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For Students, Faculty, and Staff: MyU One Stop


The Achievement Gap:
Why Executive Function Matters

Thursday, February 5th, 2015
McNamara Alumni Center, Johnson Great Room
200 Oak Street Southeast, Minneapolis (Directions and Parking Info)

Leading experts from the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development will present cutting edge research on executive function and the achievement gap. Interact with ICD faculty and students during small group discussions.

Event is free with option to donate to the Child Development Fund (suggested amount of $25 per person will help defray our costs of offering event).

The Community Symposium is full at this time. Please email Amy Simpson,, and she will add you to waitlist.

Program Includes:

Welcome and ICD Overview

Megan Gunnar, Regents Professor of Child Psychology; Director, Institute of Child Development

Opening Remarks: Civic Science -- The Democratic Promise

Harry Boyte, Senior Scholar in Public Work Philosophy at the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College; Senior Fellow, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Professor Boyte will introduce the concept of "civic science" and describe how it is crucial for the renewal of a profound tradition of understanding science as a constellation of democratic values and practices. Research on executive function and the achievement gap holds potential to be a leading example.

Talk 2: What is Executive Function (and why is everybody talking about it)?

Philip David Zelazo, Lindahl Professor of Child Psychology

Professor Zelazo will discuss the importance of executive function in child development, and consider why there is currently so much emphasis on promoting its healthy development. Executive function, or the skills involved in the conscious self-control of attention and behavior, provide a foundation for learning and adaptation in school and in life, and there is clear evidence that they can be improved with practice. A brief overview of effective ways to support the healthy development of EF will be provided.

Talk 3: How do biology and experience contribute to executive function skills?

Kathleen M. Thomas, Professor of Child Psychology

Developments in executive function are supported by concurrent development of supportive brain networks.  Professor Kathleen Thomas will review the cognitive neuroscience literature identifying brain networks that support executive function and evidence for the development of these networks in childhood and adolescence. She will discuss recent data from studies demonstrating altered executive functioning in children and adolescents who have experienced adverse early life experiences, including prematurity, deprivation, or childhood maltreatment.

Talk 4: What can be done to improve executive function skills?

Stephanie Carlson, Professor of Child Psychology

In the absence of intervention, children with low executive function skills tend to continue to lag behind their peers throughout life. Professor Stephanie Carlson will describe recent research and programs suggesting "what works" to improve these foundational skills and address the achievement gap beginning in early childhood.

Talk 5: Mathematics: What does executive function have to do with it?

Michèle Mazzocco, Professor of Child Psychology

An understanding of executive function is relevant to current efforts to improve students' mathematics achievement. Professor Michèle Mazzocco will discuss research findings on the role of executive function skills in learning and doing mathematics, and why some children who have mathematics learning difficulties experience greater executive function demands during mathematics problem solving than their peers.

Closing Remarks

Ann Masten, Regents Professor of Child Psychology

Small Group Discussions

Throughout the program, attendees will participate in small group discussions facilitated by Institute of Child Development faculty and students.