Featured Early Childhood Education Projects

As part of our Spotlight on Early Childhood Education, 14 DRK-12 projects describe their work in early learning and share their challenges, findings, instruments, and products.

Featured Projects:

Building a Grades K-2 Early Algebra Learning Progression Prototype for Diverse Populations

PI: Maria Blanton
Target Audience: Students in Grades K – 2

Disciplines/Subject Areas:
Mathematics/early algebraic thinking

Project Description: We developed a Grades K–2 early algebra intervention along with grade-level assessments to measure students’ learning from the intervention. We focused particularly on understanding how our intervention’s design might support marginalized learners, including students with learning differences and students from economically and racially diverse communities. In this, we explored how a concrete-to-visual-to-abstract development of concepts, along with different instructional strategies and tools, helped shape students’ algebraic thinking. As an example, we considered how physical tools such as number balances or cubes helped students reason about mathematical relationships regarding their understanding of equivalence and properties of operations. Our innovation provides a critical roadmap by which teachers can develop children’s algebraic thinking in early elementary grades. Given algebra’s role as a gatekeeper to students’ success in STEM-related disciplines, research-based models for algebra education in the elementary grades are vital to increasing all students’ success in algebra and access to STEM learning.

Initial Findings: As with similar research we have conducted in Grades 3–5, we are finding that young children from academically, socially, and racially diverse backgrounds can successfully engage with the early algebraic concepts that underpin formal algebra. In particular, our analyses of students’ tool use have revealed important ways in which tools can mediate students’ understandings of the equal sign as a relational symbol (Stephens et al., in press) as well as students’ abilities to represent what they notice about the structure of even and odd numbers and how they generalize relationships for this class of numbers (Strachota, under review). This includes, for example, findings that balance scales helped students invoke the idea of balance in their work with equations and often supported them in reconsidering and successfully interpreting unfamiliar equation forms. We have also found that concrete and visual representations helped students recognize and represent the structure underlying even and odd numbers and develop representation-based arguments about relationships on sums of evens and odds. Both of these findings point to the potential for all students to successfully engage in core early algebraic concepts and practices in ways that can support their formal study of algebra in later grades.

Instruments:Through this and a related project, we developed and validated our own grade-level assessments to measure students’ learning as they advanced through the intervention. Assessments were interview-based due to the age of participants. Because there were no existing validated assessments for Grades K – 2 to measure children’s early algebraic thinking, we developed our own measures (available upon request). The reliability and validity of the assessments were estimated in several ways. The assessments performed well with respect to measures of internal consistency, with items in earlier iterations of the assessment being revised or removed as needed. Furthermore, an expert panel reviewed and rated each item for difficulty, and these ratings were found to correlate with actual difficulty, providing a measure of criterion validity.

Key Challenge: We see two core challenges in implementing this type of work—that is, the design and testing, including large-scale testing, of early algebra interventions. First, ultimately interventions need to be teacher-led, yet teachers in elementary grades often have not received adequate professional development to implement such interventions, due in part to limited access to the kinds of opportunities that will prepare them to build classrooms that foster deep early algebraic thinking. The lack of professional development around early algebra instruction is not only a challenge for conducting research on teacher-led interventions, but also for the long-term sustainability of early algebra reforms beyond the research window. Second, while the assessments designed in this study were interview-based, this format poses challenges for scaling up our research to the large, randomized studies needed to examine the effectiveness of our intervention. Interview-based assessments also pose practical challenges for the classroom because they require extensive amounts of instructional time to implement. To address these challenges, in our future work our goal is to (1) develop accessible and usable tools by which teachers can improve their understanding of early algebra instruction in real time, and (2) develop digital (virtual) assessments that are appropriate for young learners and that can be used at scale. 


