Training studies as a bridge between neuroscience and education
Dr. Miriam Rosenberg-Lee
Stanford University School of Medicine
Tuesday, April 7th
Social Science Centre 9420 (Dean’s area)
The promise of educational neuroscience lies in its potential to uncover the mechanisms of successful learning and instruction. Training studies are a particularly powerful method for realizing this promise: from a scientific perspective, they enable causal manipulations of observed relations, and on the education side, they can capture brain changes resulting from classroom-implementable instruction. Here I report two cases where training studies have yielded insights into the brain basis of academic skill learning, specifically the roles of the medial temporal and parietal lobes in mathematics. Recent research in school-aged children has identified the hippocampus as a key node in the acquisition of arithmetic math facts (Qin, 2014), while the intraparietal sulcus has been implicated in the representation of symbolic quantities, which has been linked to math ability (Bugden, 2012). Crucially, evidence for these functional associations comes from passive observation of brain activity, either across time points or across individuals. We set out to actively test these associations using training programs, and found that 1) arithmetic fact training recapitulates the longitudinal changes in hippocampal activity and connectivity and 2) number sense training induces activity patterns comparable to the highest achieving participants. Together these results solidify our understanding of the roles of these brain areas, and point towards a new model of educational neuroscience in which candidate pedagogical approaches are evaluated not only by behavioral outcomes, but by the patterns of brain activity they produce.