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Learning Physics Activates Part Of The Brain Linked To Episodic Memory

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Students who learned from a physics course that used modeling instruction showed changes in brain activity. Using fMRI, researchers found that the posterior cingulate cortex became more active after learning.
  ( Pixabay )

Areas of the brain not ordinarily linked to learning science become active once people actively participate in learning physics.

Different Forms Of Instruction May Modify Activity Of The Brain

Researchers of a new study published in the journal Frontiers in ICT said that their findings show that the activity of the brain is modifiable by different forms of instruction.

Study researcher Eric Brewe, from Drexel University's College of Art and Sciences, and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to measure the blood flow in the brain to map the areas of that become active when people complete a physics reasoning task before and after taking learning the concepts.

In the study, more than 50 student volunteers took a physics course that used a teaching style called "modeling instruction," which encourages learners to be active participants in the learning process.

Prior to taking the class, the participants answered questions from a test that evaluates knowledge of physics commonly taught in early college. The students took the test called Force Concept Inventory for the second time after completing their physics course.

In both instances, activities in the participant's brain were monitored through fMRI while taking the test.

New Areas Of The Brain Become Active After Completing Physics Course

Researchers found that the parietal cortex and lateral prefrontal cortex, parts of the brain linked with working memory, attention and problem solving, showed activity prior to the students taking the physics course.

After completing the course, researchers found student's frontal poles became more active, which is not surprising since these areas are linked to learning. Nonetheless, they also noticed that a new area becomes active. This part of the brain known as the posterior cingulate cortex is associated with episodic memory and self-referential thought.

"We have provided fMRI results of brain activation from two main assessments. First, we observed that the physics reasoning task (FCI > Control questions) was associated with increased brain activity notably in lateral prefrontal and parietal regions," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published on May 24.

"Students who completed the MI course showed increased activation during the physics reasoning task after the course in the posterior cingulate cortex and frontal pole regions."

Implications Of The Study

The researchers said that the findings of their study might help improve physics learning.

Among the objectives of the study is to investigate how modeling instruction can encourage students to use their own mental models to learn new concepts.

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