  • Stephens, A., Sung, Y., Strachota, S., Veltri Torres, R., Morton, K., Murphy Gardiner, A., Blanton, M., Knuth, E., & Stroud, R. (In press). The Role of Balance Scales in Supporting Productive Thinking about Equations Among Diverse Learners. Mathematical Thinking and Learning
  • Stephens, A., Sung, Y., Strachota, S., Veltri Torres, R., Morton, K., Murphy Gardiner, A., Blanton, M., Knuth, E., & Stroud, R. (2020). How do balance scales shape K–2 students’ understandings of equations? Poster to be presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, Washington, DC (Conference cancelled).
  • Strachota, S., Morton, K., Veltri-Torres, R. Stephens, A., Blanton, M., Gardiner A., Sung, Y., Stroud R., & Knuth, E. (under review). The Role of Tools in Supporting Students’ Generalizing About Even and Odd Numbers.

Publication of Early Algebra Intervention:

  • Blanton, M., Gardiner, A., Stephens, A., & Knuth, E. (in press). LEAP: Learning through an Early Algebra Progression – Grade K. Didax Publishers.
  • Blanton, M., Gardiner, A., Stephens, A., & Knuth, E. (in press). LEAP: Learning through an Early Algebra Progression – Grade 1. Didax Publishers.
  • Blanton, M., Gardiner, A., Stephens, A., & Knuth, E. (in press). LEAP: Learning through an Early Algebra Progression – Grade 2. Didax Publishers.

Articulating a Transformative Approach for Designing Tasks that Measure Young Learners' Developing Proficiencies in Integrated Science and Literacy (Collaborative Research)

PIs: Alison Billman, Christopher Harris, Daisy Rutstein
This project targets the primary grades with a special focus on first grade.
Target Audience: Science education researchers, science assessment developers and curriculum designers are likely the most interested audiences. Teachers and district leaders may be interested.

Disciplines/Subject Areas:
Science and literacy

Project Description: Through this collaboration, we developed the Next Generation Science Assessment for Young Scientists (NGSA-YS) Design Approach for creating robust and developmentally appropriate assessment tasks that measure young students’ proficiencies in integrated science and literacy. The NGSA-YS pays particular attention to the emphasis on the use of scientific language and literacy required by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), while also accounting for emerging language and literacy skills and abilities of early elementary students. To collect initial evidence of the approach, the team convened a panel of experts in young children’s science learning, literacy learning, and assessment to review the design approach and one assessment task that was produced via the approach. Cognitive interviews with first grade students were conducted with two of the developed tasks and provided evidence that both tasks were able to elicit science and literacy performances. Taken together, the evidence indicates the promise of the NGSA-YS approach.

Initial Findings: Evidence collected through expert review and cognitive interviews with first grade students verified that the design approach—with considerations of language and literacy explicitly incorporated into the process—provided a principled way to create robust and developmentally appropriate assessment tasks that integrate science and literacy. Furthermore, the tasks developed using the approach elicited both science and literacy performances. Though the work is still early and ongoing, the NGSA-YS design approach shows promise as a valuable means for addressing the thorny challenge of how to construct assessment tasks that can reliably measure early learners’ integrated science and literacy proficiency.

Key Challenge: Embarking on research with young children is challenging because they are still developing the language repertoire to articulate their ideas orally and in writing. This means any projects that rely on young children as informants require more intimate interactions with an adult to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data young children provide. The additional time burden means projects like ours are expensive and measurement design projects that aim to collect enough data to calculate validity and reliability data to provide psychometric information about assessments for young children are even more expensive.


  • Billman, A. K., Rutstein, D., & Harris, C. J. (in development). Articulating a Transformative Approach for Designing Tasks that Measure Young Learners' Developing Proficiencies in Integrated Science and Literacy. Redwood City, CA: WestEd. Available January 2021 from http://nextgenscienceassessment.org
  • Lawrence Hall of Science (2019). 1-LS1-2 Offspring survival task: Penguins. Berkeley, CA: Regents of the University of California.
  • Lawrence Hall of Science (2019). 1-LS3-1 Inheritance task: Cows. Berkeley, CA: Regents of the University of California.

