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IES Grant

Title: The Neural Markers of Effective Learning
Center: NCER Year: 2003
Principal Investigator: Anderson, John Awardee: Carnegie Mellon University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $991,054
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305H030016

Many students currently struggle with algebra, yet mastering algebra is considered crucial to pursuing a career in mathematics or science. Computer-based tutoring programs have had some success in helping students learn algebraic procedures but have been less successful in teaching students how to solve algebra word problems. The purpose of this project is to improve a computer-based algebra tutor, using both behavioral and brain imaging techniques.

In the first phase of the project, the researchers are designing a 5-hour algebra unit focused on conceptually challenging word problems and adding it to a successful 9th grade algebra cognitive tutor program. Following that, the researchers are examining various markers of successful learning in college students, using brain-imaging techniques (i.e., functional Magnetic Resonance Instrument (fMRI)) to observe the learners' brain activity when insight and deep understanding are achieved. The researchers are then using brain imaging techniques (fMRI) to observe the brain activity of high school students as they solve problems with the algebra computer tutor. The results from this study will be used to further improve the computer tutor. Finally, the researchers are testing the efficacy of the revised computer tutor with classrooms of racially and socioeconomically diverse 9th grade students. The researchers are comparing the effects on learning with classrooms of students randomly assigned to use the original algebra tutor, the modified algebra tutor, or classroom discussion and practice of word problems. At the conclusion of this research project, this team will have a modified tutor that helps students gain the skills necessary to be flexible word problem solvers in the context of algebra.

Related IES Project: A Theory-Driven Search for the Optimal Conditions of Instructional Guidance in Algebra Tutor (R305A100109)



Anderson, J.R. (2007). How can the Human Mind Occur in the Physical Universe?. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Anderson, J.R., Anderson, J.F., Ferris, J.L., Fincham, J.M., and Jung, K.J. (2009). Lateral Inferior Prefrontal Cortex and Interior Cingulate Cortex are Engaged at Different Stages in the Solution of Insight Problems. PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(26): 10799–10804.

Stocco, A., Lebiere, C., and Anderson, J.R. (2010). Conditional Routing of Information to the Cortex: A Model of the Basal Ganglia's Role in Cognitive Coordination. Psychological Review, 117(2): 541–574.