Our HAS-AVCC Learning Environment Research Group submitted its first annual report, which was accepted by the Academy. We have received the next year’s funding and we continue our work.
Here is the short version of the report:
1. Preparation period: 1 September 2021 – 28 February 2022.
The research team consists of 10 people, joined by an internal research team (4 people). This group’s research will focus on teachers’ social and mental characteristics. Our research involved 20 developmental and 21 control classes, and about a thousand first-graders.
2. Teacher preparation period: 1 March 2022 – 31 August 2022
We have developed 17 methodological units in three dimensions (development, spatial organization, and learning organization).
The topics of the methodological units are the following: listening to speech sounds, visualization, singing and music, sensory-motor skills, finger awareness, sayings, rhymes, gestures, relaxation by moving, use of algorithms, use of Mondrian Blocks, Mind Map, board games, and flashcards, free movement opportunities, free learning space, rotating classroom (comfort zone), clear rules, student activity, regular activities, mediated and self-directed learning.
Three-day teacher training was held online and in-person, plus two days, to train for the student testing. Also, detailed written instructions were given to the teachers.
Testing tools: Online Sensory and Cognitive Profile Test (https://kognitivprofil.hu), which can be used by teachers, and the Colour Raven Matrices. Teacher follow-up: Mental Health Test, Aspiration Index, Mini Oldenburg Burnout Questionnaire, Subjective Physical Symptom Scale, and a Socio-economic Status Questionnaire.
Applications: Learning card mobile app; online cognitive training based on Mondrian blocks.
Publication and dissemination of methodological materials:
Fenyvesi K, Mérő, L., Kökényesi I, Brownell, C., & Stettner, N. (2022) Mondrian Blocks and Cognitive Training. Mondrian 150, Mondrian Day at National Museum of Mathematics, New York, 19 February.PI-Day, 2022.03.14: Transylvanian Maths Festival, School at Gyergyóremete, Apáczai Education and Spectrum Foundation – Digital Mondrian Blocks game with hundreds of schoolchildren. Fenyvesi K, Gyarmathy É., Kökényesi I, Brownell, C., & Stettner, N.; Maths Festival France – Digital games with Mondrian Blocks – by Fenyvesi K., Gyarmathy É., Kökényesi I, Brownell, C., & Stettner, N.; Peruvian Maths Festival – Maths and the Mondrian Blocks – by Fenyvesi K, Gyarmathy, É., Kökényesi I, Brownell, C., & Stettner, N.
Development produces development. Each discovery leads to more discoveries and increases exponentially the rate of change. In a decade, we are experiencing more changes than people experienced in two centuries around the time of Gutenberg. The environment shapes the human brain, especially the brains of children. It means that with the extreme changes in the environment brain development changes extremely. Consequently, everything related to children’s brains, such as education, needs to change rapidly.
It is a frequent statement that education should prepare children for a future and for occupations we don’t even know about. However, the problem is more complex than that, because we don’t even know what kind of kids we want to prepare for the unknown future.
The nervous system is shaped by the environment and so far there is not much more that educators and specialists did than label a high percentage of children and called them special-need children.
The year 2020 gave a little insight into the future. The 21st century kicked the door with a pair of legs. Digital technology has suddenly become part of everyday teaching and learning. One day the responsible parents limit or even forbid the use of digital devices, the next day the kids have to sit in front of the computers all day. A parent mockingly asked that “does the school period count into the ’machine time’ or not?”
Humankind is facing a special situation which we can call a crisis. And such decision times will become more frequent. New inventions, as well as pandemics, can bring sudden changes. The situation is very much in line with the original meaning of the word „crisis” when the old solutions don’t work anymore, but the new ones are not developed properly, yet. Similar to any special situation, distance learning has widened the gap between those who were already at an advantage and could progress and those who couldn’t.
Stimulus richness increases the appearance of diversity. However, those who are less prepared can hardly gain, so, the differences increase and become significant. Any disadvantage causes an even greater disadvantage in a crisis. People experienced this condensed in 2020 during the restrictions because of the COVID pandemic. While about 10% of the children could progress better at home than in the classroom, the third of the student population, typically disadvantaged students lag significantly behind. Institutions and individuals who were more or less prepared for the 21st century were able to take advantage of the online situation.