Developing A Discourse Observation Tool and Online Professional Development to Promote Science, Oral Language and Literacy Development from the Start of School

PI: Tanya Wright
Target Audience: K-2 teachers and science coaches and the children in their classrooms.

Disciplines/Subject Areas: Science and literacy

Project Description: The ability to read, write, and communicate effectively about science is critical to school success, life-long learning, and participation in a global society. Yet, there is limited attention to science and disciplinary language and literacy in primary grades classrooms. In response to the ambitious goals for student learning set by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the high standards for disciplinary language and literacy the ELA standards, science instruction in K-2 classrooms will need to change. The SOLID Start project (Science, Oral Language, and Literacy Development from the Start of School) develops professional development opportunities for K-2 teachers that integrate science and literacy. The project also develops standards-based, integrated science and disciplinary language and literacy curriculum materials designed for K-2 children.

Initial Findings: 

  • After our initial rounds of developing and pilot testing our curriculum units, we conducted a quasi-experimental study where we found that students in classrooms where teachers who used our curriculum units had statistically significant improved science sensemaking outcomes – for example they were better able to support claims with evidence – than students in classrooms where teachers did not use these units. In addition, we found that students had improved literacy outcomes in terms of receptive and expressive language use. However, even with these educative curriculum materials, teachers still found it challenging to support synthesis conversations in their classrooms.
  • K-2 teachers need to engage in talk that supports (1) equitable student engagement and participation in science, (2) deepening of science understanding within and across activities, and (3) talk that develops language and literacy for science. Coaches and teachers are able to use a formative observational tool (see description below) that we have developed to guide coaching conversations around these domains.

Instruments: Because sensemaking science talk is uncommon in early elementary classrooms, we developed and validated the SOLID Start formative observation tool that measures the quality of science classroom discourse. The purpose of this tool is to enable teachers and coaches to develop a shared understanding of what constitutes sensemaking science talk in K-2 classrooms. In addition, the tool guides reflection and coaching for teachers as they work on shifting the nature of discourse in their classroom.

The SOLID Start formative observation tool, which is based on a systematic literature review, focuses on three dimensions of ambitious science talk: 1) talk supporting students’ equitable science participation and engagement; (2) talk supporting deepening of science understanding within and across activities; (3) talk supporting science language and literacy development (i.e., disciplinary literacies). Teachers and coaches use a series of indicators to rate the quality of science talk on a 1-5 scale for each dimension. The tool has been piloted for two years and with cohorts involved in the SOLID Start PD. For the tool overall, weighted kappa = 0.72 which is substantial to very good based on both interpretation recommendations (Fleiss, 2003; Landis & Koch, 1977). In addition coders were within one point of each other 93% of the time. Each domain also showed high inter-rater reliability with weighted kappas ranging from 0.65 to 0.78.

Key Challenge: The biggest challenge to our project is that science instruction often does not occur in K-2 classrooms. There is substantial evidence that both science and disciplinary language and literacy are neglected in the early years of school. While we do not yet have direct evidence to support this idea yet, it is likely that if K-2 science is limited even under “normal” school condition, it is likely to receive limited attention during pandemic-related closings and changes to school schedules.

Remote Learning: We have developed overarching principles for remote K-2 science learning that have guided curriculum-specific modifications to all of our curriculum units. These are available open access to teachers on our website: SOLIDStart.msu.edu


  • Our website SOLIDStart.msu.edu includes information about our project, access to our K-2 curriculum materials, and links to our project publications.
  • Our project team was invited to present at a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics panel on Integrating Science and Literacy in Elementary Education. Watch the presentation.
  • As part of the SOLID Start project, we have developed NGSS and CCSS-ELA aligned curriculum materials. Each unit is guided by a driving question and puzzling phenomena that engage young students and elicit their natural curiosities. The units are designed to support young students’ science learning and oral language and literacy development. We have completed many units in each grade and are currently editing and finalizing the other units. All units should be completed by Fall 2020. We also provide suggested modifications to the units so they can be taught in a virtual distance learning environment.
  • All of our research publications can be found on the research page of our website.

