Butterworth's team now has tentative plans to evaluate its software with researchers at the Cuban Neurosciences Center and the University of Pedagogical Sciences in Havana next year, and the group is also placing the game in other countries, including China and Singapore. “The Cubans, curiously, are putting money into this, even though they've got very little,” Butterworth says, commending the strength of the country's education system.
Although an emeritus professor, technically retired, Butterworth continues to research the neurodevelopmental roots of number sense, recently showing that guppies, like humans, possess approximate and precise number systems, and that dyscalculic adults have no more trouble telling the time than numerate people.
He hopes that Number Sense — if it can improve dyscalculia — will help him in the academic debate over the cognitive basis of numeracy. But Dehaene, probably his most fervent opponent in that debate, isn't counting on classroom computer games to resolve it. His Number Race game and its successor, Number Catcher, incorporate a multitude of numerical skills, so even if the game works, it won't address the theoretical differences about which skills are most essential to number sense or most compromised in dyscalculics. “I quickly realized that the interest of the children was to have a fun game full of ideas and variety, and that was not very compatible with an analytic approach,” he says.
Butterworth, too, says that he is ultimately more motivated by helping children. In the course of his studies, he was struck that children “were very, very distressed by being bad at maths. So every day they would go to school, every day there's a maths class, every day they're shown up to be incompetent in a way other kids in their class are not”, he says.
Moorcraft can commiserate. When he occasionally meets dyscalculic children, he tells them that he, too, counts with his fingers under the table, that they have nothing to be embarrassed about and that, with the practice that he never got, they can get up to speed.
Moorcraft is also completing a book on dyscalculia with one of Butterworth's postdocs. “I have written an introduction,” he says. “I just hope the chapters are in the right order.”