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IES Grant

Title: Exploring the Roles of Pattern and Spatial Skills in Early Mathematics Development
Center: NCER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Rittle-Johnson, Bethany Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2016-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $937,408.14
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305A160132
Description:

Purpose: The purpose of this research is to explore how two important but often overlooked skills—pattern and spatial skills—uniquely contribute to prekindergarten students' early mathematics development. Pattern skills include identifying, extending, and describing predictable sequences in objects or numbers. Spatial skills include spatial visualization (i.e., the ability to imagine and mentally transform spatial information) and visual-spatial working memory (i.e., the ability to hold the locations of different objects, landmarks, etc. in working memory). The aims of this study are to (1) explore the concurrent and predictive relations between pattern skills, spatial skills, and math knowledge in prekindergarten, (2) contrast the promise of improving math knowledge from pattern versus spatial training, and (3) determine if there are crossover effects between the trainings (e.g., if pattern training improves spatial skills). The timing of this research is critical to informing efforts to revise and implement the Common Core State Standards, which do not include pattern or spatial skills as key content standards at any grade level.

Project Activities: In Year 1, the research team will conduct a longitudinal study to explore the concurrent and predictive relations between pattern skills, spatial skills, and math knowledge in prekindergarten. In Year 2, the research team will conduct a training study that contrasts pattern and spatial training to examine each type of training's effects on math knowledge and on the development of pattern and spatial skills. In Year 3, the research team will analyze the data and disseminate the results.

Products: The research team will provide preliminary evidence of the contributions of pattern and spatial skills to early mathematics development and produce peer reviewed publications.

Project Video:

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in public and private prekindergarten programs in an urban area in Tennessee.

Sample: Study participants include approximately 350 four- and five-year-old children from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and who are racially and ethnically diverse.

Intervention: Due to the exploratory nature of this research, there is no intervention. The research team will study pattern and spatial skills as potential malleable factors. The findings from this research could lead to the development of an intervention and/or the identification of potentially promising interventions to improve math achievement.

Research Design and Methods: Study 1 will explore the concurrent and predictive relations between pattern skills, spatial skills and math knowledge in prekindergarten. Using a longitudinal design, researchers will assess children's pattern and spatial skills and math knowledge near the beginning of prekindergarten, and their math knowledge again near the end of prekindergarten. Study 2 will contrast the promise of improving math knowledge from pattern versus spatial training, as well as the crossover effects between pattern and spatial training (e.g., if pattern training improves spatial skills). Researchers will randomly assign children to pattern, spatial or literacy training, with literacy training serving as an active control condition. The research team will provide training in small groups of two to three students across four sessions, two per week over two weeks. Researchers will assess children's pattern, spatial and math skills before and after training.

Control Condition: Study 1 does not include a control condition. Study 2 includes an active control condition where students will be provided with literacy training.

Key Measures: Primary measures include researcher-developed assessments of students' pattern knowledge (both visual and sound patterns), the Developmental Test of Visual Perception, the Children's Spatial Transformation task, the Corsi Block task, and the Research-Based Early Mathematics Assessment (REMA)-Short form. In addition, the research team will measure students' general cognitive skills, for use as control variables in analyses, using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Digit Span subtest of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Third Edition.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will use hierarchical regression models in Study 1 to explore whether pattern and spatial skills are independent predictors of mathematics knowledge at the beginning and end of prekindergarten, after controlling for a number of other cognitive skills and demographic characteristics. Researchers will use multi-level models in Study 2 to test the effect of training condition on each outcome measure (math, pattern and spatial skills), controlling for pretest measures, with treatment condition at level 2. Researchers will include demographic and pretest measures at level 1 as covariates.


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