Learning & the Brain in the News
November 21, 2012 — A pioneering researcher who studies the meaningful connection between the brain and the learning of mathematics has been awarded the fifth annual prize for “Transforming Education through Neuroscience.” The award was publicly announced on November 17th, at the 33rd Learning & the Brain conference, an educational conference series that promotes the most innovative and distinguished thinking on the subject. The winner will be able to use the $5,000 award to further partnerships between educators and neuroscientists. The award was established by the Learning & the Brain Foundation and IMBES (“The International Mind, Brain and Education Society”) to honor an individual who represents excellence in bridging neuroscience and education, that is, applying the findings of hard science, such as functional brain imaging, to the improvement of classroom teaching and learning.
Daniel Ansari, PhD, who is Associate Professor in Psychology and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario was the winner of this year’s award. Dr. Ansari is being honored for his contributions to the field of numerical cognition, including discoveries on the brain networks involved in mental arithmetic, brain function and structure differences in math disorders and the effects of math instruction on brain function. He seeks to both answer scientific questions as well as to generate data that could inform educational challenges such as diagnosis of mathematical difficulties as well as their remediation. Dr. Ansari’s research uses behavioral measures and brain-imaging methods.
Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, the winner of the same award in its inaugural year and Assistant Professor at the University of California, said, “Daniel’s research on children’s development of numerical abilities is groundbreaking both neuroscientifically and educationally. His work directly informs educational efforts to diagnose and remediate children’s mathematical difficulties.”
One of Dr. Ansari’s main research interests is to improve the understanding of those students who suffer from development dyscalculia, a specific difficulty to acquire even the most basic arithmetical skills. About five per cent of the population suffers from developmental dyscalculia, approximately the same proportion as dyslexia, but with far less research attention.
Dr. Daniel Ansari is using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods to study the predictors of successful math learning. For example, he and his colleagues have found that performing basic numerical and mathematical tasks triggers atypical patterns of brain activation for children with dyscalculia. Ansari’s research will lead to better understanding of the root causes of math difficulties, improved diagnosis of those difficulties and interventions for those difficulties.
Dr. Donna Coch, Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Education at Dartmouth College and former colleague of Dr. Ansari when he was at Dartmouth, said, “Daniel is truly a transformative leader in Mind, Brain, and Education, with his cutting-edge neuroscience research on mathematical processing and math development, coupled with a deep commitment to evidence-based math education.”
In addition to Daniel Ansari’s research, discussions at the November 2012 Learning & the Brain educational conference focused on the connections between mind, brain, and education with a focus on teaching diverse learners. The next Learning & the Brain conference is February 14-16, 2013 in San Francisco, CA and will focus on creativity and the brain.