Conference Symposia

Learning and Remembering in Real-World Contexts

Children learn about the world both at home and in schools, but also in informal educational contexts such as museums. The current symposium examines how children’s experiences and interactions in these contexts affect their learning and memory. The symposium has two goals: first, to examine how our knowledge of children’s memory can be used to improve learning outcomes and second, to expand our understanding of the memory processes underlying learning. The speakers will bring together perspectives from educational, developmental and cognitive psychology to discuss how new insights from memory research can inform educational practices in all contexts.

First, Dr. Catherine Haden will discuss the conversations children and their parents have after an experience in a museum exhibit, and the ways these interactions advance learning opportunities for children. Engineering talk was greatest when families engaged in an engineering design challenge in the exhibit, told their narrative collaboratively, and gestured towards the exhibit while talking about the experience. Dr. Haden is a Professor of Psychology at Loyola University Chicago and is an expert on how parent-child interactions affect what children learn and remember.

Next, Dr. Jennifer Coffman will discuss how teacher talk affects children’s memory development and content knowledge. Recent longitudinal and experimental research has shown that exposure to teacher language in the early elementary school years that is rich in references to metacognition, cognitive processes, and requests for remembering is important for long-lasting student gains in strategic memory and study skills. Dr. Coffman is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. A former elementary school teacher, Dr. Coffman’s research focuses on the socialization of cognitive and affective functioning in young children.

Continuing with the theme of how metacognition can play an important role in children’s learning, Dr. Haley Vlach will present on children’s beliefs about massed versus spaced practice. In general, adults believe that massed practice is more effective than spaced, but similar biases were not found in young children. Thus, teaching children about the benefits of spaced learning early on, before they acquire incorrect biases, may be optimal. Dr. Haley Vlach is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and studies how young children learn from the world around them.

Finally, Dr. Lisa Fazio will discuss the positive and negative effects of multiple-choice testing on learning in elementary school. Both younger and older students benefited from a prior multiple-choice test, but older children were more likely to learn incorrect answers from the test. Interestingly, this age difference was due to increases in knowledge rather than increasing memory abilities. Dr. Fazio is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University and studies how children and adults learn new information.

Symposium Chair:

Lisa Fazio

Vanderbilt University
Psychology and Human Development

Additional Speakers:

Catherine Haden

Loyola University Chicago
Psychology

Jennifer Coffman

University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Human Development and Family Studies

Haley Vlach

University of Wisconsin, Madison
Educational Psychology


The elephant in the (class)room: Learning occurs in multisensory environments

Great strides have been made in understanding how learning to read or do basic math is supported by such domain-general processes as attention and cognitive control (executive) processes, e.g., how efficiently children allocate attention to target shapes surrounded by distractors or recall a sequence of sounds. However, certain disparity exists between these unisensory (visual, auditory) processes and how reading and maths are taught and learnt – with information stimulating one, two or multiple senses at once. Basic research has established that brains naturally represent objects (e.g. human faces, animals, also alphanumeric symbols) in a multisensory way, with visual, auditory, etc. information activating same areas (e.g. Mahon ea. 2009). Importantly, as brains integrate multisensory information, recognising, attending to or learning about objects is more accurate/stronger in multisensory than unisensory settings (e.g. Matusz ea. 2017). Yet, there is scarce research on how early in development, which and in what contexts multisensory-integrative processes improve domain-general functions (e.g. attention, memory) that shape developmental/educational outcomes. This symposium gathers educationally-minded cognitive and developmental psychologists and neuroscientists working to address these vital lacks in knowledge. Scientific results will be discussed in contexts of insights into pragmatics of conducting education-relevant research in Switzerland (French and German-speaking), UK and USA.

