CLOSE

# 5-Minute Game May Improve Kids’ Math Skills

Sorry, moms and dads everywhere: video games (of a certain variety) might improve your child's math skills, at least for a short period of time. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, kids who spent five minutes playing a computer game scored significantly higher on math tests afterward. They published their results in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Human beings may be the only animals lucky enough to take math tests, but many other species have an innate grasp of numbers. In scientific studies, salamanders, chickens, fish, and even venus flytraps have demonstrated an ability to count. And even before human babies can talk, they understand quantities. This vital knack for sizing up the world is known as an approximate number system, or ANS. This system is distinct from, say, algebra or long division, but it may make those processes easier for us to understand.

To find out, the researchers created a quick, simple ANS computer game involving colored dots. They recruited 45 kindergarten-age kids (16 girls and 24 boys) and brought them into the lab to play.

In the game, the screen flashed two groups of dots, one blue and one yellow, for just 1200 milliseconds. (Previous studies suggested that an interval of 1200 milliseconds is long enough to see the dots clearly but not long enough to count them.) After each flash, each kid was asked to identify whether they had seen more blue dots or more yellow. Half of the kids started with relatively easy flashes, in which the difference between blue and yellow was obvious, and each successive flash got more difficult. The other group’s game started out hard and got progressively easier.

After the game ended, half of the kids took an age-appropriate vocabulary test. The other half were given math questions taken from a standardized test. Five kids were knocked out of the study results because they bombed either the vocabulary (3 kids) or math tests (2 kids).

Unsurprisingly, the kids’ vocab skills did not improve after the ANS game. But their math skills did. On average, the 10 kids in the easy-questions-first group scored in the 80th percentile on their math test. Those in the hard-questions-first group averaged in the 60th percentile. A third group of kids were tested at a later date, and their dot flashes were in random order. Their math scores averaged in the 70th percentile. In other words, basic ANS training, in which questions get progressively harder, boosted kids’ math scores—at least temporarily.

Jinjing “Jenny” Wang is a JHU graduate student in psychology and lead author on the paper. “Math ability is not static,” she said in a press statement. “It’s not the case that if you’re bad at math, you’re bad at it the rest of your life. It’s not only changeable, it can be changeable in a very short period of time.”

With just 10 kids in each test group, this experiment had a very small sample size, but it’s a good place to start exploring these connections and what they might mean for learning.

Psychology and neuroscience researcher Lisa Feigenson is a co-author of the paper. “These results are really exciting to us because they show a very clear connection between an evolutionary set of abilities and a uniquely human set of formal math skills,” she says in the video above. “That raises lots of interesting questions, including how long this effect lasts and whether we can also improve children’s performance in a classroom setting.”

Aflac
arrow
technology
Aflac's Robotic Duck Comforts Kids with Cancer
Aflac

Every year, close to 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. That news can be the beginning of a long and draining battle that forces kids and their parents to spend large amounts of time with medical providers, enduring long and sometimes painful treatments. As The Verge reports, a bit of emotional support during that process might soon come from an unlikely source: the Alfac duck.

The supplemental insurance company announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it has partnered with the medical robotics company Sproutel to design and manufacture My Special Aflac Duck, a responsive and emotive sim-bird intended exclusively for children undergoing cancer treatment.

When a child cuddles the fuzzy robotic duck, it can cuddle back. It reacts to being cradled and stroked by quacking or moving its head. Kids can also touch special RFID chips emblazoned with emoji on the duck's chest to tell it how they’re feeling, and the device will mimic those emotions.

But the duck isn’t solely for cuddling. In “IV Mode,” which can be switched on while a child is undergoing IV therapy, the duck can help the user relax by guiding them through breathing exercises. Accessories included with the toy also allow children to "draw blood" from the duck as well as administer medication, a kind of role-playing that may help patients feel more comfortable with their own treatments.

