UD researcher receives grant to implement early math learning intervention
Nancy Jordan, University of Delaware professor in the School of Education
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9:35 a.m., Jan. 20, 2009----Nancy C. Jordan, professor in the University of Delaware's School of Education, has received a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to address the development of number sense in children at risk for mathematics learning difficulties.

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Jordan has been conducting research on the general subject of math learning difficulties for the past decade. The new grant will enable her and colleague Joseph Glutting, also a professor in the School of Education, to develop and test a number sense intervention in kindergartners from low-income families.

“In a previous project, we discovered that number competence, or number sense, is an important foundation for math in elementary school and that it predicts success or failure,” Jordan says. “The specific aspects of number sense that emerged as key included counting facility; understanding of numerical magnitudes, or the ability to compare quantities; and the ability to carry out simple arithmetic operations.”

She adds, “Kindergarten number competence predicts mathematical achievement through at least third grade even when we control for IQ and social class. We've found that children from low-income families are four times more likely than those from middle-income families to show weak growth on verbal number tasks during kindergarten. We believe, however, that key number competencies can be taught and learned.”

In the new project, randomized trials will be used to test math performance and growth in children divided into three groups -- one group to receive the newly designed number sense intervention, a second group to undergo a vocabulary-based intervention, and a third group exposed to traditional classroom activities.

The program is currently undergoing pilot testing in two Christina District schools in the city of Wilmington, Stubbs and Bancroft.

“We want to intervene with children in kindergarten, a stage where we know that number competencies can be identified and taught,” Jordan says, “so that they will come to first grade ready to learn. We want them to have the foundation to learn first- grade math so they can avoid the cascade of math failure that often results when children fall behind.”

According to Jordan, there is a lot of interest in mathematics learning, as it has not been studied as extensively as reading education. “We now know a lot about teaching early literacy,” Jordan says, “but state math test scores for third- graders indicate that many kids in low-income urban areas are not faring well in math. We don't want to wait until they start failing to help them.”

“Early childhood education is a stated priority for President Barack Obama,” Jordan says. “So we're right in line with an important area of focus for the new administration.”

Article by Diane Kukich

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