Information Age Education Blog

The goal of IAE is to help improve education at all levels throughout the world. This work is done through the publication of the IAE Blog, the IAE-pedia, the IAE Newsletter, books, and other materials all available free on the Web. For more information, go to http://iae-pedia.org/.

Some Things Brain Science Research Tells Us about Learning and Doing Arithmetic

This IAE Blog entry is based on “The Calculating Brain,” written by Stanislas Dehaene (2010). It is chapter 9 in Brain, Mind, and Education (Sousa, 2010). Dehaene has long been a world leader in research on the brain science of children developing arithmetic knowledge and skills.The following are some of the ideas discussed in Dehaene's chapter.

  • An undamaged infant’s brain has innate ability to distinguish between 1, 2, and 3 objects. This level of exactness serves as a starting point for eventually learning the math language and  notation for dealing with larger quantities and with a number line of evenly spaced numbers.
  • The infant’s brain also has innate ability to deal with approximations. Humans and some other animals can tell when one group of objects is larger than another. For example, a small pride of lions that encounters a much larger pride of lions will retreat to avoid a confrontation. A human toddler can distinguish a difference when the ratio of objects in two sets is two to one (such as eight objects versus four objects). This ability improves as a brain matures, so that a typical adult is able to distinguish a difference when one set of objects is about 1.15 times as large as another set.

Math education builds on these two innate abilities. It takes a lot of education to bring these innate skills to the contemporary standards we expect in arithmetic.

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The Math Brain: Keith Devlin’s Chapter in the Book “Mind, Brain, & Education”

Keith Devlin (2010) is a world-class researcher and writer in the combined areas of cognitive neuroscience and math education. His chapter, "The Mathematical Brain," is in Mind, Brain, and Education edited by David Sousa (2010). It is packed with information that underlies current progress in the Science of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in math.

A human brain has some innate ability to deal with:

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The Reading Brain: Two Chapters from the Book "Mind, Brain, & Education"

Two chapters from the book Mind, Brain, & Education: Neuroscience Implications for the Classroom (Sousa, 2010) focus on reading. As you know, a major goal in education is to help students learn to read well enough so they can learn in other curricular areas by reading. It is a major landmark in a child’s education when reading skills develop to a level that learning by reading begins to dominate other aids in formal schooling.

Chapter 6, "The Reading Brain," is written by John Gabrieli, Joanna A. Christodoulou, Tricia O'Loughli and Marianna D. Eddy (2010). Quoting from this chapter:

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Wide Variations in Public School Funding in the Various States of the U.S.

A September 2010 state-by-state report on funding levels for education is available at http://schoolfundingfairness.org/index.htm.

I enjoy browsing such reports, but I am always troubled by the very large differences among the states. Quoting from the report, here are some general data:

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The Speaking Brain: A Chapter from the Book "Mind, Brain, & Education"

This IAE Blog entry focuses on Chapter 5 of Mind, Brain, & Education edited by David Sousa (2010). "The Speaking Brain" chapter, written by Diane L. Williams (2010), begins with an interesting section on “early assumptions” about learning to speak that were put forth by researchers before the development of brain imaging instruments. Some of these have been supported by more recent research and some have been shown to be doubtful.

The topic that I found most interesting is bilingualism. There are many places in the world where children grow up in a bilingual, or even trilingual, community and/or home environment. Quoting from Williams:

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