Aflac approached Sproutel with the idea after seeing Sproutel’s Jerry the Bear, a social companion robot intended to support kids with diabetes. Other robotic companions—like the Japanese-made seal Paro and Hasbro's Joy for All companion pets for seniors—have hinted at a new market for robotics that prioritize comfort over entertainment or play.

My Special Aflac Duck isn’t a commercial product and won’t be available for retail sale. Aflac intends to offer it as a gift directly to patients, with the first rollout expected at its own cancer treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia. Mass distribution is planned for later this year.

[h/t The Verge]

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Lists
15 Amazing Kids Who Are Making The World a Better Place
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

From pint-sized activists to elementary school entrepreneurs, the digital world has been instrumental in giving a global platform to anyone who wants to make a difference—regardless of age. Need proof? Look no further than the 15 amazing kids highlighted here, each of whom is doing his or her part to make the world a better place.

#### 1. DALIYAH MARIE ARANA

Haleema Smith Arana

Studies show that the typical American will read around five books per year. Well, 5-year-old Daliyah Marie Arana of Gainesville, Georgia, does that in a week. What's more impressive: She read more than 1000 books before she even entered kindergarten. Her love of reading became so prolific that it caught the attention of the Library of Congress, where she was invited to serve as Guest Librarian in January 2017.

“I want to inspire all the kids at my school to read more,” Arana tells Mental Floss. “I read to my 5-month-old baby brother, Demetrio, every day because I want him to learn to read before age 2!”

That same passion extends to her community, where Arana says, “I want to work with my mom to make my school the best group of readers in Georgia!” —Jay Serafino

#### 2. GISELLE BAZOS

Courtesy of Ann Bazos

Nine-year-old Giselle Bazos has solved a problem that plagues kids her age: lost retainers. Her invention, the Retainer Container, prevents kids from losing their dental appliances while they eat. “I have a retainer that I lost a couple times,” Bazos tells Mental Floss. “I found it really hard, especially when you are eating, to keep it somewhere where it won’t get thrown away or broken.”

Her storage container can be worn on the wrist, so that a kid’s retainer never actually leaves their person. (Which is good news for parents, too, as it can cost as much as \$600 to replace a lost retainer.) Bazos got to present her idea at the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo in the summer of 2017. Though right now she’s more focused on being a regular fourth grader than manufacturing the device, we’ll be looking out for her next brilliant invention. —Shaunacy Ferro

#### 3. ROBBIE BOND

Photo courtesy of Michelle Bond

This past April, the president issued two executive orders that hit close to home for 9-year-old Robbie Bond. They threatened the protected status of 27 national monuments, including Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Bond’s home state of Hawaii. He knew he had to do something, so with his family he decided to hit the road. Bond's mission is to visit each of the 27 vulnerable monuments while raising awareness of the issue among both kids and adults. He’s already well on his way to achieving that goal, and tracks his progress on his website, Kids Speak for Parks.

“I love when I visit schools and interact with my peers and they tell me about their experiences visiting national parks and monuments,” Bond tells Mental Floss. “At every National Monument I have visited, the community has welcomed me and people have taken the time to educate me about the uniqueness and significance of each monument.” —Michele Debczak

#### 4. HENRY BURNER

Sarah DeNike

When a school trading post project tasked fourth grader Henry Burner with bringing in something to sell to his classmates, he didn’t want to go the traditional baked goods route. Instead, Henry made and sold his own pinback buttons with the help of his mom’s button machine. The success of his creative project spawned an idea.

“I did so well at my trading post that when I got home I asked mom whether I could ‘make real money doing this,’” Burner tells Mental Floss. He began selling his buttons at farmers markets, but when the season ended and the markets began to close, he said, "My mom suggested e-commerce and that's when the business really took off!”

