Visual Cues in Math — Let Them Use Their Fingers!

Published On: April 27th, 2016·By ·

New Research Suggests Counting with Your Fingers Provides Essential Visual Cues in Math

Have you ever struggled to provide visual cues in math for your students? Have you ever thought using your fingers to solve a math problem is “babyish?” It's time to stop discouraging finger counting during math.  According to an article I found on Twitter, they provide an essential visual cue missing in math most of the time. I watch social media closely and it's my job to share some of the hot topics on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other outlets that teachers, principals, students, and parents are contributing.

Recent studies argue that students using their fingers while solving math problems isn't a sign of lesser intelligence. On the contrary, the reports state that fingers provide important visual cues in math that are often lost and create lots of the frustration many students experience with math. Alexandra Baird posted an article that discusses these findings on her Twitter account. The article came from Mind/Shift and you can read it here.

Visual cues in math

The article argues that students using their fingers are using visual cues often missing in math class. The research claims students grow frustrated when thrown into the abstract world of numbers and formulas filled with endless worksheets and memorization without any way to visualize it. Fingers, they claim, fill in this visual hole. They go even further, claiming that could be the reason musicians seem to grasp math better than others as a group, because they understand “the need for and importance of finger perception.” So next time when giving a math lesson, maybe we should refrain from saying “use your fingers if you have to” as if it's a last resort for those who are struggling to grasp the concept and say “use your fingers as a visual aid” instead.

What do you think of this idea? Is using fingers during problem solving helpful? Have you ever discouraged or encouraged it in the past? Do you know any other arguments about this concept?

Tori Pakizer is the Social Media Editor at She writes regularly about the use of educational technology in K-12 classrooms, and specializes in how teachers use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media. You can follow Tori and SimpleK12 on Twitter @SimpleK12. If you have ideas for using social media in schools, please send your information or tip to

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