Development and Validation of a Mobile, Web-based Coaching Tool to Improve Pre-K Classroom Practices to Enhance Learning              

PI: Caroline Christopher
Grades: Students in the early grades, with preK as the primary focus.
Target Audience: Our target audience includes instructional leaders and teachers. Instructional leaders may include principals, instructional coaches, or other administrators who work with teachers on their professional development.

Disciplines/Subject Areas: We focus on nine specific classroom practices that are linked to students’ academic and self-regulatory gains.

  • Reducing time in transitions
  • Promoting positive classroom climate
  • Increasing math instruction
  • Increasing the level of instruction
  • Promoting greater student engagement
  • Increasing teachers’ listening to children
  • Promoting more sequential activities
  • Increasing the amount of children’s associative and cooperative interactions
  • Increasing the amount of high quality literacy instruction

Project Description: The overarching goal of this project is to create a user-friendly coaching tool to bridge the gap between what instructional coaches see in the classroom and the steps they can take with teachers to improve classroom practices and enhance student learning. The CHALK tool (Coaching to Help Activate Learning for Kids) is a progressive web application (PWA) that guides users to collect observational data focused on specific classroom practices that are empirically validated and linked to children's academic and self-regulatory gains (Christopher & Farran, 2020; Farran et al., 2017). It then displays instant results and provides a framework to help coaches and teachers co-construct goals for improving practices. Over the past two years, the CHALK coaching tool has been developed in an iterative process through a partnership between researchers and practitioners to ensure that it is practical and appealing to instructional leaders in a wide array of educational settings.

Initial Findings: We will launch a formal pilot study during the 2021-22 academic year.  Our external evaluators will use data from this study to gauge the tool’s impact on teachers’ practices and, subsequently, students’ academic and self-regulatory gains.

Key Challenge: In response to changes in education related to the onset of COVID-19, we have begun adapting the CHALK tool for virtual coaching.  Initially, the tool was designed for conducting in-person observations.  However, many schools are trying to limit the number of adults circulating in their buildings.  This has created a need for methods of observing teachers and providing feedback without being physically present.  Through informal piloting with local partners, we are developing CHALK protocols for collecting observation data remotely and using those data to inform virtual coaching conversations.

Product(s): The CHALK Tool (a Progressive Web Application)

Early Emergence of Socioeconomic Disparities in Mathematical Understanding             

PI: Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal
Toddlers (28-38 months)
Target Audience: Early childhood researchers, child care teachers, and parents

Disciplines/Subject Areas: Developmental Psychology and Math Cognition

Project Description: Gaps in math skills related to socioeconomic status (SES) have grown in recent years, as the math skills of children from high income families have grown faster than those of children from middle- or low-income families. These disparities emerge in preschool and are large by the start of kindergarten. Importantly, SES-related disparities in math skills have implications for long-term academic achievement and educational attainment, as well as access to STEM education and professions in adulthood. There is an urgent need to identify the factors shaping early math development before children start formal schooling. This multi-method investigation of toddlers (28-38 months) and their parents uses observational, survey, and time diary data to provide foundational knowledge about the activities and interactions in the home environment that drive the early emergence of math skills disparities related to SES.

Initial Findings: Given the COVID-19 pandemic, we restructured our home-based study into an online project. We collected data on approximately 24 toddlers and families prior to the March 2020 quarantine order. We launched the online study in July 2020 and to date have consented 50 families for participation.

