Classroom parties are always a good time. Snacks, laughs, games, maybe even an unexpected educational moment or two. But how come everyone secretly can’t wait for it to end? Maybe it’s because there’s a whole lot of jellybeans at stake. The curiosity in the back of the classroom, a large mason jar filled with candy, has drawn more attention than Mr. Ludlow’s embarrassing dance moves.

“Closest Guess to Actual Amount Wins Candy,” reads the paper, crudely held on to the jar by two strips of scotch tape. Fair enough, I could guess that. Let’s see – from what I can count, there’s at least a hundred and fifty. A respectable strategy. After all, counting is one of the staples of mathematics. Mr. Ludlow would be proud. So how come, after hours of painstaking anticipation, it’s revealed that my guess was 335 jellybeans shy of a victory? And how come Jonas, who merely glanced at the jar, guessed five over? He doesn’t even like Jelly Beans.


There’s three answers that come to mind: Jonas thought about the numbers intuitively, Jonas was lucky, Jonas cheated. Only the first one is relevant to learning, so let’s discuss. In Annie Murphy Paul’s article, How Guessing Games Help Kids Solve Math Problems this phenomenon of intuitive thinking is now being supported by science. In her words,

“a new study suggests that by playing games that involve quickly guessing how many items are in a group of objects, children can help themselves become better at traditional math problems.”

What the article calls “an intuitive sense of numbers” can be of great benefit to a student. In detail, intuition creates a personal connection to numbers  basic counting fails to do. Instead of approaching a difficult math problem as foreign, a student may now feel familiar with the units on the paper, and have a sense of familiarity with the problem. As a result, the student can answer the question faster and with more accuracy. Paul’s article draws on many studies to support these claims:

“Other research has shown that children who are better at intuitive number tasks also have higher math grades and perform better on math tests—but Hyde’s study first to provide a causal link. Their research shows that practice on intuitive number tasks actually causes better math performance in children.”

From an educator’s standpoint, it’s an important skill that’s easily practiced. Tutors, teachers, and parents can support this way of thinking by simply asking, “how many so-and-so’s do you think are in there?” Once the student begins using intuition to sense numbers, he or she, with practice, will begin to do so with accuracy.


Here at TutorNerds, we are committed to giving you an advantage. Whether you’re seeking help in Pre-Algebra,  Statistics, etc. our process of matching you with the right tutor is the first step to mathematical success. If you are concerned your intuitive sense of numbers isn’t what it should be, what better way to improve than a professional tutor, at your convenience, working directly with you? Read more about how we operate here.

Back to the mason jar. Turns out Jonas had a great tutor growing up.  Thanks to years of guessing, “how many so-and-so’s? ” His intuition for numbers is strong. More importantly, Jonas has higher math scores to compliment his pockets full of jellybeans.

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