What does your lab study?
Your brain is always working. It keeps track of what happens all around you, even when you don’t realize it. Human brains, whether they are infant, child, or adult brains, are really good at finding patterns in events happening around them. Once human brains have learned a pattern, they can use it to predict events in the future! (I bet you didn’t know you could predict the future!) For example, even a young child who knows nothing about driving can learn from observation that traffic lights change color in a predictable pattern. As a result, when the child sees a yellow light he or she knows that the light will soon turn red. He or she can predict what happens next!
In the NeuroLearn Lab, we study how these simple types of pattern learning and prediction work together with other processes to achieve complex skills. Some of these complex skills can include learning language, learning to enjoy and play music, or even playing sports. Discovering how these learning processes work together can help us to develop interventions for children who face extra difficulties in learning language. These difficulties may include hearing loss, neurological conditions, growing up in impoverished environments, or any number of other situations. We aim to show that simple, easy to use computer- or tablet-based pattern learning games as well as specific types of music training can easily and inexpensively help improve language skills.
What do children enjoy most about the research?
To help understand pattern learning, we measure brain activity using a method called electroencephalography. We use a net filled with sensors that fits on the head like a hood to measure electrical changes in the brain that tell us how a child is using his or her brain (but not what he or she is thinking!). This shows us what is often portrayed in movies as “brainwaves”. Lots of children, teens, and even adults love to see themselves wearing the sensor net and especially love to see how things they do like blinking, chewing, and talking change their brainwaves.
What are things families might do at home to improve children's learning?
Children will learn no matter what. It is their job, and they are good at it. The most important thing for adults to remember is that having real life positive experiences with respected adults that are paying attention is key. It helps children learn that they love to learn and that the world is interesting. Having relaxed conversations with an adult about life, the world, what’s going on in the moment, or anything of interest to the child helps children to learn that they are worthy of learning and contributing to the world. The more conversations that occurs between children and adults with both contributing, the more younger children learn language and older children learn about how the world works. Even when time is limited, purposely having conversations with children during the time that is available and carving out at least some regular positive face to helping children learn.