Given that the 21st century is bringing explosive change at an ever-accelerating pace, institutions, educators, and parents have to be prepared for children with diverse development and have to provide them flexible learning environment. A methodological renewal is needed.
“The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together harmoniously. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics (Godfrey Harold Hardy, A Mathematician’s Apology, London 1941). The Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős had an imaginary book in which God wrote down the most beautiful mathematical proofs. When Erdős wanted to express his particular appreciation of proof, he shouted, “This one’s from the Book!”.
Mathematics is a basic tool of knowledge and science, while it is an art motivated by beauty, and an integral part of music, dance, fine arts, architecture – patterns, symmetry-asymmetry, golden ratio, polygons, polyhedrons, fractals. Education treats arts and mathematics separately, though mathematics and art both are based on spatial abilities and develop the brain in terms of the most important functions of human thinking: sensorimotor and executive functions, symbolic and abstract thinking.
It is no coincidence that spatial skills are the foundation for later successful cognitive abilities and learning (Lubinski, Benbow, 2006; Wai, Lubinski, Benbow, 2009; Freeman, Marginson, Tytler, 2019).
However, spatial-visual skills, and thus development and learning methods in this area, have still not gained their rightful place in teaching, although there are increasing attempts to do so. Typically, creative activities such as exploring the symmetry of tapestries, cutting geometric shapes, arranging mosaics, mirroring, rotating, and translating pictures link mathematics to the arts in teaching.
Artistic activities develop mathematical and creative thinking, most often with a focus on the creative side. However, teachers do not provide many opportunities for students to think creatively in the practice of teaching mathematics. This is largely due to the highly structured curriculum and math textbooks, which leave little room for such opportunities (Schoevers, Leseman, Kroesbergen, 2020).
The Mondrian Blocks Cognitive Training combines the benefits of mathematics and art by providing systematic developmental material through an art-based mathematical problem. Indeed, the famous, coloured rectangles of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian form the basis of an interesting mathematical problem, a puzzle, which mathematicians are still trying to solve (e.g. Basen, 2016; Dalfó, Fiol, López, 2021). Mondrian’s mathematical problem consists in dividing a grid of size n x n into rectangles and squares such that the difference between the area of the largest and the area of the smallest rectangle is as small as possible.
The Mondrian Blocks Cognitive Training is based on an art-mathematical problem, and its developmental impact is manifold. Quantities are tangible, and palpable, through the use of rectangles in a mathematically meaningful context, while their place in the given space has to be found. Magnitude and direction relationships, estimation of dimensions, spatial orientation, spatial translation, and recognition of visual shapes are required, while the concept of number is imperceptibly shaped in the mind of a child. Mondrian Blocks tasks are solved through a series of meaningful trials, which in addition to the above develop risk-taking, error detection, failure tolerance, creativity, and critical thinking.
We hypothesize that the basic functions required for mathematics and reasoning can be developed and tested in at least three main cognitive domains by using Mondrian Blocks:
Mathematical Thinking – Reasoning; Number concept.
Development and testing are particularly important given the steep increase in the rate of children diagnosed with mathematical difficulties. Research by Agostini, Zoccolotti, and Casagrande (2022) has shown that children with mathematical difficulties are impaired in cognitive areas such as executive functions, attention, and processing speed. The Mondrian Blocks cognitive training may benefit these children more than the average.
The training and testing of relevant cognitive functions can and should be incorporated into models of education and development to identify
the cognitive functions behind the solution of “Mondrian Blocks” tasks;
the role of Mondrian Blocks in the development of relevant cognitive skills;
individual differences which may exist behind effective task solving;
the ways cognitive training could be the most effective.
Agostini F, Zoccolotti P, Casagrande M. (2022) Domain-General Cognitive Skills in Children with Mathematical Difficulties and Dyscalculia: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Brain Sciences. 12(2):239. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci12020239
Dalfó, C., Fiol, M.A., López, N. (2021). New results for the Mondrian art problem. Discret. Appl. Math., 293, 64-73.
