Public Release: 

$1 Million NSF Grant Funds Development Of Math Curriculum For Young Children

University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Researchers at the University at Buffalo and Wayne State University have received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a comprehensive early-childhood math curriculum for use in homes, daycare centers and classrooms.

The four-year project, titled "Building Blocks: Foundations for Mathematical Thinking, Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 2," will be directed at UB by Douglas E. Clements, Ph.D., professor of learning and instruction in the university's Graduate School of Education and a national figure in mathematics-education reform. Julie Sarama, assistant professor of education at Wayne State, will direct the project there.

"Our goal," said Clements, "is to produce a developmentally appropriate program for young children that will reflect the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which is revising its standards to include preschoolers." Research will take place among students at many schools and early-childhood research centers, including those located at UB, Wayne State and the NSF.

The project will develop activity models that use children's interests and everyday activities, such as art, songs, puzzles and games, as springboards to construct cognitive building blocks with which to extend and support the development of mathematical activity. This process, which educators call "mathematization," uses children's play as the foundation for building mathematical objects and actions.

Clements said that at this time, it is very difficult to find quality math-education material for young children. The goal of the project is to research and develop such materials to enable all young children to build solid content knowledge and develop higher-order thinking.

"The curriculum materials will be designed for home, daycare and classroom environments, and for their appeal to children from different backgrounds with interests and ability levels," he said. "They will also involve various levels of complexity and difficulty to allow users to progress more deeply into the subject matter.

"The children will be able to reach increasingly rich, but demanding levels of math ability, and the adults working with them will be helped to employ complex instructional skills," Clements said.

He added that once the curriculum is available, "its concepts will be able to be applied immediately, not only by practitioners -- parents, teachers and teacher educators -- but by administrators, policy makers and curriculum and software developers.

The project has substantial potential as a tool of educational reform, said Clements, because it will produce both original research and practical teaching materials.

"It will help researchers in that our results will guide the development of math curricula for young children that will be produced in many places for years to come," he said. "But beyond that, the results of our work here will help teachers to teach and children to learn in both home and school settings."

Once resources are identified or designed, they will be field tested at many schools and early-childhood centers. During the tests, project staff will conduct extensive classroom observations and collect feedback from teachers and students. These observations, coupled with concurrent research on the students' understanding of certain mathematical concepts, will inform the revision process.

Clements said the materials developed and organized into curriculum models will emphasize the development of basic mathematical building blocks (i.e., ways of knowing the world mathematically) into two areas based on considerable research in this domain. The areas are spatial and geometric competencies and concepts, and numeric and quantitative concepts. These two basic building blocks are not, he emphasized, elementary-school topics "pushed down" to younger ages, but developmentally appropriate domains.

Clements is also an educational consultant and the author of hundreds of journal articles, textbooks, computer-software editions, book chapters and published curriculum materials on early-childhood math education. He serves on the editorial boards of several noted education journals, and is in demand as a speaker by educational and teaching organizations throughout the country.

His books include "Teaching Elementary School Mathematics" (1996), Computers in Elementary Mathematics Education" (1989), "Coping With Computers in the Elementary and Middle School" (1985) and "Computers in Early and Primary Education" (1985).

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