Preliminary online data collection with 30 families (5 low-income, 6 middle-income, and 19 upper-income) suggests some evidence of SES differences in early math skills. Average knower-level, as measured by the Give-N task (Wynn, 1990) was below 1 for the low-income children, whereas middle-income and upper-income children were on average 2- or 3-knowers. Similar SES gradients were seen for measures of counting, where, on average, low-income children could count to 4.75, middle-income children to 6.83, and upper-income children to 8.12. However, in this small sample, we do not see evidence of SES differences in children’s knowledge of spatial or number words, as measured through pointing tasks (e.g. “Where is tiger next to the cup?”). On these tasks, children’s accuracy was on average 76% for spatial words and 66% for number words (compared to 50% chance).

Instruments: We have created or adapted two measures for the online study:

  • Find Bear – This assessment is designed to measure the toddlers’ persistence. In this task, toddlers are shown pictorial displays on laptops or tables that include a lot of animals, people, settings, and activities. The toddlers are asked to find the bear, which we have inserted in these pictures. We record their searching through Zoom and measure the time spent on the final picture, which is the only picture that does not include the bear, to operationalize persistence.
  • Modified Test of Spatial Assembly (TOSA) 2-D – Toddlers are given a magnet board, magnets of different shapes and colors, and cards with pictures designed from 2-3 of the magnets. The children are asked to reproduce the same design on their magnet board, and we score each trial based on orientation, alignment, etc.
  • Point-to-X This task is based on a similar measure by Wynn (1992) and designed to examine children’s sensitivity to number words prior to understanding their exact meanings. To familiarize children with the task, children are first shown two word-control trials with two different common objects and are prompted to point to one image (e.g., “Where is the ball?”). Subsequently, in twelve number-word trials, each image shows two sets of identical stimuli differing only in number (e.g., four ducks and five ducks), and children are prompted to point to one of the images (e.g., “Which has four?”). Number-word trials vary along two distinct dimensions: the numerical distance between the two sets and size of the target number.
  • Shared book reading interaction – We created a wordless board book to elicit number and spatial talk. The scenes focus on a day at a park with various numbers and combinations of animals playing on, behind, beside, and in front of playground equipment.

Key Challenge: Briefly, we have encountered several challenges:

  • Due to COVID-19 precautions for families and project staff, we can no longer provide child care for other siblings during the recordings of parent-child interactions and child assessments. Thus, the data collection may be interrupted to address other children’s needs and/or the parent may have somewhat divided attention between the play interaction with the study child and caring for other siblings.
  • Given the age of toddlers, we are very aware of the receptive and/or expressive language demands of the assessments, especially in the move to a fully online study.

Exploring Early Childhood Teachers' Abilities to Identify Computational Thinking Precursors to Strengthen Computer Science in Classrooms            

PI: Sean Justice
Target Audience: Pre-K to 2nd grade classroom teachers and their students.

Disciplines/Subject Areas: Computer Science and Computational Thinking (CS/CT); Generative Professional Development (GPD); teacher & researcher co-design of CT learning activities; teacher implementation and assessment of preK-2 student CT learning.

Project Description: This project focuses on the design and implementation of culturally relevant computer science learning activities for young children. We are investigating methods for engaging preK-2 teachers with computational thinking (a problem-solving process) and helping them integrate it into classroom activities. The goal is to design a replicable model of preK-2 teacher professional development focused on early childhood computer science education. The model is informed by Generative Professional Development (GPD), a framework that emphasizes social constructivist, inquiry learning. In GPD, teachers gather contextually and culturally relevant information about students’ specific abilities and needs to develop lessons, to implement those lessons, and to reflect on their own and their students’ learning. Iterations of the model will include a computational making institute for teachers, classroom coaching, and teacher meetups. Guiding assumptions include the premise that meaning making occurs in participatory communities of practice.

Initial Findings: Data collection will begin in summer 2021.

