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Ed-tech tools boost early learners’ math skills

PBS KIDS digital supplements help early learners develop math building blocks

early-learnersNew research indicates that a technology-supported curriculum can help early learners better absorb STEM subjects, setting up at-risk early learners for more academic success down the road.

A new report reveals a significant gain in math skills among four- and five-year-olds who used the PBS KIDS Transmedia Math Supplement over a 10-week period improved their math learning significantly compared to a control group.

The math supplement includes videos, digital games, interactive whiteboards, laptops, teacher support, and hands-on math materials.

(Follow on Twitter using the hashtag #eSNSTEM. Next page: The early learning study’s results)

Early learners receiving the supplemental math support “improved significantly in their understanding of the targeted early mathematics skills–counting, number recognition, shapes, and patterns,” according to the 2013 Ready To Learn study.

Those early learners scored higher on a supplement-based assessment, and those scores would lead to a 9 percent increase in percentile rank over students who did not receive the supplemental math.

The study sampled 92 New York City and San Francisco classrooms and is co-authored by the Education Development Center’s (EDC) Shelley Pasnik, vice president and director of the Center for Children and Technology, and Carlin Llorente, senior research social scientist in SRI’s Center for Technology in Learning. The study was commissioned by the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn initiative to evaluate math learning via interactive media.

“Some of the early research that has been done suggests that math is a better predictor of later academic success than literacy. These early building blocks are important,” said Pasnik. “Children living in traditionally under-resourced communities were able to build foundational math skills when given necessary supports—in this case engaging digital content, opportunities to practice both on and away from screens, and knowledgeable adults—leaving them better prepared for kindergarten.”

It points to research supporting the need for early learning math curricula and notes that many math programs for young children, particularly those in low-income areas, don’t necessarily address children’s needs.

The study also notes that ongoing professional development is critical for teachers, and this continuous support also impacts student learning.

Teachers are best able to help early learners use digital tools, because teachers can provide guidance, feedback, and encouragement as they help students collaborate and learn.

Early learners in need of academic support can greatly benefit from digital transmedia, because digital tools can improve learning outcomes and help lay the foundation for successful future learning in at-risk early learners.

“Although early mathematics achievement has been widely recognized as a strong predictor of later school achievement, many preschool teachers have received limited training when it comes to supporting mathematics,” said Llorente. “This study’s positive findings are the direct result of giving teachers resources that support the vital role they play in orchestrating children’s learning experiences with media.”

“When media and technology are integrated into preschool settings in thoughtful and deliberate ways, they have the potential to help close the persistent achievement gap,” the authors note, referencing supporting studies and research.

The study also outlined a number of future research needs:

  • Early learning math assessments: Early mathematics assessment is a developing area, and assessments will be needed to support this area
  • Professional learning: Professional development and coaching in early learning environments should be studied to determine which professional development approaches are best suited for teachers working with at-risk early learners
  • Digital media’s alignment with a range of skills: More research may be useful regarding how video and digital games align with early learners’ play and how they might support early learners’ understanding of key concepts

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