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Stanford-led collaborative to grow efforts to improve mathematics teaching and learning in the early years

June 30, 2016
By Jonathan Rabinovitz
Deborah Stipek is chair of a network of researchers from 10 universities collaborating to promote better math instruction for young children.
$5 million grant will support continued work of the Development and Research in Early Mathematics Education (DREME) Network

Leading scholars in math education for young children are announcing today a set of initiatives to identify more effective teaching practices, develop teacher-training resources, and provide free instructional materials for parents and early childcare providers to promote math learning during the preschool years.

The effort by the Development and Research in Early Mathematics Education (DREME) Network, which is based at Stanford Graduate School of Education, will be funded by a $5 million grant that the Heising-Simons Foundation awarded on June 2. The foundation had previously provided more than $3 million to help start the group, which was established in 2014.

The project is driven by recent findings showing that early math skills are a strong predictor of later academic success, not only in math but also in other domains. “Children with low math skills at school entry—who disproportionally come from low income families and are children of color—typically continue to lag behind their better prepared peers throughout school,” said Deborah Stipek, DREME’s chair and Judy Koch Professor of Education at Stanford. “Any serious effort to close the achievement gap clearly needs to target the development of math skills in the early years.”

While early math research to date has yielded important insights, much more remains to be learned. DREME, which consists of scholars from 10 universities and a variety of disciplines, now aims to expand and deepen the work that was begun during its first phase and disseminate findings and resources among other researchers, policy-makers, professional development educators, teachers, early childcare providers and parents.

“The foundation for later learning is laid in the early years of life,” said Liz Simons, chair of the board of the Heising-Simons Foundation. “If we can excite children about math when they are young and engage them in developmentally appropriate math learning opportunities, we can reduce the huge achievement gap that is now present when children enter kindergarten, and set them on a path for learning for the rest of their lives.”

Members of the DREME Network collaborate across four projects that address high-priority early math topics:

  • The Math and Executive Functions project is closely examining the known association between math and executive function skills (which include the ability to maintain attention during a task and the flexibility to consider multiple perspectives when solving a problem). The ultimate goal of the project is to develop instructional materials and identify teaching practices that simultaneously promote the development of children’s mathematical thinking and executive functions.

  • The Parent and Early Caregiver Engagement in Math project is developing and testing books, games and activities designed to maximize high-quality math interactions with preschool children. The project aims to produce resources and knowledge that parents and early caregiver providers can use to promote math learning among young children.

  • The Preschool Through Elementary School Coherence project is investigating efforts to create policy alignment and curricular coherence in mathematics from preschool through grade 2. The ultimate goal of the project is to identify policies and practices that are associated with high-quality, continuous math education from preK through the early primary grades. 

  • The Teacher Educator Professional Development project is creating a set of professional development modules to support the training of prospective and practicing preschool teachers. In order to prepare children for the demanding math instruction they will encounter in elementary school, preschool teachers need training and support. The professional development modules are designed to help teachers access an expanded toolbox of effective instructional strategies to engage preschoolers around math.

“Math has been given much less attention in research and in practice than literacy has because we know that children who don’t learn to read struggle in school,” said Stipek. “But recently we have learned that children who have low math skills rarely catch up and are less likely to finish high school or attend college. If we can provide a really good foundation in math in the early years, then we may be able to grow student success and the number of women and people of color who pursue science and technology careers.”

According to Graciela Borsato, DREME Network director, the group allocates a significant portion of its funds to support graduate students’ and postdoctoral fellows’ studies. DREME also seeks to attract established elementary education, child development, and policy researchers to expand their work to include math teaching and learning in the early years. Borsato added that the group introduced its website earlier this month and that later this year it will begin posting lessons, training modules for teachers, tips and other resources.

In addition to Stipek, DREME includes the following members: Amy Claessens and Susan Levine of University of Chicago, Douglas Clements of University of Denver, Cynthia Coburn of Northwestern University, Eric Dearing of Boston College, Dale Farran of Vanderbilt University, Megan Franke of UCLA, Herbert Ginsburg of Columbia University, Michele Mazzocco of University of Minnesota, and Deborah Phillips of Georgetown University