Projects Our Lab Explores

How do materials influence learning?

Children are constantly interacting with materials meant to help them learn—toys, books, games, manipulatives, and worksheets. Some of these are undoubtedly better than others. In the Thinking and Learning Lab, we are interested in determining which features of materials may be helpful or harmful to learning, which materials are best suited for teaching different concepts, and how to design materials that promote better learning interactions between children and children and adults.

What cognitive processes and skills are
involved in number sense?

There have been many studies to suggest that developing a mental number line is critical for future success in mathematics. Thus, it is essential to understand how children’s understandings of the number line changes over time and the factors that influence this development. Our lab investigates the role of various skills (e.g., numeral identification), concepts (e.g., place value), and processes (e.g., inhibitory control, mental rotation) in the development of a mental number line.

Can cross-national research point to ways to improve mathematics achievement?

Despite numerous reform efforts, mediocre mathematics achievement continues to be a problem of the United States educational system. Large-scale international assessments indicate that the performance of U. S. students consistently lags behind that of age peers in East Asia and much of Europe. Our lab investigates similarities and differences in student’s thinking across contexts. For example, do children from high-performing nations use the same strategies as children from low-performing nations, only with greater efficiency, or are there significant differences in the way students approach particular types of problems, resulting in differential levels of performance. Generally, the finding of similar processes, strategies, and misconceptions in same-aged peers across various cultural, linguistic, and educational contexts can provide important insights about which aspects of math achievement may be constrained by development or by the structure of the mathematics itself. On the other hand, finding of differing processes, strategies, and misconceptions across contexts can provide important insights about which aspects of mathematics learning may be malleable.

How do we get Psychology research off the shelf and into the hands of educators?

A better understanding of how humans think and learn is fundamental to the myriad of educational goals that relate to children’s development of academic knowledge and skills. Thus, empirical research from cognitive science is uniquely suited to contribute to educational improvement. Yet, despite extensive research in the cognitive sciences that has identified basic principles of learning and cognition, the application of these principles to education is far from ubiquitous, particularly in mathematics education. We are interested in how psychology research is accessed, interpreted, and used to inform the preparation and practice of mathematics teachers and what can be done to create a better bridge between the two fields.


©2011 Thinking & Learning Lab | Elida V. Laski PH.D. | Applied Developmental & Educational Psychology Lynch School of Education | Boston College | VIDA Marketing Communications