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Teachers 'need to be able to take advantage' of new brain research

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New Zealand needs to help teachers take advantage of new brain research which is relevant to education, University of Canterbury (UC) education lecturer Dr Anna Wilson said today.

In the last few decades, brain imaging methods have made it possible to study children’s brains as they learn, Dr Wilson said.

We are starting to understand how areas of the brain involved in learning language, reading, mathematics and good emotional and cognitive regulation develop.

We need to be training future teachers to be critical consumers of this information. We need more science, especially psychology, in teacher education programmes. Hopefully we will move to a system where teaching is a postgraduate degree and teachers are better paid, so they can attract candidates with strong undergraduate degrees in both arts and science.

Many of the results could be informing educational practice and policy, like teaching second languages early or putting in place early screening for learning and attention difficulties.

The scientific literature on the topic is growing rapidly, however, so also are pseudoscientific products which claim to be brain based. Teachers and policy makers need to be able to distinguish between these. The Government has just put postgrad teacher training back on the agenda which is fantastic.’’

Dr Wilson will give a What If Wednesday public lecture on campus on Wednesday (March 13). Details about her talk are at: http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/wiw/

She said she believed more attention to findings from brain research would help reduce the achievement tail among New Zealanders.

The potential of neuroscience in education has long been touted and is reflected in current trends with brain-based learning and brain training apps on mobile phones.

Critically, modern brain imaging methodologies allow us to observe brain activity in normal, learning participants including children, and are thus providing an exponential increase in knowledge of the brain and learning.’’

One area needing special attention is dyscalculia, or mathematical learning disabilities, which affect around six percent of the population, Dr Wilson said.

Individuals with dyscalculia were not unintelligent but they struggled to learn mathematics, despite having an adequate learning environment at home and at school. As with dyslexia, brain research is showing that there are differences in brain function in dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia affects individuals over their life span. Children with dyscalculia fall behind early in primary school, and may develop anxiety or a strong dislike of maths.

If counting change makes you sweat, subtracting numbers sends shivers up your spine and percentages make you anxious, you may have dyscalculia,’’ Dr Wilson said.

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