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 or this MSNBC article.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht.

on July 7, 2011 at 11:17 am |Chuck PierHi Dave. I was looking for information that we had discussed on the AECM regarding dyscalculia and “the Googles” led me here.

One quick question though, In the paragraph where you describe what dyscalculia, dysgraphia (which my 18 year old son suffers from) and dyslexia, shouldn’t the word be “inability” instead of “ability?” For example, above you write, “Dysgraphia is the ability to write.” Shouldn’t that sentence be, “Dysgraphia is the INability to write?”

Thanks for the links to the information on dyscalculia.

on July 7, 2011 at 11:33 amDavid AlbrechtGood catch. Have now fixed it.

on June 29, 2011 at 12:33 pm |KellenI tutored intro to accounting, and stumbled across many students who struggled to apply what they knew to problems that needed to be solved “backwards” from what they were used to. (For example, given gross margin and cost of sales, they had a hard time figuring out how to find sales.)

So on this note, how much of teaching accounting is teaching the algebraic problem-solving skills, and how much is really accounting skills? The “tough” professors teach concepts one way, but then test the students with problems that make them work backwards and sideways – should an accounting professor be responsible for teaching students skills to solve algebra problems? If that’s not their responsibility, how can we justify testing students algebraic skills (which is what those problems are partially testing)?

Hope my question is clear, it’s a thought that just popped into my mind so haven’t had a chance to refine it for public consumption yet!

on June 30, 2011 at 4:19 pmDavid AlbrechtI’ve struggled with this for years. Students who have memorized their way through earlier math classes arrive in my accounting classes, and my classes rely upon skills that should have been learned instead of memorized.

I’ve often wondered why students afflicted with dyscalculia enroll in my classes in unbelievable numbers.

on June 22, 2011 at 5:24 am |Jim PetersonDave — Thanks for this — very interesting.

Two resources that I have used with my students in Risk Management — because the basic challenges of handling quantitative information are so severe, and there are “quants” out there who are hopeless with the basics:

One is the quite entertaining little book “Innumeracy,” by math prof John Allen Paulos — mainly to help students de-mystify the whole world of numbers. The other is Edward Tufte’s “Visual Display of Quantitative Information,” the first and best of his brilliant series on (among many other things) penetrating and eliminating the “junk” that interferes with clear comprehension and analysis.

on June 22, 2011 at 7:54 amDavid AlbrechtThanks for this note. I’m ordering these books today.

How long will you be in Chicago before returning to Paris? If possible, I’d love to come over for a day.

on June 21, 2011 at 11:20 am |Deb KirbyFascinating! I have read some of the articles and many of my students fall into the categories. Sequencing is a skill I have taught at many levels (4th, 5th, & 6th grades). Thank you for the sites with tips about how to help students. Most of the tips I have used for years…even though my fellow teachers thought I was “weird”! I have been the object of their laughter for using graph paper and colored pencils. They scoffed at me and my desire for order and quiet work areas. Also, I rework most worksheets because of the “clutter” on the page. I’ve been told…”You are doing too much…just copy the sheet as is.”

It is gratifying to learn that my strange ways are research based. I will no longer tolerate the jokes about me being OCD! Thank you.

Since I will be teaching third grade, I am trying to develop math centers with objects to reinforce the math concepts to be taught.

I will now be more aware of some student problems with math….and be more patient.