Bert De Smedt and Roland H. Grabner
In this chapter, we explore three types of applications of neuroscience to mathematics education: neurounderstanding, neuroprediction, and neurointervention. Neurounderstanding refers to the idea that neuroscience is generating knowledge on how people acquire mathematical skills and how this learning is reflected at the biological level. Such knowledge might yield a better understanding of the typical and atypical development of school-taught mathematical competencies. Neuroprediction deals with the potential of neuroimaging data to predict future mathematical skill acquisition and response to educational interventions. In neurointervention, we discuss how brain imaging data have been used to ground interventions targeted at mathematics learning and how education shapes the neural circuitry that underlies school-taught mathematics. We additionally elaborate on recently developed neurophysiological interventions that have been shown to affect mathematical learning. While these applications offer exciting opportunities for mathematics education, some potential caveats should be considered, which are discussed at the end of this chapter.
Young children who find mathematics very difficult are likely to encounter profound problems later on. Previous small-scale studies have indicated that early intervention can help them, but have provided insubstantial evidence. This chapter discusses the key features of a new mathematics intervention in England, Numbers Count, and analyzes the findings of a large-scale impact study of 8000 low-achieving 6- and 7-year-old children. After an average of 43 half-hour, one-to-one lessons in 3 months, their number age test scores had risen by 14 months with an effect size of .85. Their attitudes towards learning mathematics also improved substantially, with an effect size of .7. Children made strong progress irrespective of their background characteristics. It is suggested that the success of the intervention was due to its design, to its teachers’ professional development program, and to rigorous quality assurance. Subsequent changes are discussed.