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Development of a Mathematics Learning Task for Functional Neuroimaging

Research Team


Principal Investigator: Carrie Clark

Funding Information

Funding Agency: Office of Research and Economic Development Research Council: Faculty Seed Grants

Award Date: Jan 1, 2017

End Date: Dec 31, 2017


The federal government has prioritized STEM education to foster U.S. innovation and economic growth. Effective mathematics instruction is central to these efforts. Currently, little is known about the neural regions involved in mathematics acquisition because neuroimaging research has focused on fluent mathematics skills as opposed to the dynamic process of learning.

Increased knowledge of the neural mechanisms involved in mathematics acquisition would strengthen understanding of how best to deliver mathematics instruction and help to clarify why many children struggle to learn mathematics. 

The broader hypothesis driving this research is that the neural networks modulating mathematics are dynamic. Dorsolateral prefrontal brain regions, which are implicated in goal-directed cognitive control, likely are important for initial learning, with this role dissipating as knowledge becomes fluent. A valid test of this hypothesis hinges on effective measurement of the learning process. 

This project develops a new training task that captures the temporal dynamic of mathematics learning and can be used during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track neural response patterns over the learning cycle. 

Phase 1 of the iterative task development process will involve behavioral testing and refinement to ensure that task accuracy improves with training. Phase 2 will involve task piloting with 12 8- to 10-year-olds in an MRI scanner. 

Early Education & Development

Carrie Clark, assistant professor of educational psychology, is using functional MRI technology to capture brain activity while children learn mathematics.
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