Hubbard guiding undergraduate researchers while working at forefront of educational neuroscience

Educational Psychology

Hubbard guiding undergraduate researchers
while working at forefront of educational neuroscience

The groundbreaking research of UW–Madison’s Edward Hubbard utilizes tools ranging from brain imaging technologies and psychological assays to standardized pencil-and-paper tests in an effort to better understand how children learn fractions.

Ed Neuro Lab Spring 2017
Members of the UW Educational Neuroscience Lab, including director Edward
Hubbard, pose for a group photo in May outside UW-Madison's Educational
Sciences building.
And among those involved with the innovative projects housed within Hubbard’s Educational Neuroscience Lab is a talented team of more than 30 undergraduate students who are receiving real-world, hands-on research experience in an emerging interdisciplinary field.

“Working with, learning from and mentoring undergraduates in my lab is something I really enjoy,” says Hubbard, who this spring was recognized for these efforts with an Undergraduate Mentoring Award, a campus-wide honor administered through the Office of the Provost. Hubbard is the first faculty member from the School of Education to receive this honor.

The undergraduates in his lab are majoring in fields as varied as teacher and special education, rehabilitation psychology, and neuroscience, to name a few.

“It’s important to me to help build bridges between various education and brain science communities, and to train and mentor students so some of them go on to become the next generation of scholars in this field,” says Hubbard, an assistant professor with UW–Madison’s No. 1-ranked Department of Educational Psychology.

This past fall, Hubbard and colleague Percival Matthews were awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) worth nearly $1.9 million to examine how children learn fractions, which are both a difficult concept to grasp and a predictor of future mathematics success. Studies have shown that children who struggle to understand fractions in fifth grade also struggle with algebra when they get to eighth grade.

This NIH project allowed Hubbard to nearly double the number of undergraduate research assistants in his lab during the 2016-17 academic year. This project is following children now in second grade (before they are introduced to fractions) through fifth grade, and from fifth grade to eighth grade (when they are introduced to pre-algebra and algebra). The research team is enrolling into the program 100 second graders and 100 fifth graders this year, and another 100 per grade next year. The undergraduate research assistants are recruiting young students into the project, leading behavioral sessions, administering standardized tests and helping with some of the brain imaging work, among other tasks.

“Part of my success here is due to the many incredible undergraduates who have come through this lab,” says Hubbard.

Ed Neuro Lab
Edward Hubbard and members of the UW Educational Neuroscience Lab
gather for an end-of-the-semester meeting in May.
Hubbard makes it a priority to meet with students at weekly lab-wide meetings, and also attends project-specific meetings and one-on-ones to discuss updates, new scientific articles and provide feedback on presentations or papers.

“Ed truly wants his students to get as much out of the research experience as they can and to feel that they can approach him to talk about anything,” says Jennifer Hathaway, who spent four years as an undergraduate researcher in Hubbard’s lab before working as lab manager during the 2016–17 academic year. She is beginning medical school at the University of Minnesota this summer.

When speaking about his efforts to try and pinpoint the brain systems that are involved in learning fractions, Hubbard cautions: “It’s a long way from brain scan to lesson plan. We’re not going to do this study and go right out and explain how to better teach about fractions. But hopefully, over time, we can get a better handle on how the brain does math at the biological level, and figure out strategies and systems that will help teachers help students better learn fractions.”

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