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Posted 08.26.04

Impediments to Mathematics Learning Subject of New NIH-funded Study

NIH Award Could Fund Study for 10 Years

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- As school starts this fall, subjects such as mathematics are once again on the minds of children across the country. Anxiety and pressure to succeed can mount for these students, but it may be even more extreme for those who have a learning disability. With the help of a national grant, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher hopes to identify and combat the effect a learning disability can have on a child's mathematical skills.

MU psychology professor David Geary recently received the prestigious Method to Extend Research in Time award from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award, given to researchers who have demonstrated superior performance and production, offers Geary an opportunity in institutional research. It will allow his study to continue for up to 10 years with funding support from the NIH.

"Never before have we had the resources to do this type of longitudinal study to focus solely on mathematical learning and disabilities," Geary said.

Geary and his team will study 300 children from kindergarten through middle school. Some of the research involves standard achievement and ability tests, as well as more difficult cognitive experimental tests. For example, Geary will examine how a child solves a math problem - be it simple or complex - and will test memory, attention control and the amount of information retained. Geary wants to identify children who possess a strong ability to learn but have low achievement levels, then discover why this happens.

By focusing solely on mathematics, Geary and his team are making progress in a field where few researchers have had the opportunity to venture due to a lack of funding. By targeting both working and long-term memory, the team hopes to identify interruptions in learning and the disabilities that trigger them.

"Professor Geary is a leader in his area and has laid the groundwork in the field of mathematical disabilities," said Daniel B. Berch, director of the Program in Mathematics and Science Cognition and Learning - Development and Disorders in the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the NICHD. "The study he is conducting will greatly benefit these struggling students as well as educators and specialists in determining the best course of action to take with each child."


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