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Studying young minds, and how to teach them


New research on when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts could reshape early education, reports the New York Times. For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready. But recent research has turned that assumption on its head–that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language, and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts. In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds might not be fully developed until age 11–much later than many have assumed. The teaching of basic academic skills, until now largely the realm of tradition and guesswork, is giving way to approaches based on cognitive science. In several cities, including Boston, Washington, and Nashville, schools have been experimenting with new curriculums to improve math skills in preschoolers. In others, teachers have used techniques developed by brain scientists to help children overcome dyslexia. And schools in about a dozen states have begun to use a program intended to accelerate the development of young students’ frontal lobes, improving self-control in class…

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