Freeman, B., Marginson, S., Tytler, R. (2019). An international view of STEM education. In: Sahin, A., Mohr-Schroeder, M. J. (eds.) STEM Education 2.0, Brill, 350–366 https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004405400_019
Lubinski, D., Benbow, C. P. (2006). Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth after 35 years: Uncovering antecedents for the development of math–science expertise. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 316–345.
Schechter, B. (2000). My brain is open: The mathematical journeys of Paul Erdős. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 70–71. ISBN 0-684-85980-7.
Schoevers, E.M., Leseman, P.P.M., Kroesbergen, E.H. (2020). Enriching Mathematics Education with Visual Arts: Effects on Elementary School Students’ Ability in Geometry and Visual Arts. Int J of Sci and Math Educ18, 1613–1634 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-019-10018-z
Wai, J., Lubinski, D., Benbow, C. P. (2009). Spatial ability for STEM domains: Aligning over 50 years of cumulative psychological knowledge solidifies its importance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101, 817–835. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016127
Ability structure differences between and within individuals grow significantly in a widened stimulus space in the 21th century. Increased diversity, uneven development and neurodevelopmental maturation necessitate the introduction of a personalised learning environment that can be implemented in a cognitive-developmental approach.
The transformation of the learning environment must take place simultaneously in three different spaces: educational-psychological, info-communicational, spatial-architectural.
In our research we explore two interrelated issues:
The learning environment can be transformed into a developmental environment within the current educational framework, integrating sensory-motor and language developmental training into learning.
Modified learning environment with sensory-motor and language development built-in the everyday learning in the first two years of primary school, has an early preventive effect to avoid school failure.
Research Group leader:
Eva Gyarmathy is a professor at the Apor Vilmos Catholic College, and a senior researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology. Her research interest focuses on the challenges of the 21th century, and with it on talent associated with specific learning difficulties, ADHD and/or autism spectra. She is a lecturer at several universities. She is also a consultant to schools that serve children and adolescents who could not be integrated into mainstream schools. She founded the Atypical Development Methodology Centre, the Adolescent and Adult Dyslexia Centre and the Special Need Talent Support Council.
Research Group members
Prof. Dr. Eva Gyarmathy is a professor at the Apor Vilmos Catholic College and a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology. Her research interests focus on the challenges and educational needs of the 21st century, including special learning disabilities, ADHD, and/or autism spectrum disorders and talent development. She is a lecturer at several universities. As a psychotherapist, her activity directs toward the care of the profoundly gifted and multiple exceptional talents. She founded the Atypical Development Methodology Centre, the Adolescent and Adult Dyslexia Centre, and the Special Need Talent Support Council.
Prof. Dr. Máté Tamáska, sociologist, architectural sociologist, university professor and academic vice-chancellor at the Apor Vilmos Catholic University (AVKF). In addition, he is a lecturer and supervisor of the Doctoral School of History and Ethnography of the University of Debrecen, and head of the spatial pedagogy research workshop of the AVKF. His main field of research is the sociology of architecture, with particular emphasis on the identity-shaping power of architecture, and the spaces of early childhood, above all, school architecture. His research focuses primarily on the symbolic messages of school buildings. The basic question is, what social messages does the school building convey to the outside urban space, and how does it assign social roles to the inside?
Dr Bertalan Forstner is an associate professor at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Department of Automation and Applied Informatics. He received his PhD degree in 2008. He worked as a software developer since 1999. He has been leading mobile research activities in the department since 2002. He participated in the introduction of mobile device programming into academic education and elaborated on numerous related courses. He is also a regular organizer and speaker of Hungarian mobile technology-related conferences. Microsoft Junior Researcher-, IBM Faculty Award-, STEM- and HTE-awarded researcher, obtained the ICT Professor of the Year Award in 2013. The number of his publications exceeds 100, they are to be found in conference proceedings, international journals, books etc. He is a regular coordinator and manager of Hungarian and international projects. His current research interests include mobile software development, biofeedback-based systems, wearables and IoT.