Now as the founder of Buttonsmith, Inc., Burner—who was named as one of Forbes's notable 30 Under 30 in the retail and ecommerce industry—is creating jobs in his hometown of Carnation, Washington. With a patent pending on the design, his products are available both online and in Walmarts across the country. While Burner cites "selling more than \$1 million gross in 2017, being in 1600 Walmarts, [and] being able to sell custom products on Amazon" as some of his biggest achievements, he's also very conscious about the kind of company he wants to run. He's proud of Buttonsmith's "products [being] 100 percent made in the USA, being a union shop, and creating 10 good jobs for our employees!” —JS

#### 5. AMARIYANNA COPENY

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

For years, residents of Flint, Michigan have had to deal with a water supply known to contain dangerous levels of lead and other contaminants that irritate the skin. To make sure President Barack Obama was aware of the situation, 8-year-old Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny wrote a letter to the White House in March 2016. After not hearing back for months, Copeny’s mother, Loui Brezzell, got a call from Washington: The President was coming to Flint and wanted to meet Copeny.

Known as “Little Miss Flint” from her days in beauty pageants, Copeny became a lightning rod for the water crisis in her town. “When we found out the water was making us sick, I decided I wanted to stand up and give a voice to the kids in Flint that couldn’t stand up and speak for themselves,” she told Fortune.

Copeny—who has more than 21,000 Twitter followers—has since spearheaded a charity movement to donate 1000 school backpacks to area students. In November 2017, her tireless community efforts were recognized by Central Michigan University, which presented Copeny with a \$25,000 scholarship to the school. —Alvin Ward

#### 6. SOPHIE CRUZ

Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SOZE

Sophie Cruz has proven that you’re never too young to start caring about national issues, especially when your family’s fate hangs in the balance. Her story got global attention in 2015 when, at just 5 years old, she handed the Pope a letter and a hand-drawn illustration in hopes that he could help change U.S. immigration laws, which threaten to deport her parents, who are both undocumented immigrants. The illustration was of Cruz, her family, and the Pope joining hands, with “My friends and I love each other no matter our skin color,” written in Spanish across it.

Her story continued at the Women’s March in January 2017, where she made a speech to the crowd in both English and Spanish, pleading with them to fight for immigrants around the country. “We are here together making a chain of love, to protect our families,” Cruz, who was just 6 at the time, told the massive crowd. “Let us fight with love, faith, and courage so that our families will not be destroyed.” Cruz's story has become a rallying cry for nonprofit organizations like Fighting for Families. —JS

Courtesy Snuggle Sacks

Ten-year-old Addisyn Goss, of Fenton, Michigan, met her grandfather for the first time in 2015. He was very sick, with one leg amputated, and had been homeless for six years. “So many of his stories made me sad, and I wanted to help others that might be homeless,” Goss tells Mental Floss. With her family’s help, she bundled donated toiletries, clothes, snacks, and blankets into 50 individual bags she dubbed Snuggle Sacks, which they delivered to the homeless in Lansing and Flint. Soon they were giving out 50 each month; now it’s 500. Goss’s nonprofit has handed out 3200 survival kits so far.

“I like seeing how the Snuggle Sacks really help people,” she says. “We have met lots of very nice people, and see them over and over again. They tell us how happy they are to get a new pair of socks, or the gloves, and how it helps them stay warm and safer. That makes us feel good. And, my brother and sister help me every day, so we are very close now.” —Jennifer Pinkowski

#### 8. RYAN HICKMAN

Photo courtesy Damion Hickman

Ryan Hickman’s passion for the environment began early. When the 8-year-old was just a toddler, his father, Damion Hickman, would take him on trips to their local recycling center in Orange County, California. These outings inspired Ryan to launch his own recycling business, Ryan’s Recycling, with help from his community.

In just five years, Hickman has recycled nearly 300,000 cans and bottles. He has also raised more than \$5000 for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, a marine mammal rescue center, by selling company-branded T-shirts. “I love recycling because it helps keep trash from getting into the ocean near where we live and that helps the animals in the ocean,” Hickman tells Mental Floss. —Kirstin Fawcett

#### 9., 10., AND 11. JACKSON, TRISTAN, AND VIOLET KELLEY

Photo courtesy Heather Kelley

In the summer of 2009, the Kelley brothers—Jackson, then 10, and Tristan, almost 8—launched Backpacks for New Beginnings, a charity that provides backpacks and school supplies for underprivileged kids around the Boston area. “We wanted to create a charity where we could do more than donate money or toys," the brothers told Mental Floss by email. "We wanted it to be a charity for kids run by kids.”