Paul Matusz, cognitive scientist studying attention and learning in multisensory settings across lifespan, will provide a “roadmap” talk, summarising extant findings on how adults and children differ in the way they attend to and learning multisensory information. He will describe how these differences can be better understood by focusing on specific cognitive processes (and their neural correlates), isolated via rigorous tasks developed in research on adults, and adapting them to multisensory, developmental settings. Next, Anna Fisher, cognitive psychologist studying development and learning inside the classroom and laboratory, will discuss how reading beginners are more distracted and understand less from read-aloud stories accompanied by standard, visually-rich illustrations in popular books, compared to illustrations containing only story-relevant details. Natasha Kirkham, developmental psychologist studying early learning, will present results showing that in a table-top visuo-haptic category-learning task, 5–8-year-olds are dependent mainly on touch, with only children >8 years-old learning better in multisensory contexts. Silvia Brem, developmental cognitive neuroscientist focusing on reading acquisition, will present data on the development of audiovisual integration of written and spoken information in the brain’s language network from preschool through school-age children to adult readers, showing that this integration is linked to reading fluency. Dima Amso, developmental cognitive neuroscientist studying early attention, will discuss how the functional coupling of activity across long-range brain networks in response to early audiovisual experiences in 3.5-5-month-olds determine later sensitivity of “sensory-specific” (visual) cortices to other-sense (auditory) information.

Summarising, multisensory processes modulate brain/cognitive functions early in life. Yet, childrens’ multisensory benefits might depend on their age, previous experience and task-at-hand (how easy/demanding is information processing in each sense). The symposium highlights how collaborations between visual/auditory (neuro)scientists of learning (Howard-Jones ea. 2016), multisensory researchers and educators should help clarify how children learn in multisensory settings, thus improving future in-classroom practice across different cultures.

Symposium Chair:

Paul Matusz

University of Lausanne – Information Systems Institute, University of Applied Science Western Switzerland (HES SO) Valais
Department of Radiology

Additional Speakers:

Anna Fisher

Carnegie Mellon University
Department of Psychology

Natasha Kirkham

Birkbeck University of London
Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development

Silvia Brem

University Hospital of Psychiatry Zurich – University of Zurich
Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy

Dima Amso

Brown University
Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences


Creating connections between researchers and educators: The intersection of cognitive neuroscience and education

The development, implementation, and assessment of interventions that are informed by evidence from developmental cognitive neuroscience show promise to improve outcomes for children from lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. One promising line of research involves two-generation approaches, which target both children and their parents/caregivers. The development of two-generation programs that are supported by rigorous scientific evidence requires a close, productive partnership between researchers and educators. In particular, as such programs move toward scalable delivery models that can be implemented widely in different educational settings, a partnership that emphasizes the unique perspectives of educators at all levels is crucial.

The focus of this symposium will be one such partnership between researchers from the University of Oregon Brain Development Lab and Head Start of Lane County, Oregon, that has produced a successful two-generation intervention (Neville et al., 2013).

Stevens (developmental cognitive neuroscientist, Willamette University) will trace the early history of this partnership, which began with basic research on the neuroplasticity of selective attention that identified a neurobiological target for intervention (e.g., Stevens et al., 2009) and continued with a collaboration on many levels that supported the development, implementation, and assessment of a two-generation intervention. In a randomized controlled trial study we have shown this program to improve brain function for attention as well as behavior and cognition in preschool children from lower SES backgrounds and to reduce parenting stress in their caregivers (Neville et al., 2013).

Pakulak (developmental cognitive neuroscientist, University of Oregon) will then discuss the next step in this collaboration, an ongoing project that is funded by a grant to both entities and that thus represented a substantial increase in the degree of collaboration on many levels. He will provide an overview of multiple phases of the project, from the development of a scalable delivery model of the intervention to subsequent phases of the project focusing on implementation and assessment, with an emphasis on how this increased collaboration was crucial to the achievement of project goals (Pakulak et al., 2015; 2017).

O’Neil (former elementary educator / Ph.D. candidate, University of Oregon) and Reynolds (Head Start Special Projects Coordinator, Head Start of Lane County) will then present results from a recent qualitative study that focused on the current project from the perspective of researchers and educators (O’Neil, Pakulak, et al., under review). In this study we examined challenges and successes, both from the perspective of researchers and also from educators at HSOLC, ranging from administration and management to classroom-level teachers, whose input has been crucial to the success of the project. The presentation will focus on three specific aspects of the project: the development of a scalable delivery model of the program, implementation of the program in the classroom, and implementation of the group-based parent component.

We will conclude with a reflective discussion of broader benefits and challenges from both researcher and educator perspectives, taking a “lessons learned” approach with advice for others embarking on similar collaborative efforts. While this collaboration has not proceeded without challenges, it has nonetheless been successful on many levels.

