Research News

Hubbard, Matthews receive NIH award to examine fractions learning processes

September 27, 2016

UW-Madison’s Edward Hubbard and Percival Matthews were recently awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grant worth nearly $1.9 million that will allow the faculty members with the School of Education to examine mathematical learning processes.

The project is called, “Perceptual and Cognitive Mechanisms of Developing Fractions Knowledge: A Cross-Sequential Approach.”

Edward Hubbard
The grant will allow the researchers leading this multifaceted project to collect brain imaging, behavioral and educational data in schoolchildren.

Hubbard, the principal investigator on this initiative, explains that learning about fractions can be a significant hurdle for many people.

“Many children, and even adults, struggle with fractions,” says Hubbard, an assistant professor with the School of Education’s No. 1-ranked Department of Educational Psychology and the director of the UW Educational Neuroscience Lab at the Waisman Center.  “But fractions are also a key gateway for learning about higher-order math.”

Hubbard notes that research indicates fifth grade children who do well in learning fractions go on to do well with algebra in eighth grade. Conversely, those who struggle with fractions also struggle with algebra -- even when additional factors, such as family income and general cognitive abilities, are included.

“A better understanding of how children learn fractions, and the brain systems that help them acquire these skills, may in turn lead to innovative teaching strategies for all children,” says Hubbard. “This research could also help better identify children who are most at risk of struggling with fractions.”

Percival Matthews
The project will follow two groups of schoolchildren between second and eighth grade to study their learning progressions.

Hubbard’s UW Educational Neuroscience Lab is well positioned to lead this project as it is dedicated to exploring how recent findings in neuroscience might help scientists better understand the underlying mechanisms of learning, and how this knowledge can help to inform teaching and learning in school-aged children and college students.

Matthews, an assistant professor with the Department of Educational Psychology, is a co-principal investigator on the project and the director of the Mathematics Education Learning and Development Lab.

The NIH is awarding $1,878,053 over the next five years in support of this research.