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FY Awards

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Increasing the Efficacy of An Early Mathematics Curriculum with Scaffolding Designed to Promote Self-Regulation

Year: 2008
Name of Institution:
University of Denver
Goal: Efficacy and Replication
Principal Investigator:
Clements, Douglas
Award Amount: $4,541,974
Award Period: 4 years
Award Number: R305A080700


Co-Principal Investigator: Julia Sarama

Purpose: Preschoolers who live in poverty typically show lower math achievement and often are identified as having greater problems with self-regulation than their middle-class peers. Focused prekindergarten interventions can result in dramatic increases in both mathematics achievement and self-regulation. Unfortunately, there is little research regarding whether such approaches can be combined effectively in the classroom. The purpose of this project is to examine the efficacy of a preschool intervention that combines mathematics learning and self-regulation skills.

Project Activities: The research team is evaluating a synthesized version of two theoretically and empirically grounded interventions: Building Blocks (Clements & Sarama), a research-based early childhood mathematics curriculum, and the Scaffolding Self-Regulation component of Tools of the Mind (Bodrova & Leong), which utilizes specific pedagogical strategies designed to improve young children’s self-regulation competencies and academic achievement. The research team is randomly assigning 120 preschool teachers and their classrooms to one of three conditions: Building Blocks, Building Blocks with Self-Regulation, and a control group.

Products: Products from this project include published reports on the efficacy of combining mathematics and self-regulation interventions to increase mathematics achievement, as well as cognitive and socioemotional self-regulation skills, among low-income preschoolers.

Structured Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to conduct an efficacy trial of an intervention that combines mathematics learning and self-regulation skills.

Setting: The schools are located in a large urban center in California.

Population: The participants include 120 preschool teachers and 10 children from each of their classrooms. The participating programs serve low-income families; for example, all families are on free or reduced lunch and report earning below 75 percent of California's median income. Most are Hispanic.

Intervention: The research team is synthesizing two theoretically and empirically grounded interventions. First, the NSF- and IES-supported Building Blocks (Clements & Sarama) mathematics curriculum includes whole- and small-group activities and games; free-choice learning centers; ideas integrating mathematics in everyday activities throughout the school day; computer software; and books, game sheets, and manipulatives. Second, the Scaffolding Self-Regulation component from Tools of the Mind (Bodrova & Leong) emphasizes intentional dramatic play as the primary social context in which children can practice self-regulatory behaviors. Scaffolding self-regulation in non-play activities is accomplished by redesigning the social context for these activities as well as by teaching children to use specific “tools” that assist them in taking control of their behaviors.

Research Design and Methods: The research team is randomly assigning classrooms to one of three conditions: Building Blocks, Building Blocks with Scaffolding Self-Regulation, and a control group. All classrooms in these conditions use DLM Express, a theme-based, comprehensive (full-day) preschool curriculum. The mathematics and self-regulation interventions will be implemented in addition to DLM Express.

Control Condition: The control group is using DLM Express, a comprehensive preschool curriculum, without the Building Blocks or Scaffolding Self-Regulation components.

Key Measures: The research team is using two observational instruments (Fidelity of Implementation and Classroom Observation of Early Mathematics—Environment and Teaching) to examine change in mathematics pedagogy in the participating classrooms. Children’s mathematical knowledge and skills are being assessed using the Early Mathematics Assessment. To examine self-regulation, the research team is using global measures (two for cognitive self-regulation and one for social-emotional) similar to those used in prior studies of executive function and academic achievement in preschoolers.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team is employing hierarchical linear modeling to measure and examine the effects of the intervention on individual students’ mathematics performance trajectories and to account for possible variations of the effects in different classroom settings. Teacher questionnaires and coach/mentor reports in treatment classrooms will be used to inform these student-level data, indicating whether teachers’ commitment to the curriculum, and classroom performance in teaching, is related to student outcomes.



Clements, D.H., and Sarama, J. (2014). Learning and Teaching Early Math: The Learning Trajectories Approach. Routledge.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Clements, D.H., Sarama, J., and Germeroth, C. (2016). Learning Executive Function and Early Mathematics: Directions of Causal Relations. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 79–90.

Clements, D.H., and Sarama, J. (2016). Math, Science, and Technology in the Early Grades. The Future of Children, 26(2), 75–94.