Right Brain Math

By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

In the animal kingdom 50% of the animals are “right paw dominant” and 50% are “left paw dominant.” This has been observed when animals press a lever to get more food or water. Human beings are 50% right brain dominant and 50% left brain dominant, regardless of hand dominance. As we know, the majority of school curriculum and teaching methods are taught in a left brain manner. This is particularly true of math curriculum. Left brain dominant children learn their math facts easily by repeating them orally, practicing them in timed tests, and working with flash cards. This is the sequential way that works for the left brain learner. The right brain dominant child, however, likes and often requires a different approach both to memorizing facts and performing calculation procedures. Let’s look at a model of the brain with its specialization of hemispheres:

 LEFT BRAIN Details Black & white Data only Repetition Sequential AUDITORY RIGHT BRAIN Whole picture Colors Rhythm, pictures Emotions Patterns VISUAL

As we can see, the left and right hemispheres learn in a completely different manner. Many times a right brain child can learn left brain presented material. It’s just easier for him or her to learn it in his style so more energy is left to learn other things. Some children, because of a slight learning glitch, need to have most things presented to them in their dominant learning mode in order to effectively store things in their memory.

When first and second graders learn how to add and subtract they are frequently given manipulatives to aid them in understanding the concepts. However, manipulatives are used longer than necessary and become a crutch which makes rapid calculation unobtainable. Fingers replace the manipulatives and continue to slow down the process of quick adding and subtracting. When a right brain child is presented with flash cards to help with the memorization process, frustration sets in. There are several methods that will serve to speed these processes immensely. One is the old-fashioned method know as Touch Math. In this method, the number visually shows the quantity it represents. For example, the number 5 has five dots drawn on it. When the child adds “7+5,” he or she says the seven and touches the dots on the five, saying “eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve,” as he or she does so. This eliminates the need to put down the pencil and count finger, which greatly slows things down. After this is successfully completed the next step is to take a “picture” of the five with the dots on it so the counting can be done with the eyes instead of touching the dots with a pencil. This also leads to being able to do mental math—adding numbers quickly without the need for pencil, paper, or fingers.

To learn number facts using flashcards—since the right brain child learns best when he or she sees the whole picture—put the answer on the front of the flashcard, preferably in color. Then, have him or her look up at it, just as he does to learn his spelling words. With the answer on the front (which left brainers tend to think of as cheating) the child learns to see the problem with the answer so that when just the problem is presented, in his mind’s eye, he can still see the answer, usually in the color you originally had it. You can also place the adding fact on a triangle, placing thirteen on the top of the triangle, with the eight plus five on each corner. Place this up high so the child has to look up at it, further stimulating his or her right brain visual memory. Thus, when the child sees a thirteen and a five, he or she knows the eight is missing. Adding and subtracting can be taught in one step by using this method.

Multiplication fact memorization can be a real source of frustration for a right brainer and can keep him or her from going on to more difficult math because of this block. These facts can actually be very easy to learn when using a right-brain-friendly method. Right brainers learn anything easier when emotion, color, or stories are added to the learning method. For example, when learning the math fact “8×3=24,” a picture story could be made, creating the number 8 as an eighth grader who has to babysit the neighbor’s 3 year-old child while they go out for just an hour. He thinks he’s too old to babysit, and besides, this 3 year old is a naughty little boy who doesn’t listen to anybody. Put “hands” on the “hips” of the number 8, representing his indignation at the whole idea. When he goes to babysit the 3 year old, he jumps on the couch the whole time. Sketch a couch on which the number three is jumping, represented by lines going up. The eighth grader looks through the window on the door and sees the “mom and dad” 24 walking up. The number two is dad, with a hat on, and number four is mom, with a purse hanging from her “arm.” He knows he’s going to be in trouble because the three year old was jumping on the couch the whole time. If you draw the picture while telling the story, it’s like “chalk talk” and makes a lasting impression on the child. You will find that with the combination of an emotion-filled story and the pictures he or she will remember it easily. Then, put the 24 in a division box with the 8 on the outside. They immediately know which one is missing. Do this same process putting the 24 in the division box with the 3 on the outside, and they will know that the 8 is missing because of the story. Thus, you have taught the multiplication and division facts at the same time. You can either make up your own emotion-filled stories and pictures for the facts that your child is having difficulty memorizing or you can order them ready made. For ready-made multiplication cards with stories and color, visit my web store. Since the right brain is also responsible for long-term memory, you will find that you won’t have to re-teach the facts as you have done before. Many home school parents have told me that their child learned the multiplication facts in a week after struggling for years to memorize them.

I know that God will bless you as you search for ways to make learning easier and more enjoyable for all of your children.