youcubed: The way students group dots, see numbers predicts achievement in state tests

youcubed at Stanford University - Bruce McCandliss's research on groupitizing
youcubed at Stanford University - Bruce McCandliss's research on groupitizing

From youcubed, May 17, 2023:

A highlight of the 2023 Week of Inspirational Maths is a set of new tasks based on the powerful concept of “groupitizing.”

"Groupitizing” is a term coined by my Stanford colleague Bruce McCandliss, a neuroscientist who focuses his work on education and learning. McCandliss and his team have produced some stunning research evidence showing that the way students group dots and see numbers predicts their achievement in state tests, for years ahead, and even ameliorates the effect of parental income.

Prior to this work by Dr. McCandliss and his team, researchers and educators had noted the importance of what is known as “subitizing.” This is a practice that humans naturally do – looking at a group of dots, or objects, up to 4, and knowing how many there are, without counting them. This ability usually shows up in kindergarten and develops through the grades. “Groupitizing” is the ability to group a collection of dots using the process of subitizing. For example, if someone saw the visual on the left below and were asked how many dots there are, they might say there are 10, as they see groups of 4, and 4 and 2.

In doing this, they would be “groupitizing.” The noteworthy data that Dr. McCandliss and his colleagues produced showed that in a study of over 1,200 students in grades 3-8, the extent to which students could “groupitize” predicted their performance on standardized math tests, above and beyond their achievement in arithmetic, all the way up to 8th grade.

In the view of youcubed, this study is very important; it gives us some insight into the power of visual thinking for students. As students learn to groupitize, from seeing dots visually, they are developing mental models that they likely return to every time they think about numbers. To help teachers develop this mental model, the youcubed team has created tasks for WIM 2023 that emphasize groupitizing for students in grades 1-14.

• So Many Visuals (Grades 1-4):
• Area Design (Grades 3-5):
• Flipping Votes (Grades 3-5):
• Flipping Votes (Grades 6-8):
• Dots on the Grid (Grades 9-14):

For kindergartners, we recommend this task that was added to WIM last year and encourages groupitizing: Which is More?: (It's also great for first graders!)

Viva La Maths Revolution,
Jo Boaler & the youcubed team