5 Ways AI Can Support Students With Dyscalculia

Dhwani Shah
February 13, 2024
5 min read

Let’s start today’s blog by going back to the basics. What’s 5 times 5? And 11 times 20? If you bought groceries worth $75 and tendered a $100 bill to the cashier, how much change would you get back? 

The answers to these questions probably popped up in your head within a second, or a few at most. While basic math comes easily to most of us, some find it challenging to comprehend and work with number-based information.

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to understand and work with mathematical concepts. Dyscalculia could manifest itself in several forms such as having trouble counting upwards or backwards, memorizing multiplication tables, making number comparisons, measuring quantities, and understanding fractions, amongst other things.

a child sitting at a table with books and math apparatus

While solving a simple math problem may seem like an effortless job, it actually involves several other skills like visual processing, short-term and long-term memory, understanding quantities and amounts, and calculation. Everyday activities like reading the clock, cooking, driving and budgeting all involve these basic mathematical skills, making it challenging for those with dyscalculia to perform routine tasks.

Moreover, with mathematics being a core subject in almost all schools and curriculums, learning disabilities such as dyscalculia can pose unique challenges in the educational journey. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a powerful tool to address these challenges, offering personalized solutions and transforming the math learning experience for students with dyscalculia. Here are some ways that AI can support individuals with dyscalculia.

a list of AI tools to help students with dyscalculia

1. Adaptive Learning Platforms

Students with dyscalculia often find it difficult to keep pace with other learners in the class owing to their limited mathematical abilities. Adaptive learning platforms could offer the perfect solution for this limitation. Adaptive learning uses artificial intelligence to create personalized learning experiences based on a learner’s needs and progress — an invaluable asset in an environment with diverse learners. 

AI-driven adaptive learning platforms, such as DreamBox, Knewton and IXL Learning, use data and algorithms to analyze individual learning styles, strengths and areas for improvement and then adapt instructional content and activities in real-time to suit the unique pace and needs of students. In simpler words, this type of learning technology can increase the difficulty level when students perform well and provide extra assistance during moments of struggle. 

two girls sitting on the ground studying on a laptop

For example, Bill, a dyscalculic student, struggles with basic arithmetic operations. The AI platform adjusts the difficulty level of arithmetic exercises based on Bill's performance. If he excels in addition but faces challenges in multiplication, the system tailors exercises to focus more on multiplication, providing additional practice and visual aids for reinforcement. As Bill progresses, the AI dynamically adapts the pace, ensuring he masters each arithmetic operation before moving on to more complex challenges. 

In this way, AI adapts to the unique challenges of dyscalculic students by tailoring math exercises to address specific difficulties. This personalized approach focuses on reinforcing foundational mathematical concepts, ensuring a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

2. Gamified Learning 

Well, who doesn't love a bit of fun and games? Add a pinch of that to learning and you have the recipe for happy, interested learners. 

The gamification of learning is the application of addictive gaming elements, like design, rewards and leaderboards, to studying. By tapping into human emotions like pleasure, excitement and intrigue, gamification has the incredible power to transform classrooms into exciting, engaging environments. 

It's no rocket science that not being good at something or finding something painstakingly difficult can make you uninterested and afraid of it. So it's only understandable why learners with dyscalculia dread the math monster so deeply. Thankfully, gamified learning experiences powered by AI can transform abstract mathematical concepts into tangible experiences and turn math practice into engaging and enjoyable activities. By incorporating appealing visuals, immersive experiences and interactive elements, AI provides a multisensory approach, enhancing understanding and retention of mathematical principles. 

a child learning math by playing with colorful numbers

Further, AI can implement reward systems and progress tracking features like digital badges, progressive milestones and real-time leaderboards within gamified learning platforms. Celebrating achievements and milestones encourages students with dyscalculia to stay motivated and continue their math learning journey with enthusiasm.

A great example of the success of gamification in the realm of mathematics is Prodigy Math, a kids game that makes learning math fun. With personalized characters, adventurous storylines and gratifying rewards, kids are motivated to practice and improve at the subject, while teachers benefit from personalized data based on each student's progress, helping them differentiate instruction.

