This article was written by Madeline Harris. She is a graduate of Queen’s University with a degree in Psychology and English. She is actively pursuing a career in neuroscience and excited to be a part of the Brain Power Initiative.
Future academic success can be determined by a firm understanding of the basic concepts of mathematics at a very young age, say Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Buffalo.1* This success is apparent not only in later mathematics performance, but also in subjects across the board including science and reading. However, many children throughout the world do not experience the degree of early education necessary to start this advancement process.
Children as young as three years have the potential to learn mathematics that is both “deep and broad”.1 Without the proper type of educational intervention, children who enter a classroom with less experience than their peers will continue to underperform by comparison. But according to Clements and Sarama, structured, research-based training has shown to be effective in increasing mathematical knowledge and bridging this gap. In other words, children who enter a classroom at a lower academic level owing to a lack of learning opportunities in their early years are not necessarily destined to perpetuate this trend.
Key features of these supported research-based programs include the proper training and education of teachers,2 using familiar concepts and activities involving numbers as a foundation upon which to build,3 and assessing a child’s current mathematic abilities to identify an appropriate starting point.4 This means that teachers will introduce concepts such as quantity comparison and change using objects like blocks and puzzles with which children are already comfortable.
One of Clements and Sarama’s programs is called Building Blocks. In a 2007 study, children educated with the Building Blocks curriculum significantly outperformed children who were educated with a more traditional curriculum after 25 weeks of instruction.5 While the average pre-test scores for the traditional group and the Building Blocks group were similar, 8.44 and 9.67 respectively, the average post-test scores were 17.93 versus 29.46, a highly significant difference.
In addition to providing equal learning opportunities for children with different levels of experience, this training may also be effective in improving the potential negative effects of some teachers’ low expectations of children who typically underperform.6 With the research-based training, teachers are better able to observe the individual strengths of children and assess how to aid them in their continued academic growth.
As supported by the research above, teaching children mathematics should be less about “drilling basic facts” and more about building strong foundations at an early age that will better equip children for future academic growth.1 If this method of teaching is set forth, children will have the opportunity to succeed in learning key mathematical concepts no matter what their prior experience.
1. Clements DH, et al., Early Childhood Mathematics Intervention. Science 333, 968 (2011).
2. National Research Council, Mathematics in Early Childhood: Learning Paths Toward Excellence and Equity. Cross CT, Woods TA, Schwingruber H (eds.) (National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2009.)
3. Clements DH, Sarama J. J Res Math Educ 38, 136 (2007).
4. Sarama J, Clements DH, Starkey P, Klein A, Wakeley A. J Res Educ Eff. 1, 89 (2008).
5. Clements DH, Sarama J. Effects of a Preschool Mathematics Curriculum: Summative Research on the Building Blocks Program. J Res Math Educ. 38(2), 136-163 (2007).
6. National Mathematics Advisory Panel, Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (US Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Washington, DC, 2008).