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Math Science Technology

Brain Scan Can Predict Math Mistakes 133

itwbennett writes "Computer Science Ph.D. candidate Federico Cirett says that he can predict with 80 percent accuracy when someone is about to make a mistake on a math question. Using an EEG machine, Cirett can identify the patterns in a volunteer's thinking that are likely to result in an error 20 seconds or so before it's made. 'If we can detect when they are going to fail, maybe we can change the text or switch the question to give them another one at a different level of difficulty, but also to keep them engaged,' Cirett said. 'Brain wave data is the nearest thing we have to really know when the students are having problems.' He will present a paper on his findings at the User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization conference in July."
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Brain Scan Can Predict Math Mistakes

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  • by mooingyak ( 720677 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:28PM (#39772439)

    The first thing I can think of to do with this is figure out how to trigger it and then proceed to get the problem correct, just to screw with everyone.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:39PM (#39772593)

    I wish I had something like this to wear on a wrist to check my thinking.

    Years ago, back in the dark ages (80s), I was taking a thermo exam. We were given data and we had to derive an equation from said data. Anyway, after pondering it, deriving the equation, checking it once, checking it twice and seeing that it was nice, I turned in my exam.

    'D' on the Final


    Forgot to divide by '2' and that screwed up everything else. That ended any dreams of a science or engineering career - thermo was absolutely required and it had to be a 'C' or better.

    I went to 'B' school instead, became a programmer (only job I could get. The bond traders wanted nothing to do with me.), and now I'm a long term unemployed loser.

    So, what's the moral of my story?

    I don't have a fucking clue. And I guess I failed at story telling too.

    Wait here's something:

    Kids, learn to concentrate. Learn to give 100% of your attention to the present moment. Ignore folks who want "multitaskers" and ignore the media that insists on dividing your attention - pretty much anything electronic. Video games? Not from what I've seen. Yeah it requires attention, but it does so with a lot of variation.

    Anyway, never mind. I'm a loser.

    Carry on.

  • by flibbidyfloo ( 451053 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:43PM (#39772655)

    Some testing system, like for the CPA license (in California at least) already do this. the computer system adjusts the difficulty of certain questions based on how you're doing so far. How exactly it does this is proprietary information and it doesn't dumb things down too much, but it can also make the test harder if you are doing really well. Then something magic happens inside the computer and it tells you whether you passed.

    This seems like a silly application for such research though. Who is going to want to have to have electrodes hooked up to their head just to take a test? It's already stressful enough without having more stuff to distract you.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @12:43PM (#39772659) Homepage

    This could be useful for programmers. It may be possible to detect some programming errors while programming.

  • Re:How wonderful (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Garth Smith ( 1720052 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:23PM (#39773163) Homepage

    I majored in math and spend many hours tutoring math. Here is a key in tutoring, you need to give challenging but SOLVABLE problems! Otherwise you just frustrate and make math something to hate. If I got stuck on some math homework and couldn't figure it out, that sucked. I figured out pretty quick if I was stuck for 5 minutes, just wait and go ask for help.

    What I found interesting about the article is that the mention of the word "math" is enough for some people to show signs of imminent failure. I have often come across this while tutoring and the best thing that I could do to help these people is to remove a fear of math from them. Show them that they CAN do some easier math, and then move on from there.

    This is key in educating anyone in any topic. Challenging but SOLVABLE problems! Your attitude only makes society hate mathematics more, when they should be shown the wonder and excitement of it!

  • by Garth Smith ( 1720052 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @01:34PM (#39773325) Homepage

    Who is going to want to have to have electrodes hooked up to their head just to take a test? It's already stressful enough without having more stuff to distract you.

    I view this as research into how to better teach mathematics, or really how to better teach any intellectually challenging subject. I don't think they are hoping to hook up every test-taker to this thing, but rather trying to understand how the brain picks apart challenging problems. I feel such research is very useful.

  • by kj_kabaje ( 1241696 ) on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:12PM (#39773873)
    FYI, CAT (Computer Adaptive Testing) is *not* proprietary. There a lot of papers out there about how to do adaptive testing and how to do it well. That said, all of these systems, as an earlier respondent noted, are based upon actual responses rather than predicted responses. As a professional in assessment, I would not want to base any decisions about item presentation on 80% accuracy. We assess because there is uncertainty and we need evidence to model and demonstrate our best estimate of whatever it is we are measuring. The trouble with adapting before you have evidence is that you never push a examinee to their extremes. You've already artificially constrained the range of difficulties and items that a student will see. Restriction of range is already a huge problem on existing tests because of people's preconceptions of what's appropriate for certain ages or groups of examinees. It's promising technology and I intend on watching how it evolves.
  • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Monday April 23, 2012 @02:23PM (#39774021)

    Say we get this system to 100% accuracy. We know ahead of time that little Jimmy will not be able to solve this math problem. Little Jimmy has exhausted his options and has become stuck. Then what is the point of wasting time having him stare at it? I would take this as an alert that little Jimmy needs help, to intervene, and get little Jimmy learning again.

    Isn't that the old "allow no failure" school of thought repackaged?

    On the other hand, if Little Jimmy stares at it a little longer, or perhaps is allowed to actually get it wrong (horrors), and then reason out why it was wrong, his learning will probably be better and longer lasting. Or if we give him a few more seconds, perhaps he will have an epiphany as his prior learning bubbles to the surface of his oat-meal brain. But most likely, jumping in 20 seconds before he offers the wrong answer isn't telling him anything he already doesn't know.

    Chances are, it has nothing what so ever to do with math, but merely detects the changes in the brain that signal resignation, or the formation of Jimmy's realization that he does not know the answer or the path to the answer. His brain isn't working on math any more, its resigning him to the fact he can't solve this problem. It takes people a while to come to grips with this fact. Saving him 20 seconds AFTER he has already puzzled out this fact, but BEFORE he brings himself to write something wrong, amounts to no saving at all.

    Let him spend that 20 seconds of mental anguish before writing down his guess. Chances are its a valuable part of the learning process. Why jump into micromanagement mode of a learning process we still don't understand?

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.