UMD Researcher Awarded $1.8M to Develop Innovative Methods to Teach Foundational Math Skills

UMD Researcher Awarded $1.8M to Develop Innovative Methods to Teach Foundational Math Skills

Kelly S. Mix, Ph.D., chair and professor at the University of Maryland College of Education, received a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop innovative methods to teach children place value concepts. The four-year award supports research to develop an effective way to teach kindergarten and first grade students this important foundational math concept.

“Understanding place value concepts is one of the most important mathematic skills for elementary school students to attain,” said Mix, chair of the Department of HumanDevelopment and Quantitative Methodology.Kelly Mix, chair of the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology 

“Past research demonstrates that children who have a weak mastery of place value struggle with achievement in math throughout elementary and middle school.”

Mix, along with co-awardee Linda Smith, Ph.D., professor at Indiana University Bloomington, will develop and evaluate educational materials that take a novel approach to teaching young children place value concepts. This approach leverages principles from cognitive science to help children better align the structures in place value symbols, which should ultimately lead to deeper understanding of these concepts.

Place value works by representing units and counts; each place (i.e. the spatial position of digits) represents a base-10 unit (ones, tens, hundreds, etc.). The researchers will design and test educational materials that help students to understand not just that a two-digit number is smaller than a three-digit number, but also, for example, that the number 42 is equivalent to four tens and two ones—its base-10 syntax.

“By making base-10 syntax explicit to children when teaching place value, our expectation is that children will be better prepared to attempt advanced calculations,” Mix said.

In a series of three studies, researchers will recruit more than 700 K-2 students and provide them with instructional materials and activities that teach them to understand the relationship between written numbers (i.e. 22), number names (i.e. twenty-two) and physical quantities (such as 22 rocks), as represented in Figure 1. These experiments will help assess the effectiveness of this method in teaching young children place value concepts and on overall math achievement.
Figure 1
Based on the results of these studies, the researchers will refine and make available free, teacher-friendly instructional materials to educators.

Mix, a former elementary school teacher, focuses her research on the development of mathematical cognition and number concepts in young children.

September 30, 2016


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