Math Challenges in 7-11 Year-Olds

Math Challenges in 7-11 Year-Olds

In this article I summarise the case study carried out by Dr Ann Dowker, Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University; Karima Esmail, Dynamo Math BSRLM: British Society for Research into Learning Mathematics Date: 04 March 2017, into dyscalculia and developmental delays in components of mathematics in 7‐to‐11‐year‐old children using The Dynamo Assessment.

What Is The Dynamo Assessment?

The Dynamo Assessment represents an online tool designed to assess the componential aspects of mathematics, as articulated by Dowker (2005).

Developed within the framework of NumberSenseMMR™, Dynamo Assessment serves to identify specific developmental mathematical components that may pose challenges for children under  three main groups of tests. It breaks down math into individual components,  identifying the processing challenges for each child which could be attributed from interdependent factors such as;  biological condition, co-occuring difficulties, motor and sensory processing barriers, environmental deprivation, poor teaching and the child’s unique contribution of domain- general abilities such as memory, attention, executive function.

  • Number Meaning –  assessing the understanding of the array of number relationships from visual discrimination to numbers as symbols.

  • Number Magnitude – identifying barriers in understanding the magnitude of numbers under-scored by the skills of comparison, sequencing, estimation and ordering.

  • Number Relationships – the application of the meaning and magnitude to numbers and their relationships that are encountered in number bonds, times-tables, problem-solving, time and using and applying this knowledge.

15 number strands include adaptive tasks that contribute to the overall assessment score:

  1. Standardised scores, percentile rank

  2. Number Sense Developmental Profile

  3. Individual Scheme of Work

The Dyscalculia symptoms are associated with Number Meaning and Number Magnitude, while developmental delays in Number Relationships are also identified on the profile.

How Dynamo Assessment is used

At the time (2017) Dynamo Assessment had predominantly served as a profiling instrument for identifying children at risk of developmental dyscalculia and the components necessitating intervention in children facing mathematical difficulties.

Interventions based on the assessment had demonstrated promising preliminary outcomes and efforts were underway to standardise the measure and establish age norms for typically developing children.

To this end, 2385 children aged 7 to 11 underwent the assessment.

The Study

The study sought to identify the extent to which children exhibit age-related improvements in scores and reaction times across the three test groups.

Additionally, it aimed to discern whether age groups manifest differential performance exclusively in Number Relationships tests or across all test groups and correlation analyses were conducted to explore relationships between test groups and mean processing (reaction) times.

Differential criteria:

Dynamo Assessment differential criteria is that Number Magnitude and Number Meaning represent facets of ‘number sense’ impaired in children with dyscalculia, while Number Relationships may indicate arithmetical understanding dependent on school instruction and potentially delayed in children without underlying mathematical disabilities.

However, the study refrained from making assumptions regarding the underlying causes of performance disparities in these components.

Participant Demographics:

The study involved a neurodiverse sample size of 2385 children aged 7 to 11, comprising varying proportions across age groups and genders.

Scores and Reaction Times:

The analysis involved two dimensions, combined scores and combined mean reaction times for each child in the three test groups and correlation analyses revealed significant relationships between Number Magnitude, Number Meaning, and Number Relationship scores in the participant group.

Analysis of Variance for Scores:

An analysis of variance was conducted, indicating a highly significant age effect on Number Magnitude, Number Meaning and Number Relationship scores and subsequent tests revealed noteworthy differences between age groups, with older children consistently scoring higher.

Reaction Times Analysis:

A similar analysis of variance for reaction times indicated a significant age effect on Number Magnitude, Number Meaning, and Number Relationship combined reaction times.

Notably, older children exhibited faster reaction times in Number Magnitude and Number Meaning but slower reaction times in Number Relationships.


In summary, the study observed a general improvement in performance with age across all test groups and that the older children may be using more reflective, analytical strategies that are more effective but slower.

Dynamo Assessment emerges as a valuable instrument for investigating individual and developmental differences in both typically developing children and those grappling with mathematical challenges, furthering its potential in dyscalculia screening, and intervention.

Since 2017, Dynamo Assessment has been changing the lives of millions of pupils worldwide. By being successfully integrated into thousands of schools across five continents, Dynamo Math stands at the forefront of the paradigm shift in dyscalculia learning. This case study reinforces the power of Dynamo Math in identifying early signs of dyscalculia, unravelling specific difficulties and using the blended intervention to boost children’s performance and confidence. This motivates them to make significant strides and provides enhanced accessibility to the mathematics curriculum.

I am Karima Esmail, and I actively engage in raising awareness of dyscalculia, helping SENCOs and teachers reframe their approach to math challenges.  I have 15 years of experience as a senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire. More recently, I undertook research at University College London, which inspired the creation of Puffin Math for the deaf and hard-of-hearing which now dynamo provides access to the National Curriculum using British Sign Language. Puffin Math was ‘Highly Commended’ at BETT 2022.

I am the co-author of numerous dyscalculia assessments and interventions:

Multiple award-winning Dynamo Math which includes a standardised screener with blended intervention.

Dynamo Post 14 Number Sense Profiler

Dyscalculia Self Perception Indicators Questionnaire

Number Memory ( to be released)

Cognitive subtests (to be released)

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