University researchers aim to improve early learning in STEM

“Fast but fully informative assessments help teachers really know their students, and support their use of the powerful teaching strategy of ‘formative assessment’ or individualizing learning,” says Clements.

The second NSF grant is for $3 million to combine their work on the Building Blocks math curriculum with that of colleagues in other fields, called the Connect4Learning interdisciplinary curriculum. This curriculum will connect four basic domains of learning. In addition to mathematics, the grant includes experts in science (Kimberly Brenneman, Rutgers University), literacy/language (Nell Duke, Michigan State University) and social-emotional development (M. L. Hemmeter, Vanderbilt University).

“Early childhood is full of debates about subject matter, with arguments arising about new emphases on mathematics taking too much time away from literacy,” says Sarama, principal investigator in this study. “Science is rarely mentioned. Further, there is little research on whether an emphasis in one area necessarily means less emphasis in others, or whether they can be combined each to the benefit of others.

“We believe the latter, and believe our Connect4Learning curriculum will encourage all children to develop their full potential in all four areas — a potential that is greater than often realized.”

In the end, the principle behind Clements’ and Sarama’s work is simple, but profound. It all revolves around why early learning is so important.

“Research from educators and economists agree,” Sarama says. “The most beneficial time to enhance children’s learning is the earliest years. The main goal of all our work is to contribute to this critical foundation of early learning.”

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