When I teach Managerial Accounting, I emphasize to students that in many areas of business it is necessary to read numbers and understand the patterns that are present. I have always wondered why some very smart students who study are unable to do either one. Perhaps it is due to dyscalculia.
Two fundamental skills underlie almost everything I do in the course:
- Starting with the average cost for some amount of units and then calculating the resulting total cost, and vice versa.
- Identifying the pattern inherent in a sequence of numbers and calculating what would come next, or what came before.
An example of the first skill would be:
If the average cost for 12 units is $2.50, then the total cost for those 12 units is $30.
Another example would be:
If the total cost for 11 units is $33, then the average cost per unit is $3.
The task seems simple. But there are very smart students at the universities I’ve taught at, and a significant percentage have great difficulty with it. Students will spend a lot of time in memorization for this type of problem soon to appear on a test, but they never truly get it.
An example of the second skill is found when I lay out the following sequences and ask students to fill in the missing values. Can you figure out what are the missing values?
The answers are:
The task seems simple. But there are very smart students at the universities I’ve taught at, and a significant percentage have great difficulty with it.
I know that many accounting professors ridicule students who can’t perform either task, claiming that students deserve bad grades because they never put in the study time to learn what is necessary. Not me. I’ve always thought that there is a missing piece to the puzzle of easy problems that are unsolvable for some smart college students.
Yesterday on AECM we started talking about dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is similar to dyslexia and dysgraphia. Dyscalculia is the inability to identify numbers, distinguish number patterns, and perform arithmetic operations. Dyslexia is the inability to identify letters, distinguish letter patterns (i.e., words), and comprehend what is read. Dysgraphia is the inability to write. Some people can read very well, but have not learned to write.
Students with a bad case of dyscalculia will have difficulty in identifying the numbers in the following image.
The current thinking is that these are not physical or intellectual incapacities, but rather they are functional or learning difficulties. All can be overcome. Dyslexia, which probably affects 5-10% of the American population has received much attention. But so has dyscalculia, which is thought to afflict a similar percentage of the population. To see the range of exercises available to combat this learning problem with numbers, visit dyscalculia.org.
Professors, it might be appropriate to refer some students to your campus disabilities office.
To learn more about dyscalculia, please read this wikipedia article.
By David Albrecht.