PhD in Education student Alexandria Nicole Weaver has been awarded a 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) Fellowship. Fellowships are awarded to graduate students whose proposed research has the potential to advance knowledge and understanding (intellectual merit) and benefit society/advance societal outcomes. Alexandria will be focusing her research on factors influencing math achievement. She is advised by Associate Professor Susanne Jaeggi.
Math education typically involves a great deal of attention to auditory instruction in the classroom, and success in higher-level mathematics is highly dependent on verbal ability as well as on general executive and working memory (WM) skills. Ability to control attention is a significant contributing factor to differences in WM performance, therefore, this fundamental component of the learning process is essential to effectively integrate and manipulate information to solve complex problems present in one’s math class. Given that plasticity is greatest amongst young children, interventions aimed at strengthening WM skills during childhood may be particularly beneficial. Cognitive training targeting WM has shown promise that requires further investigation. Another form of “training” that is recognized as beneficial to WM development is engaging in music practice, as musical engagement provides an abundance of benefits to cognitive functions, especially improvements in auditory attention. Interventions targeting the development of auditory attention skills could lead to improvements in WM, and therefore improve academic success. Although enrolling students in music lessons seems promising, that is not feasible or accessible for many students and families that struggle financially or who otherwise do not have access to those kinds of resources. My proposal seeks to provide an alternative method of WM training, focusing specifically on improving auditory attention skills, an essential component of WM. I propose an innovative, accessible, cost-effective form of training that utilizes music to specifically target auditory attention, as attention could be a potential mediator between WM and math achievement.