Educational Neuroscience to Understand Brain Development and Inform the Education System

 

This project aims at characterizing the brain development of elementary school children and combines the advance of knowledge with an extensive public outreach program to educate and support families, and children with special developmental trajectories, as well as their teachers and therapists.    
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Development is a dynamic process.  Every child shows a unique developmental trajectory. Better characterization of children’s developmental profiles is crucial to provide effective support and to optimize each child’s potential. 

Our project at the Neuroscience of Attention & Perception Laboratory aims to make neuroscience educational—we investigate children’s development in elementary school years using quantitative neuroscience methods and hope to provide insights that will inform the education system as well as teaching and support strategies. We combine methods from neuroscience, psychology, clinical interventions and education studies. In addition to generating and applying neuroscience knowledge, an important goal of our project is to educate parents and children as well as teachers, child study team members and therapists about the brain (see https://scholar.princeton.edu/kidsrock for more information).

Dynamic changes in the developing brain

Little is known about the development of the typical human brain, and even less is known about what can go wrong in the brains of children who have neurodevelopmental challenges such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and developmental dyslexia. We investigate the ‘neuro-markers’ of dynamic and highly variable developmental trajectories in elementary school children.

Our studies address questions such as: How does the brain change when children develop the skills to focus? How does attention development contributes to learning how to read and how to solve a math problem? What is the relationship between the way children see the world and their motor functions, like handwriting? 

Give back to society by sharing knowledge about the brain

Sabine Kastner has a passion for public outreach.  She is working with parent support groups through social media, and gives public lectures to parent support organizations in the NY/NJ area on a regular basis (e.g. CHADD chapters).  Dr. Kastner is Editor-in-Chief of the first open access neuroscience journal for kids (Frontiers of Young Minds/Understanding neuroscience – https://kids.frontiersin.org/) and writes articles for kids on brain-related topics such as “The Reading Brain” on a regular basis.  She performs ~10 outreach events in elementary and middle school science classrooms per year, and 2-3 schools are visiting the Princeton Neuroscience Institute per year to learn hands-on how we study the human brain (see https://www.princeton.edu/news/2017/06/26/kastner-opens-frontiers-young-... for recent press coverage on these projects).

 An important mission of this effort is to develop educational materials accessible to families and educators. For example, we have been studying common characteristics of Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), a little understood deficit in coordination, planning and learning of movements.  The results of a survey study were summarized in a lay audience format to help parents prepare for their children’s educational planning meetings. As a second example, we have developed a cartoon character (‘Billy D.’), who helps children who struggle in their neurodevelopment understand themselves and their brains better.