Symposium Chair:

Lauren Vega O’Neil

University of Oregon
former elementary educator / Ph.D. candidate

Additional Speakers:

Eric Pakulak

University of Oregon
developmental cognitive neuroscientist

Courtney Stevens

Willamette University
developmental cognitive neuroscientist

Mary Margaret Reynolds

Head Start of Lane County
Head Start Special Projects Coordinator


Beyond Deficits in Struggling Learners: Promoting Resilience, Remediation, and Compensation

This symposium will highlight opportunities to promote resilience and skill improvement for students with learning disabilities. The session will be chaired by Dr. Rob Ochsendorf (National Science Foundation), who is the Program Director in the Education and Human Resources Directorate, Division of Research on Learning, and Program Lead for the Discovery Research Pre-K-12 Program. Dr. Fumiko Hoeft (University of California, San Francisco) will present a comprehensive model of protective factors that promote success in struggling learners. This model defines protective factors, both cognitive and socio-emotional, that promote resilience, as well as cognitive and linguistic factors that promote compensation. Dr. Ben Clarke (University of Oregon) will share cutting-edge research on effective math intervention practices for struggling math learners in elementary school. In particular, the work will focus on students who demonstrate non-responsiveness to generally efficacious intervention approaches. Dr. Joanna Christodoulou (MGH Institute of Health Professions) will discuss insights from cognitive neuroscience on reading intervention, highlighting the plasticity of the brain and the importance of individual variability in response to intervention. The speakers will discuss implications for practice and provide recommendations for educators and parents whenever possible. The session will conclude with an interactive discussion on next steps for research and practice, led by Claudia Koochek (Head of School at Westmark School, Encino, CA) who has served as a dedicated educator and administrator with a focus on students with disabilities for over 20 years.

Symposium Chair:


Dr. Rob Ochsendorf

National Science Foundation
Program Director in the Education and Human Resources Directorate, Division of Research on Learning, and Program Lead for the Discovery Research Pre-K-12 Program

Additional Speakers:


Dr. Fumiko Hoeft

University of California, San Francisco

Dr. Ben Clarke

University of Oregon

Dr. Joanna Christodoulou

MGH Institute of Health Professions

Claudia Koochek

Head of School at Westmark School, Encino, CA


Neuropsychology in the Classroom: Executive Function in the Context of Learning and Development

Executive functions are cognitive skills that are important for regulating behaviour and for achieving everyday goals, particularly in the classroom. This symposium will explore research from four European centres that have used neuroimaging, physiological, and behavioural methods to better develop our understanding of executive functioning in the context of learning and brain development from preschool through to university. The translation of neuropsychological findings into the classroom environment will be considered in the context of teacher-led research that focuses on their current understanding and experiences.

Executive deficits are common in children who struggle in school and are associated with multiple neurodevelopmental disorders. However, there is also considerable heterogeneity across children, even within diagnostic categories. In the first talk, Dr Joe Bathelt, Investigator Scientist, University of Cambridge, will describe recent results from data-driven methods to characterise the heterogeneity of executive function difficulties in struggling learners and link them with white matter differences in the brain.

Professor Olivier Houdé, Professor of Psychology, and Professor Gregoire Borst, Professor of Developmental Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience of Education, Paris-Descartes University, will report on functional, anatomical and connectivity changes following inhibitory control training in children and adolescents in the second talk. Inhibitory control, or the ability to withhold a prepotent response, plays a critical role in academic success. While the effect of cognitive training on inhibitory control efficiency has been studied in young children and adults, the neurocognitive effects of training from childhood to adolescence is understudied. This is surprising given that adolescence is a developmental period defined by a high brain plasticity and environmental sensitivity during which the inhibitory control neural network becomes more specialized and integrated.

Making mistakes is inherent to learning, and one could say, essential to learning. Students, however, may hold different views on what these mistakes mean to them. Some will interpret mistakes in a constructive manner, signalling the need for more learning and challenge, while others tend to interpret mistakes as personal failure and avoid them where possible. Dr Tieme Janssen, Postdoctoral Researcher, VU University Amsterdam, will discuss an electrophysiological study of executive function which focuses on students’ reactions to making mistakes. Heart rate, electrodermal activity, and neurophysiological activity were measured during the Math Effort Task and Stop-Signal Task. This study can inform us on the mediating effects of stress on the relation between ability beliefs and approach/avoidance behavior, and consequences for educational practice.

