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Explore past and current fundamental STEM education research projects across the three research areas that NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program funds, as well as across ECR funding types. Other search filters draw from both NSF's data and the ECR Hub's hand coding of award abstracts.

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Promoting Math Skills through Playful Communication in the Home Environment

Effective Years: 2023-2026

Having a strong foundation in early mathematical knowledge is of critical importance for children’s later mathematical achievement and moving forward in STEM fields. One context for promoting early mathematical development is the home environment. Informal activities and interactions with adults can provide children with extensive mathematical information through the communication about math that families provide to their young children. Additionally, numerous factors can influence children’s early math-related experiences at home. For example, parents’ mindsets and beliefs about child development can impact how frequently they engage in math-related activities with their children. The goal of the project is to examine the benefits of parent-focused math-related communication trainings to improve children’s math skills. The focus of the research is on families from lower-income backgrounds because children from higher-income households consistently outperform their peers from lower-income households in mathematics, even as early as preschool. The family trainings will build on the strengths of families by enhancing the math-related talk and gestures that families use during their daily routines and play with their children. Findings from the research will provide insight into whether and how math-related communication at home can promote learning and will produce low-cost tools to benefit early mathematical development for young children.

The proposed study will examine the benefits of math-related communication trainings with low-income families from diverse backgrounds (n = 300). The central aims are to examine: 1) whether home-based trainings over a 3-month period that focus on the benefits of math communication (with and without gesture) will promote the math talk and gestures used by parents and their preschool-age children; 2) whether the home-based trainings improve preschool children’s math skills and whether these improvements are stable 3 months later; 3) whether the effects of the math communication trainings differ for families where parents hold different mindsets about the malleability of math skills. In the study, families will receive one of three trainings that focus on promoting both math-related talk and gestures, math-related talk only, or talk during play. The first two trainings will provide families with tools and information through a video and materials for incorporating math communication into play and daily activities with their children. The changes in math talk and gesture use for parents and children over the 3-month intervention period will be examined during parent-child interactions. Children’s early math skills also will be assessed prior to the training, after the 3-month intervention period, and again in a 3-month delayed posttest. Moreover, an individual differences approach will be taken to determine whether the effectiveness of the trainings differs for parents (and children of parents) who hold varied mindsets about the malleability of math skills. Overall, this research will advance knowledge by enhancing the mathematical engagement of families in the home environment to improve the mathematical knowledge of young children, and by examining the benefits of resources for parents to help incorporate math talk and gestures into their play and routine activities with their children.

This project is supported by NSF’s EDU Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad, and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.