The study takes place in two urban public school districts, 42 schools (26 intervention schools and 16 comparison schools), and 106 classes (72 intervention classes and 34 comparison classes).
The sample is predominately African American (53%), with 22% Hispanic, 19% non-Hispanic White, and 4% Asian/Pacific Islander children. About 49% of the sample is male, and 51% is female. The average percent of students eligible for free/reduced lunch in the sample schools is 85%, and the average percentage of students of limited English proficiency is 14%.
The Building Blocks curriculum was implemented in year 2 of the study. Year 1 of the study involved teacher professional development and teachers were encouraged to try to incorporate Building Blocks curriculum components in year 1.
The Building Blocks approach develops mathematics from children's experiences and interests; they are guided to extend from everyday activities such as block building and puzzles. Building Blocks helps teachers understand children's developmental progressions (learning trajectories) and connects these progressions to instructional tasks. Topics covered by the Building Blocks curriculum include communicating, reasoning, representing, problem solving, number and shape composition, and patterning.
Both districts focused more on mathematics during the study period, and both implemented new programs. One district implemented Where Bright Futures Begin, with a mathematics component that had specific number learning and measurement goals. Topics including counting, recognizing numbers and shapes, measurement, patterning, and graphing. Mathematics materials included concept cards, counters, and cubes, and mathematics was primarily taught during small group time. The second district implemented Opening the World of Learning, with topics such as number concepts, one-to-one correspondence, geometry, and measurement. Teachers were provided professional development in approximately six sessions over two years. Three teachers in the comparison condition mentioned combining curriculums with DLM Early Childhood Express; the mathematics component was an earlier version of the Building Blocks curriculum, so there was potentially some contamination. There was also the possibility of spillover in the first district, with the district holding internal summer training sessions for teachers (some of whom were in the comparison condition) on the Building Blocks curriculum.
Support for implementation
Teachers in the Building Blocks condition received 8 days of professional development in year 1 and an additional 5 days of professional development in year 2. Professional development included viewing, analyzing, and discussing video enactments of instructional tasks. During professional development sessions, teachers practiced interpreting children's thinking and choosing appropriate instructional tasks for the class. In addition, teachers had mentors who observed and supported implementation, visiting classrooms about twice per month. Intervention teachers were evaluated on the fidelity of their implementation of the Building Blocks. However, it is not clear whether any follow-up with teachers occurred on the basis of the evaluations.