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S. Varma paper explains why some struggle to learn math

A paper co-authored by educational psychology assistant professor Sashank Varma and British colleagues in the journal Science documents a neurocognitive disorder that inhibits the acquisition of basic numerical and arithmetic concepts. Called developmental dyscalculia, the disorder affects roughly the same number of people as dyslexia but has received much less attention (and research funding).

VarmaS-2011.jpgThe paper, "Dyscalculia, From Brain to Education," documents how scientists across the world have used magnetic resonance imaging to map the neural network that supports arithmetic. Through this process, they have discovered abnormalities in this network among learners with dyscalculia.

These findings have the potential to lead to evidence-based interventions for dyscalculia, Varma says. "Knowledge about what parts of the brain we use while learning mathematics is spurring the design of new computer learning environments that can strengthen simple number and arithmetic concepts," he explains. The paper envisions future research where neuroscientists, psychologists, and educational researchers collaborate to offer a productive way forward on the important question of why some children struggle with learning mathematics.

Varma co-authored the paper with lead author Professor Brian Butterworth of the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Diana Laurillard, a member of the Institute of Education at the University of London.

For more information, see the UMNews release, listen to the Minnesota Public Radio interview with Varma below, and view the Fox 9 story below:

U of M Researchers Investigate Math Dyslexia:

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