Western “young” researchers go global to connect education and neuroscience

This past weekend at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington DC – the largest science, technology, engineering and medicine education event in the United States – Nature Publishing Group launched a new web-based, open-access science journal.

Frontiers for Young Minds aims to involve children and young people in the research process and studies by two Western University graduate students were featured in the first edition of the new publication.

Stephanie Budgen, a PhD candidate at Western’s Numerical Cognition Laboratory, and her supervisor Daniel Ansari, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, successfully submitted “When your brain can’t do 2+2: a case of Developmental Dyscalculia,” which explores the developmental struggle an alarming number of children have learning simple mathematics. Anna Matejko, a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship recipient also working with Ansari, published “White matter counts: Brain connections help us do 2+2,” which reviews the emerging technologies used to explore how brain structure relates to math learning. Both contributions were reviewed and commented upon by 10 and 15-year-olds prior to publication in this new, innovative journal.  

Matejko and Budgen have kick-started promising academic careers working with Ansari in Western’s Department of Psychology and the Brain & Mind Institute by participating in the highly competitive Latin American School for Education (LA School) the past two academic years. Budgen just returned from her two-week study in Punta del Este, Uruguay while Matejko attended in 2013 when it was held in Bahia, Brazil. In each respective class, Matejko and Bugden were the only students from Canada to be selected to participate in this international school.

Matejko and her classmates from last year’s LA School have already generated a paper, which was recently published by Trends in Neuroscience and Education.

In “Forging a new path for Educational Neuroscience: An international young-researcher perspective on combining neuroscience and educational practices,” Matejko worked together with co-first authors Hannah Louise Pincham (Anna Freud Centre, London, U.K.), Andreas Obersteiner (Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany), Clare Killikelly (University of Cambridge, Cambridge, U.K) and five international collaborators from the LA School.

The young researchers propose the emergence of a new and distinct field of study that combines neuroscience and education. This field would use a multidisciplinary approach that would integrate both researchers and teachers to answer questions such as “how can we identify children who will struggle in school?” This is in contrast to the current approach where education and neuroscience are largely two distinct fields. Poor communication between researchers and educators has been ineffective in the past, leading to issues such as neuromyths. This multidisciplinary approach would attempt to revolutionize this issue and answer educationally relevant questions.

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