Why Math Might Be The Secret To School Success
December 09, 2014
Since last year, more than 30 states have expanded access to preschool. But there’s still a lack of evidence about exactly what kinds of interventions are most effective in those crucial early years.
preschool students are jumping as they count, to get the feeling of the numbers into their bodies — a concept called “embodied cognition.”
The study is funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, which is dedicated to ending poverty in New York. Pamela Morris, with research group MDRC, is the lead investigator.
There’s plenty of evidence on the long-term importance of preschool. But why math? Morris says a 2013 study by Greg Duncan, at the University of California, Irvine’s School of Education, showed that math knowledge at the beginning of elementary school was the single most powerful predictor determining whether a student would graduate from high school and attend college.
University of Denver professor Doug Clements is the creator of Building Blocks, the math curriculum being tested in this new study. Building Blocks is designed to be just the opposite: engaging, exciting and loud. “We want kids running around the classroom and bumping into mathematics at every turn.”
they observe correctly that a geometric shape must be a “closed figure” and that a square is “a special rectangle.”
“How do you know it’s a circle?” asks the teacher. “Because it goes round and round,” says one girl with a bear barrette in her hair.
When Ms. Conigliaro asks, “How do you know?” she’s asking the kids to think about their own thinking. That’s a skill called metacognition. Explaining your reasoning out loud also develops verbal ability.
computer games matched to Building Blocks that keep track of each student’s progress. And two children play a game called Number Match (“Is three more than two? How do you know?”) as a teacher watches. The teacher is keeping notes of each child’s level of understanding. The idea of developmental paths, or “trajectories of understanding,” is a core concept in Building Blocks.
Morris is curious whether working on math will enhance the children’s ability to self-regulate, inhibit impulses, pay attention appropriately and hold important concepts in working memory. This is a group of skills known as executive functioning. For example, if the teacher says “clap and count to five,” will you be able to stop clapping before you get to six?