Mór Antal Szűcs, speech therapist, special education teacher, music therapist, and assistant at the Bárczi Gusztáv Faculty of Special Education at Eötvös Loránd University. As a university lecturer, his main topic is speech fluency and written language disorders. He is a doctoral student at ELTE’s Doctoral School of Education. His focus is on the development of preschool children’s phonological awareness and he investigates the effect of his 21st-century-oriented, motivational method on reading skills. As a music therapist, he is the founder and vice president of the Collective Alternative Music Workshop.
Dániel Ritter is an architect and a former student of the BME Doctoral School of Architecture. In recent years, he has participated as a designer in international projects such as the New National Gallery in Városliget and the New Transportation Museum. In his doctoral research, he is looking for the answer to whether the classroom schemes developed decades ago have a right to exist in today’s education as spaces of an open and fresh pedagogical approach.
Zénó Szabó is a programmer, computer science, and economics teacher. He graduated from the ELTE Doctoral School of Education. He is a programmer and lecturer at Eötvös Loránd University. Managing Director of Contenet Ltd.
His main research interests are the identification of learning difficulties using IT tools and the online implementation of the Cognitive Profile Test.
Judit Pap is a teacher and educational expert. She is the Professional coordinator of the Methodological Centre for Atypical Development at the Apor Vilmos Catholic College, and a teacher of methodological workshops. Her main activities include preparing the professional content of training courses on atypical development, the preparation of the administration of the establishment and initiating and organizing training courses, and implementing professional projects and tenders.
Mónika Turmezei is a history teacher, and a qualified teacher in the field of talent care and talent development, child psychodramatist, and mediator. Trainer of the National Talent Center, an employee of Csörögi Tanoda. Her main field is the development of the school support system: talent management, atypical development, and bullying. Activities: talent management, teacher training; children’s drama, talent management, board game, competence development sessions; bullying prevention and treatment, as well as restorative approach and methodology training; consulting, training, and content development.
Dr Judit Gombás is a psychologist and college teacher. He is the head of the Department of Psychology and Physical Education at Apor Vilmos Catholic College and a lecturer at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. She mainly teaches psychological subjects related to teacher training and conducts teacher research. She regularly works with practising teachers from the most diverse areas of public education and art education and is committed to supporting the mental health and well-being of teachers. Her field of research is the monitoring of teachers, their development and the examination of their psychological and mental health.
Dr Györgyi Elekescollege professor, sociologist, historian and secondary school teacher. Head of MA Mental Health in Relations and Community Development Program at the Apor Vilmos Catholic College. Lecturer at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University. She received her PhD degree from the Doctoral School of Social Communication at the Corvinus University of Budapest. She worked for several years in the Presence Programme of the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service. Her main research interests include the pedagogy of disadvantaged children, community social work, community development, sociology of education, Roma studies and social communication.
Imre Kökényesiis a game developer working at Smart Egg PTE Ltd. For ten years, he has been involved in designing and developing logic board games and puzzles. Three of these years at Rubik Brand Licensing Ltd. He is working in the development of methods based on different games to measure and develop children’s cognitive abilities.
Bénikné Dézsi Bernadettis a singer and music teacher. She is a methodology teacher at the Apor Vilmos Catholic College. Her teaching activities cover the areas of voice training, speech technique, vocal music and methodology, as well as the use of art in development.
Detti Micskeigraduated as an architect from the Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University of Budapest in 2008. Her method, of visualizing the alphabet was created to answer her children’s questions, in 2021. In this gap-filling method, the pictures next to the letters have the same initial sound and shape. The method supports learning by adapting to the changing abilities of today’s children.
Zsóka Sipos is a certified speech and language therapist at the Metropolitan Specialist Pedagogical Service and an assistant professor at the Apor Vilmos Catholic College. Since 2014 she has been one of the professional coordinators of the Meixner Foundation. She holds a PhD in Education from the Szeged Doctoral School of Education. Her main research interests are fluent reading and the development and improvement of poor reading skills. In addition to writing traditional task collections, she has participated in several projects for the development of digital learning materials.