They fundraise, shop for items—which also include warm clothes, toiletries, and other basics—manage around 30 volunteers, and coordinate deliveries themselves, donating more than 7500 backpacks in the past nine years. And they show no signs of stopping—especially now that their 7-year-old sister Violet has gotten involved.

Though Jackson is now a freshman in college, he still plans on staying involved from afar and during the summers, and hopes to found a new chapter wherever he ends up after graduation. In the meantime, 16-year-old Tristan is spearheading the effort at home, and Violet is preparing to take over the operation in the future. —SF

#### 12. ROBBY NOVAK

Navigate past YouTube’s sea of unboxing videos and famous cats and you’ll sometimes find someone worth your time—Robby Novak being a prime example. Since 2013, the 13-year-old has been posting videos as “Kid President,” featuring optimistic and enthusiastic addresses from his cardboard Oval Office that have promoted charitable causes, like urging people to donate clothes and meals to the needy. In other clips, he uses humor to make salient points about empathy. “Before you say something about the barbecue sauce on somebody else’s shirt, take a look at the barbecue sauce on your own shirt,” he says.

Novak’s high spirits are in contrast to his osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that causes his bones to be abnormally brittle and has prompted over 70 bone breaks in his life. Novak’s infectious energy has been viewed by—and inspired—millions, including Real President Barack Obama, who visited with Novak when he invited the performer to the White House for the annual Easter Egg Hunt in 2013. —AW

#### 13. SUNSHINE OELFKE

Photo courtesy Jackie Sue Oelfke

Most kids break open their piggy banks to buy games or toys, but 5-year-old Sunshine Oelfke found a more important way to use her savings. She started gathering up her own change after learning that a friend at school didn’t have enough money to buy milk. Sunshine’s mom, Jackie Oelfke, helped her fill a baggie with cash and take it to school, but they didn’t stop there. They decided to extend Sunshine’s good deed with a GoFundMe campaign that raised money for more kids who can’t afford milk. “I want all my friends to have milk and lunch,” Sunshine tells Mental Floss. “I want all my friends to be happy.” —MD

#### 14. GITANJALI RAO

Discovery Education/Andy King

Gitanjali Rao, a seventh-grader from Colorado, won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge and was named "American's top young scientist." Her winning project? An inexpensive, portable, accurate device that tests lead contamination in drinking water and a smartphone app that analyzes the results, which she created after seeing news stories about lead in Flint, Michigan's water system. With her \$25,000 prize, Rao hopes to fine-tune her invention—which she named Tethys, for the Greek goddess of fresh water—and ultimately help people make sure their water is clean. “I believe [Tethys] could have helped the people of Flint if they had it earlier,” Rao told The Denver Post. “My next step is to find out for sure.” —Kat Long

#### 15. CARL SCHECKEL

Photo courtesy William Scheckel

Carl Scheckel, 10, uses his love of comics to entertain soldiers and veterans. It all began when Carl (with help from his dad, William Scheckel, an adjunct professor at New York Institute of Technology) launched a website, Carl’s Comix, to post reviews of works and interviews with comic book creators. “One of my readers asked me if I would want to donate comics to veterans,” Scheckel tells Mental Floss. “I liked the idea and took 400 comics of my own and asked dealers, collectors, and creators I know if they would like to donate comics too. I raised 3500 comics!”

The Department of Veteran Affairs arranged for Scheckel's comics to be donated to a local veterans hospital and Army base, and thousands of additional donations poured in when news spread about his good deed. Scheckel plans to give a portion of these extra works to Maryland’s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “I hope that when people get these comics, it reminds them of home and gives them something fun to do!” he says. —KF

### SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios