good estimators are also better
at math in school? Why or why not?
 Spelke and her coworkers came up with five experiments to test how well
preschoolers can estimate quantities. What might have been the team’s hypothesis
for each experiment?
 Compare a child’s ability to speak but not write with a child’s ability to
estimate but not understand numbers. How are these ideas similar and different?
 Why is it important to study math? See mathforum.org/dr.math/faq/faq.why.math.html (Math Forum @
Drexel).
 What is numeracy? See www.literacyandnumeracy.gov.au/2005/for_parents.htm
(Australian Government).
SOCIAL STUDIES
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) compares how well U.S. students (fourth and eighthgraders) do in mathematics and science to how well students in other countries do. When was the last study done? How well did the United States do in math? What were the top three countries in math for each grade level? Why do you think these countries had the best results? When will the next study occur? See nces.ed.gov/timss/ and nces.ed.gov/timss/Results03.asp (National Center for Education Statistics).
LANGUAGE ARTS
 Write a letter to a math teacher suggesting some ways to teach math to small
children that reflect the ideas presented in this article.
 Write a children’s story that might help children understand that numbers
are symbols.
MATHEMATICS
In 2003, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) compared how well U.S. eighthgraders did in mathematics to how well students in other countries did. The following table lists the average score on the test for each country that participated.
Country

Average score 
Singapore 
605

Korea, Republic
of 
589

Hong Kong 
586

Chinese Taipei 
585

Japan 
570

BelgiumFlemish 
537

Netherlands 
536

Estonia 
531

Hungary 
529

Malaysia 
508

Latvia 
508

Russian Federation 
508

Slovak Republic 
508

Australia 
505

United States 
504

Lithuania 
502

Sweden 
499

Scotland 
498

Israel 
496

New Zealand 
494

Slovenia 
493

Italy 
484

Armenia 
478

Serbia 
477

Bulgaria 
476

Romania 
475

Norway 
461

Moldova, Republic of 
460

Cyprus 
459

Macedonia, Republic of 
435

Lebanon 
433

Jordan 
424

Iran, Islamic Republic of 
411

Indonesia 
411

Tunisia 
410

Egypt 
406

Bahrain 
401

Palestinian National Authority 
390

Chile 
387

Morocco 
387

Phlippines 
378

Botswana 
366

Saudi Arabia 
332

Ghana 
276

South Africa 
264

How many countries participated in the study? What was the international average score? Was the United States above or below average? How many countries were better than the United States? What percentage? What was the difference between the highest and lowest average scores? What was the median average score?