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Child Neuropsychology

A blog by Dr Jonathan Reed

  • I have just seen the preliminary findings of the first independent research study on Neurogames, the games I have developed to help reading and maths. The study was undertaken on 20 children aged 4 to 6. 10 children were given the computer games to play for 20 mins twice a week for 13 weeks at school. 10 children were not given the game and received normal teaching in a different class. Both groups were tested on standardized reading and maths tests (WIAT) before and after the intervention. The results show that the computer game group had an average maths score of 102 (average) before using the games which rose to 123 (above average) after playing the game for 13 weeks. The average group reading score before playing the games was 101.7, which increased to 114.9 after the game. In contrast the children not playing the game started with a reading score of 106.4 and this increased to 109.1 over time. Their maths score started at 103.6 and increased to 109.9. Therefore the study shows that exposure to the Neurogames for 13 weeks lead to substantial increases in maths and reading compared to the control group. These are preliminary findings and they need to be independently reviewed and published but they indicate what may be possible with computer based learning.

    I think that this also shows the importance of scientifically evaluating computer games based on learning. At present whilst there are many educational or brain training games on the market very few are being scientifically evaluated to see if they are effective. There are lots of games that look very good and claim to be brain training or educational but don’t seem to me to have any rationale let alone any evidence. For computer games based learning to develop in my opinion more research has to happen. Computer games lend themselves to scientific study given that they can be seen as a standardised intervention (i.e. they are the same each time they are given) and are easy and ethical to administer. Games can also be developed to incorporate the lasted scientific knowledge- see previous post for discussion on this. I intend to encourage other researchers (please contact me if interested) to independently evaluate the Neurogames with a larger number of children next and also with children with different neurodevelopmental disorders such as dyslexia and dyscalculia. I hope that over the next few years there will be an increasing body of research showing which games and which elements of games are effective in learning and neuropsychological development. This could lead to a revolution in education and rehabilitation.

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  • There is a lot of debate particularly in the media about the pros and cons about computer use with children. I believe that there are some fantastic potential benefits in developing computer games to teach children. Here are 5 of them:

    1. Dissemination of information- Our knowledge about child neuropsychological development is increasing all the time. But there is a problem communicating this to teachers and parents and applying this knowledge. Computer game based learning allows this knowledge to be disseminated to a large number of children. An example is dyslexia (by this I mean difficulties in learning to read). As neuropsychologists we know how reading develops, what part of the brain is involved, how to intervene to improve reading and how this changes the brain areas involved. And yet there are thousands of children who leave school every year unable to read. Developing computer games to address dyslexia using up to date knowledge is possible. Simple computer based learning can spread best practice to everyone (national and international).
    2. Motivation-One of the problems in teaching is in motivating children who find learning difficult or unrewarding. Computer games designers are the experts in motivation especially for kids. I rarely see kids even with severe ADHD who can’t sustain motivation for computer games. Computer game based learning allows educators to combine these motivating factors with learning.
    3. Effectiveness-It is possible to test the effectiveness of computer games based learning programmes in easier ways than it is to assess human taught programmes. Computer games are a standardised procedure that can be easily tested. In this way we combine scientific method with education to determine which programmes are most effective. This in turn will drive development resulting in more effective games over time. This fits with government priorities in producing evidence based learning interventions.
    4. Addressing reasons for learning difficulties. As well as targeting a direct area such as reading it is possible to address indirect reasons for learning difficulties using computer games. A prime candidate is working memory. Whilst it is possible to target and improve working memory directly (see post), it is also possible to use computer games to minimize the demand on working memory with learning programmes by using techniques such as error free learning. It is possible to reduce the need for verbal instructions for children who find listening difficult. It is also possible to reduce attention demands by using visually stimulating action based games.
    5. Computer are patient. As a teacher or parent it can be very frustrating teaching the same thing to a child who just ‘doesn’t get it’. The child also picks up on this and is often anxious about failure. Computers can be very patient. They will repeat the same procedure in the same tone time and time again. Some clever games can lower or raise the demands on the child automatically depending on how the child is doing. The child can work at their own pace and level.

    Therefore in my opinion for all these reasons it makes a lot of sense to develop computer game based learning on a widespread basis. At the moment I think the field is in it’s infancy. To produce good computer game based learning requires a combination of great games design, cleaver programming to build in some of the important factors discussed above and expertise in teaching/ child neuropsychological development. There are thousands of learning games out there but very few based on knowledge of neuropsychological development, with good game play and research to show their effectiveness. I hope that this will change- it could change a lot of children’s lives.

    For an example of a computer game based learning using neuropsychological knowledge visit my games site- Neurogames.

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  • I have just developed a new concept combining my knowledge of neuropsychology with computer games. It is called Neurogames and the games are available for purchase on my new website neurogames.co.uk. At present I have developed four games helping children to develop maths and numeracy. The games are based on the science of the development of reading and numeracy drawing on some of the work from the contributors writing in our book Child Neuropsychology as well as some of the research studies highlighted in this blog. The games take a developmental course mirroring the normal developmental sequence of reading and maths acquisition. The games also draw on my clinical expertise in terms of what helps children with neurodevelopmental difficulties. This includes errorless learning, frequent extrinsic rewards, visual based learning with bright attractive graphics and short game sequences with clear indicators to help children with short attention span. Computer games are also not critical and therefore the social pressure on learning is eliminated. Finally games are fun and Neurogames provides a new fun way of learning. I hope that the games will be helpful for children who find learning difficult whether it be because of a specific difficulty such as dyslexia or dyscalculia or because of a general difficulty such as ADHD, learning disability or brain injury. The games are easily to download and can be purchsed direct from the site. I also hope over the next year to develop more games to help with language and memory development. Let me know what you think.

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  • There is a new study in Nature this month showing that basic inherent numerical understanding predicts later mathematical ability. It is increasingly being shown that children (and primates) are born with an inbuilt understanding of number. This basic number ability comprises of being able to estimate and recognise the number of objects in a set (numerosities). Infants as young as one week old react differently to different groups of up to 4 objects suggesting that they recognise the difference between the numbers of objects. This latest study by Justin Halberda and colleagues from John Hopkins University, Baltimore used a test of non verbal number approximation with a group of 14 year olds. The 14 year olds were shown two groups of coloured dots and had to estimate which group was more numerous. The study showed that firstly that there were wide individual differences between the 14 year olds in terms of their ability to make correct non verbal number approximations and secondly that these differences correlate with differences on standard maths tests dating back to kindergarten. This suggests that this basic inherent understanding of number present from birth predicts how well you do at maths throughout school. One of the leading experts in the neuropsychology of maths in the UK Professor Brian Butterworth at UCL has argued for a long time that this difficulty in estimating numerosities lies at the basis for dyscalculia (specific difficulty with maths). He describes this in more detail in our book on Child Neuropsychology (see link at the side of the page). What is uncertain at the moment is what you can do about this. There is no evidence yet to show how you can improve your understanding of numerosities.

    The study itself can be found at the publications section of the webpage of the Laboratory of Child Development at the John Hopkins University

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