Finally, Dr Michelle Downes, Assistant Professor in Developmental Neuropsychology, University College Dublin, will discuss recent findings on primary school teachers’ understanding of executive function and the reported barriers to supporting children with neuropsychological difficulties in the classroom, including current challenges of neuropsychological assessment of executive dysfunction and the translation of lab and/or clinical findings into accessible resources for teachers. The symposium will conclude with a panel discussion facilitated by Dr Downes on the implications of current research findings across neuroscience, cognitive, and educational domains for promoting executive functions in classroom contexts.

Symposium Chair:


Michelle Downes

University College Dublin
School of Psychology

Additional Speakers:


Joe Bathelt

University of Cambridge
MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

Olivier Houdé

Paris-Descartes University
Laboratory for the Psychology of Child Development and Education

Gregoire Borst

Paris-Descartes University
Laboratory for the Psychology of Child Development and Education

Tieme Janssen

VU University Amsterdam
Clinical Developmental Psychology Department


Proportional Reasoning: Insights from development, neuroimaging and educational intervention studies

Proportional reasoning is important in school and in everyday life. It involves the comparison of ratios, such as fractions, and is known to be difficult for schoolchildren and adults. Our symposium will combine insights regarding proportional reasoning, and their implications for the learning of fractions, that stem from different perspectives. The presenters are experts in allied neuroscience fields of Developmental Cognitive, Educational Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuroscience, Developmental Psychology, and Science and Mathematics Education. The presentations examine the role that non-symbolic ratio processing plays in understanding fractions, and attempts to leverage these insights in training and intervention studies, using behavioral and neuroimaging measures with school-aged children and adults.

Presentation 1 will focus on developmental neuroimaging investigations testing the prediction that symbolic fractions sensitivity builds on non-symbolic ratio sensitivity. 2nd-graders, 5th-graders and adults compared the magnitudes of two fractions presented as symbolic fractions, line ratios, or mixed pairs during fMRI scanning. Behavioral distance effects were observed in all conditions and groups. In adults, all three notations activated a common frontoparietal network. In 2nd-graders a right parietal specialization was observed only for non-symbolic ratios while 5th-graders showed evidence for emerging specializations for symbolic fractions in bilateral frontoparietal regions partially overlapping with non-symbolic ratio processing.

Presentation 2 will focus on the sources of difficulties with symbolic fractions. People tend to use the magnitudes of the components as proxies for the magnitude of the fraction itself, leading to difficulties when larger fractions have smaller components. Mathematically proficient undergraduates were presented with a fraction comparison task using carefully selected fractions pairs. Participants were slower to compare numerically closer fractions, suggesting they compared fractions based on their magnitudes. However, results also revealed a strategy of choosing as larger those fractions with a smaller “gap” between their components. These findings point to the complexity of competence with symbolic fractions.

Presentation 3 will focus on a neurofunctional examination of fraction learning. Behavioral performance and fMRI responses were measured before and after a five-day number line estimation training aimed at improving participants’ understanding of fraction magnitude. Measures included symbolic and non-symbolic fraction magnitude comparison tasks and a task in which symbolic fraction magnitudes were matched with non-symbolic line ratios. Pre-post improvements were found for all three tasks. Changes in activation patterns were observed in frontoparietal regions commonly associated with number magnitude processing. Importantly, distance related neural activation for symbolic fraction processing became significantly stronger after training, indicating neurofunctional plasticity in fraction learning.

Presentation 4 will focus on a neuroscience-inspired educational intervention. In the Drops test, 10th graders compared ratios in the context of mixtures. The Juice test directed students to calculate “rate per unit,” thereby reducing the interference from automatic comparison of the salient natural numbers. Success in the Juice test was higher than in the Drops test and success in the Drops test was higher when it was performed after the Juice test. These findings suggest that using pedagogical approaches that direct students to use appropriate solution strategies aids them in overcoming difficulties and could serve as a tool to promote proportional reasoning.

Symposium Chair:


Reuven Babai

Tel Aviv University
Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education; School of Education

Additional Speakers:


Edward M. Hubbard

University of Wisconsin-Madison
Department of Educational Psychology

David M. Gómez

Universidad de O'Higgins
Institute for Educational Sciences

Korbinian Moeller

Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien / University of Tuebingen
Department of Psychology

Ruth Stavy / Reuven Babai

Tel Aviv University
Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education; School of Education
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