Educational Psychology -
Educational Neuroscience Concentration
Lab: ELDEN Lab - Barnes 1057
I am interested in understanding the neurocognitive features that support mathematical thinking. Mathematic skills, unlike many (if not most) of human cognitive abilities, are highly versatile. In fact, mathematics and mathematical models are at the core of explanations of scientific phenomena including those never available to human experience. Insights into the beginning of the universe, the nature of light, the distribution of goods throughout an economy or the evolutions of species over time are heavily based on mathematics. Despite the importance of mathematics and mathematical knowledge for how a society works and how science develops, mathematics is fairly new in human evolutionary history. Thus, the neurocognitive bases of mathematics must be built from the cognitive apparatus inherited from human evolutionary survival. To me, this shows that something as smilingly mundane as mathematics is fundamental to human discovery and innovation.
I am primarily looking at how humans understand fractions and trying to figure out what happens in the brain when doing fraction operations. Fractions are difficult for both children and adults. They are also a fundamental building block for a lot of different mathematics like Algebra and Calculus. There are big stakes in easing the difficulties students have with fractions but they also offer a neat window to observe how mathematical processes are learned and developed in the brain.
I have also developed a few prototypes of a board game to develop fraction knowledge. I have a secondary interest in creating different platforms that develop skills necessary for mathematical thinking.
I grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico. My family moved to Los Angeles California in 2005 where I attended Bell Senior High. I was recruited to be part of College Match a college access program that introduced me to college including school on the east coast. I graduated High School in 2009 and attended Franklin and Marshall College (F&M) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I had developed an interested in psychology in high school which had narrowed my focus when I got to college. I decided to pursue a major in Scientific and Philosophical Studies of the Mind (SPM) during my first semester. SPM allowed me to explore courses in philosophy, psychology, biology, and cognitive science. After reading Thomas Khun’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions became fascinated by the field of philosophy of science and considered pursuing a graduate degree in the field. In the fall of 2012, I received the Benjamin A. Gilman scholarship to travel to Budapest, Hungary where I attended the Budapest Semester in Cognitive Science (BSCS) at Eotvos Lorand University. The BSCS packed 15 week long courses from philosophy, psychology, animal behavior, and computer science into one semester. During this semester I read James Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood which sparked my obsession with information and information theory. That same semester I was introduced to Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid which also had a profound impact in me and my thinking. These last two books got me interested in the nature of mathematics and computation and how these phenomena was possible in the human brain. During my last semester at F&M I work on an independent study exploring the history and philosophy of of mathematics. I graduate in May 2015.
I begun working for F&M’s college office of admission where I had worked during my four years of work study. I recruited students from the territories of Southern California, South New Jersey, Bucks County in Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico. I spent my time attending college fairs, interviewing students, reading applications, and planning events fro visiting students. It took a while to figure out my next academic step. I had moved away from wanting to pursue a degree in philosophy since I felt that science was a better method to seek out answers about the nature of mathematics. I applied to a yearlong post-bac at the University of Massachusetts Amherst through their PREP program. I was paired with the Cognition & Action Lab a sleep research lab working with Rebecca Spencer and Joonkoo Park. I worked on the pre-school nap study looking at how naps help improve students performance on math skills. I applied to graduate school during that year. I found and applied to the Educational Psychology/Neuroscience program at the University of Alabama where I enrolled in May 2016. This program offered the opportunity to study numerical cognition through neuroscientific methods. Additionally, my now adviser Firat Soylu shared an interest in embodied cognition and in the role of evolution in shaping mathematical cognition.
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