Brain Remodeling: Math Problems Causing Changes in Chemistry Neurological Pathways Essay

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Brain Remodeling Re: Math Problems Causing Changes in Chemistry/Neurological Pathways

Brain Remodeling: An Examination of How Math Problems Cause Changes in the Chemistry and Neurological Pathways of the Brain

The innovations in technology that have changed the world in fundamental ways in recent years have not been limited to telecommunications but extend to research into the very building blocks of life itself. The human genome has been mapped and advances in medicine and related technologies have provided researchers with powerful new tools that are revealing more about the working of the human brain than has ever been possible before. Indeed, scientific discoveries into how the brain actually works are on the horizon and researchers are identifying new techniques for this purpose on an ongoing basis. This paper provides a review of the relevant literature to identify how researchers are currently using some of the tools to identify changes in the chemistry and neurological pathways of the human brain that may be caused by learners completing math problems. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

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Essay on Brain Remodeling: Math Problems Causing Changes in Chemistry Neurological Pathways Assignment

The past few decades have provided quantum advances in technologies of all types, but these advances have been particularly pronounced in recent years in the area of brain science. In her book, Brain Matters: Translating Research into Classroom Practice, Wolfe (2001) notes that, "We've learned more about the brain and how it functions in the past two decades than in all of recorded history. What is primarily responsible for this explosion in information? The answers lies in improved technology" (p. 3). This point is likewise made by Moursund (Introduction and Goals) who notes, "The past five years has seen more progress in Brain Science than all of previous time. Much of this has been possible through the use of computerized imaging systems and computer modeling of brain processes" (p. 3). Innovations in brain imaging systems and computer modeling techniques have provided researchers and healthcare providers alike with a number of powerful new ways of investigating the inner workings of the human brain in ways that have never been possible. In fact, scientists have already identified the specific pathways in the brain that are involved in memory, attention and spatial perception and new discoveries continue to add to this growing body of knowledge (Jenson, 2005). According to Mann (2005), "Spatial ability is a dimension of cognition that combines with verbal and quantitative abilities to define how an individual perceives the world and acquires new knowledge. Neuroimaging studies of the brain have shown that accessing the imagistic code and the verbal code are distinct processes" (p. 91).

Likewise, Moursund notes in this regard that, "We are now beginning to understand what goes on inside of a person's head as they learn and they make use of their learning to solve problems, accomplish tasks, make decisions, and answer questions. Our current levels of Brain Science knowledge are beginning to be useful in the design of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in many disciplines, including mathematics" (Introduction and goals, p. 4). This point is echoed by Sprenger who reports, "Today's advanced technologies give us a much better idea of what is going on in our heads. Through the use of positron emission tomography (PET) scans and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists can see the brain while a person performs different tasks; they can see information being stored and being retrieved. They can see which area of the brain is in use for different functions" (p. 46). This point is also made by Wolfe (2001) who emphasizes, "The latest scanners can produce four images every second. The human brain reacts to a stimulus in about half a second, so the rapid scanning of the MRI can clearly show the ebb and flow of activity in various parts of the brain as it reacts to different stimuli or undertakes different tasks" (p. 8). Indeed, much has changed since the brain was first studied in the most basic fashion using autopsies and x-rays, and these new imaging techniques hold significant promise for a wide range of applications today (Wolfe, 2001). This author also reports that MRI machines are much less expensive than their PET counterparts and have become much more widely available across the country in recent years (Wolfe).

Identifying changes in the chemistry and neurological pathways that result from activity in the human brain is accomplished in various ways. Some of these newly introduced imaging techniques involve the identification of current dipoles in the brain (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1. A current dipole immersed in a homogeneous conducting medium. The magnetic field (B) is due solely to the current dipole (moment = Q), with the volume currents (represented by the thin lines [Jv]) making no contribution to the field.

Source: Lu & Kaufman at p. 4.

According to Lu and Kaufman, "If the neural effects of these stimuli interact with each other, then a high-resolution spectrum analysis can reveal the presence of the products of the interaction, that is, sidebands. By mapping the fields about the scalp that fluctuate in step with frequency components of the sidebands, it is possible to locate the regions of the brain in which the interactions occur, as these regions may be represented as current dipoles" (p. 25). This technique appears to represent a highly promising area of research that Lu and Kaufman recommend being pursued by researchers working with electroencephalogram (EEC) and magnetic source imaging (MSI) approaches to brain imaging.

What does all of this mean for educators in general and mathematics instructors in particular? Well, to the extent that researchers are able to understand the basic physiological and chemical processes that take place when people think about certain topics and the corresponding regions of the brain involved, it may be possible to develop improved techniques for delivering educational services. As Moursund emphasizes, "Many students get through certain math topics by rote memorization and by developing skill at plugging numbers in formulas and accurately carrying out the needed computations. One sees examples of this as students encounter topics such fractions, probability, and algebra" (the Future, p. 2). According to Sprenger (1999), educators have used rote memorization to teach mathematics to good effect when other methods have failed; however, this technique does not typically provide students with the robust understanding they need to comprehend what is involved and why. The effects of math on the brain in this regard as clear, though: "Repetition of procedures is necessary," Sprenger advises, "to create a strong long-term memory pathway" (p. 74).

By better understanding what changes take place as a result of these cognitive activities, researchers believe that educators can fine-tune their curricular offerings to take advantage of individual strengths in learning while avoiding the weaknesses to the maximum extent possible. For example, Mann advises, "The sequential structure of many American classrooms may place an additional burden on learners with spatial strengths as they struggle to adapt to classroom expectations. An emphasis on concept learning may be beneficial, as a child with spatial talents needs to 'see the whole picture'" (p. 92). Likewise, Sprenger points out that, "Neuroscientists have discovered that there are more storage areas that were originally thought. Although there is still more to discover, educators and others can use the information generated so far to help in the learning and memory process" (p. 46).

A number of young learners with spatial talents tend to excel in a given subject when they are presented with complete systems. According to Mann, "Explaining major concepts so that the child has an understanding of the instructional goal will help him or her to fit the pieces of the puzzle together as the class progresses through a new unit" (p. 92). These cost-effective techniques in educational services delivery have assumed new importance and relevance in recent years as American schools continue to struggle to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Therefore, identifying how young people learn by mapping the corresponding regions of the brain may provide better ways of teaching the approximately 80% of students who are not linear learners. As Rubinstein (2002) emphasizes, "Due to budget cuts and focus on academic testing, many schools have cut classes, the very programs and activities that help such students realize their progress and accomplishments" (p. 37). There are also some gender-related issues concerning the developmental phases of the human brain that researchers might be able to overcome or at least mitigated by using these imaging techniques. According to Sax (2000), "Because boys' brains are physiologically one to two years less mature than girls' brains at this age, many boys are incapable of mastering a kindergarten curriculum that emphasizes reading, writing, and math" (p. 286).

Conclusion

The research showed that in the true spirit of building on the shoulders of giants, scientists have gained new insights into how the human brain works and what specific changes take place in the brain as a result of various motor and cognitive processes in recent… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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