Other apps like DragonBox, Classcraft and SplashLearn too incorporate gaming elements into the world of learning. Positive responses from teachers are a testimony to the fact that games provide a fun environment for students with dyscalculia to reinforce their math skills, fostering a positive attitude towards the subject.

3. Real-Time Feedback

Immediate, effective feedback is vital for learners with disabilities; it provides timely insights, reinforces positive efforts, and helps address challenges, fostering a supportive learning environment.

AI enables real-time feedback on math exercises tailored to individual needs, helping students with dyscalculia identify errors and understand concepts more thoroughly. AI algorithms can identify patterns in student performance, offering insights that help educators adapt their teaching strategies and provide dedicated assistance where it's needed most. Platforms like SmartSparrow, Khan Academy and MATHia provide real-time feedback to help students achieve their full potential.

Let’s take, for instance, Jake, a dyscalculic student, who is progressing through a series of geometry problems using an AI-powered learning tool. The AI system tracks Jake's performance and identifies specific areas where he encounters difficulties, such as calculating angles. After each exercise, Jake receives instant feedback pinpointing his strengths and areas for improvement. This prompt feedback fosters a sense of accomplishment, building confidence and motivation to tackle mathematical challenges.

a person smiling at a laptop

4. Visual Aids

Think of your favorite comic - Archies, Batman, X-Men. Now, try thinking of these without the bright colors and the striking visuals — just plain text in the form of a story. Not as appealing now, are they? 

Good visuals can enhance the quality of content, improving comprehension and engagement among readers. AI-generated dynamic visual representations help students with dyscalculia visualize mathematical problems and solutions. Interactive diagrams, simulations, and multimedia content provide additional layers of comprehension and engagement. Softwares such as GeoGebra and Desmos help dyscalculic students explore mathematical concepts through dynamic visualizations, making it easier to understand theoretical ideas.

Let's consider a scenario in which Emma, a dyscalculic student, has a tough time grasping the concept of fractions. The AI system tailors a math exercise for Emma that involves interactive visualizations of fractional parts. It presents scenarios where she can manipulate visual representations of pizza slices or pie charts to understand the concept of fractions in a tangible way. The exercises gradually progress, providing additional support, such as animated explanations and real-world examples involving fractions. These visual aids serve as powerful tools for enhancing conceptual understanding and promoting a deeper connection with mathematical concepts.

a child's hand touching an online visual representation of a piece of pizza

5. Simulations For Practical Applications

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. ~ Confucius

Math is not just a core academic subject but also an important life-skill. We use math more often than we realize, whether it’s managing time, managing finances, or understanding loans. 

Simulations powered by AI create opportunities for the practical application of math concepts. This hands-on approach allows students with dyscalculia to engage with mathematical ideas in a real-world context, facilitating a more intuitive understanding of the subject matter. PhET Interactive Simulations and SimCalc MathWorlds are some examples of softwares that offer interactive simulations for the practical exploration of abstract concepts in a virtual environment. 

For example, Alex, a dyscalculic student, struggles with understanding and managing personal finances. The AI system creates a realistic budgeting simulation where Alex can allocate income, track expenses, and make financial decisions. By engaging in this hands-on simulation, Alex gains practical experience in applying mathematical concepts like addition, subtraction, and percentages to real-world scenarios. 

a person sitting at a desk using a laptop and managing money

While individuals with dyscalculia struggle with numbers and math, it's essential to recognize that they possess unique strengths, including creativity, intuitive thinking and problem-solving abilities. Famous personalities like Bill Gates, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Edison have overcome dyscalculia to achieve remarkable success. These individuals demonstrate that dyscalculia does not define one's potential; rather, it can serve as a catalyst for developing alternative cognitive strengths.

In the journey of education, AI emerges as a formidable ally in supporting students with dyscalculia. AI-powered tools contribute to a holistic learning approach, making mathematical concepts more accessible and enjoyable. By recognizing and harnessing the strengths of dyscalculic individuals, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and empowering educational experience for all. As technology continues to advance, the possibilities for supporting students with dyscalculia through AI are boundless, fostering a future where everyone has the opportunity to excel in equity.

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Dhwani Shah
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