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Child Development and Behavior Branch (CDBB)

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Mathematics and Science Cognition and Learning: Development and Disorders (MSCL) Program

The MSCL Program supports projects in both basic and intervention research within all aspects of mathematical thinking and problem solving as well as in scientific reasoning, learning, and discovery, across all ages from infancy into early adulthood. Of particular interest are studies that explore a variety of influences on atypical development in mathematics and science learning, reasoning, and cognition in both humans and animal models, including genetic and neurobiological substrates, and cognitive, linguistic, sociocultural, and instructional factors. Core areas of research focus include investigations of the individual differences that may moderate achievement in math and/or  science; the delineation of skill sets needed to attain proficiency in these domains; the means to address the kinds of learning difficulties that frequently emerge in each of these areas; and the development of innovative and efficacious interventions for mitigating these difficulties. Preventive interventions for at-risk individuals, including non-educational or cognitive focused interventions (e.g., sleep or motor activities) that are evidence-grounded and that can contribute to the understanding of core capacities needed for mathematical and scientific learning and reasoning are also encouraged.

Mathematical Cognition and Learning. Areas of focus within typical development of quantitative reasoning and mathematical proficiency include but are not limited to basic magnitude and numerical representations and processing, number- and time-line representations and processing, arithmetic comprehension and procedural skills, proficiency with fractions and other types of rational numbers, algebraic problem solving, geometric thinking, concepts of probability and chance, understanding and interpretation of graphical and statistical representations, and measurement concepts and skills. Although the Program supports all methodologies, a great need remains for longitudinal studies on the development of mathematical proficiency from infancy through high school and early college. Community, home, classroom and electronic/virtual intervention research is needed to improve mathematical learning and reasoning. The Program supports neuroimaging research and animal models that enable researchers to reveal critical core cognitive capacities and brain patterns reflective of learning mathematics.  Also of interest are studies that clarify the influences of other cognitive capacities (e.g., language, working memory) and chronic or recurring stressors (e.g., anxiety, sleep deprivation) on the development of numeracy and quantitative reasoning, as well as studies of mathematically exceptionally gifted children that may shed light on factors that promote the development and learning of mathematical capacities.

Mathematical Learning Disabilities. The Program funds studies exploring the nature and extent of specific mathematical learning disabilities, including diagnosis, classification, etiology, prevention, and treatment. Of interest are persons with idiopathic mathematical learning disabilities, including those iatrogenically introduced, those with co-morbid math and reading disabilities, and children with neurodevelopmental and/or neuropsychiatric disorders for whom deficient math performance represents one of the primary cognitive sequelae. The Program encourages epidemiological longitudinal studies to estimate the prevalence of learning disabilities in mathematics. Of particular importance are studies of the effects of impoverished environments on the failure to develop mathematical proficiency, and the identification of risk and protective factors within these contexts. Studies are encouraged that improve early identification and classification of children with or at risk for mathematical learning disabilities so as to improve targeted interventions. Exploration of the timing and dosing of interventions to most effectively enable mathematical learning and reasoning are also encouraged. Increased study is needed to better enable scaffolding of mathematical reasoning in adolescents and young adults with and without mathematical learning disability who are transitioning to employment and independence with inadequate math skills to succeed.

Science Cognition and Learning. This area of research emphasis includes studies to improve understanding of the cognitive and developmental bases of scientific thinking, reasoning, and learning, beginning in early infancy into early adulthood. The Program encourages research on factors contributing to conceptual change, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the acquisition of scientific concepts, such as experimental control and falsifiability. Related topics of interest include causal thinking and inference, theory-evidence coordination, reasoning about data/evidence, and judgments of others’ knowledge/credibility. Also important is the investigation of developmental changes in naïve or intuitive thinking about the biological and physical worlds and corrective interventions that modify mislearned knowledge and theories. The Program supports studies that can inform the design of evidence-based interventions that improve scientific reasoning and scientific content acquisition, as well as the ability to use and apply both this content knowledge and the process of scientific inquiry. Specific topics of study include children’s understanding of causal relevance, children’s grasp of causal powers, the changes as children grow in their assumptions about the functions of unknown objects, and how best to present scientific concepts to enable learning, comprehension, and transfer of knowledge.

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Program Director: Kathy Mann Koepke

Last Updated Date: 01/29/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 01/29/2014
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