Product(s): Products will include:

  • Teacher Learning PD: Multi-phase, yearlong, replicable PD model that provides opportunities for preK-2 teachers in Central Texas to acquire CS/CT skills and practices that enable them to notice, name, and connect CT with classroom learning.
  • Catalog of PreK-2 CS/CT learning activities:  Researchers and preK-2 teachers will co-design and develop CT learning activities that are culturally relevant classroom activities and connected to early childhood content areas (e.g., ELA, math, science, social studies). The catalog will include teacher-designed implementation and assessment guidelines to enhance both teachers’ and students’ learning.

Integrating Science with Mathematics and Engineering: Linking Home and School Learning for All Young Learners

Nic and NorPI: Ximena Dominguez
Grades: Preschool and PreK
Target Audience: Children (and teachers and parents/caregivers) in public preschool or preKindergarten programs that serve a high proportion of children and families from low-income environments and cultural backgrounds. The project also involves recruiting a significant proportion (30-50% of ELLs/DLLs).

Disciplines/Subject Areas:
Science (core ideas and practices); mathematics; and engineering

Project Description: Our project brings together educators, families, researchers, curriculum and software developers to co-design and evaluate resources to promote early STEM. Currently, our team is working to extend the Next Generation Preschool Science curricular program, which was developed as part of a previous NSF project and found to significantly improve science learning. This project aims to extend that work by: (1) integrating engineering and mathematics with science, (2) creating science activities that bridge home and school learning, and (3) developing versions of the resources that address the needs and strengths of Latinx families. Our work involves extending learning blueprints to articulate the integration of new learning goals. Activities and resources are then designed during a series of co-design meetings and iteratively tested during formative research activities in preschool classrooms and families’ homes. The project will culminate with an experimental field study to examine program implementation and effects on children’s science learning.

Initial Findings: During initial co-design meetings, the team identified possible synergies between science and math; these included plant growth with measurement, counting, and cardinality; and light and shadow with shapes and shape combinations. Similarly, the team identified possible synergies between science and engineering; engineering practices were embedded into plant growth activities where children designed solutions to protect plants or help plants get the nutrients needed to grow and into force and motion  activities where children purposely designed ramps to meet specific needs.

During the co-design discussions, the team has identified productive design challenges. The learning blueprint has been a key anchor document, helping identify and articulate these challenges. For instance, at times when the team brainstormed ideas for engineering, the science goals addressed were shifted (e.g., an engineering challenge may have introduced gravity or speed rather than focusing on surface texture and distance traveled ass was done in NGPS). Some of the new science goals have been developmentally appropriate and have been incorporated as target goals. However, some of the additional science goals represent ideas that may be challenging for young children. This has required the team to revise the engineering prototypes to ensure they are articulating synergies between science and engineering in developmentally appropriate ways.

Findings from our user studies have also uncovered some features of activities and resources that need to be incorporated and issues that need to be addressed in revisions. These features that have been identified include: specific verbal scaffolds that need to be embedded into digital apps; the creation of new levels in the apps to allow children to gradually learn some of the target goals; step-by-step instructions for activities followed by sample discourse focused on each discipline or area of learning. Some of the issues uncovered by the research are the need for clear science, math and engineering frameworks that can be shared in professional development resources and that are clearly visible throughout activities.

Instruments:During the co-design phase, the research team extended the NGPS learning blueprint to articulate possible connections between science, mathematics and engineering. This blueprint was then used to guide the initial development of activities.  A series of formative user studies were then conducted to determine what revisions needed to be made to emerging activities and resources to ensure they are engaging, usable, and comprehensible to teachers, parents and children, and they promoted the target learning goals. To gather these data, we developed classroom and home observation protocols to document how researchers, teachers and families enacted the activities with children. In addition, the research team developed user testing protocols to capture children’s one-on-one play and engagement with the digital app prototypes and alphas. For the pilot and field studies, the research team will refine the measures described above and develop and test a set of child learning tasks to be used in the field study. These tasks will extend our prior work on preschool assessment of science and mathematics and include a focus on engineering.

Key Challenge: Remote learning has presented many challenges for young children, families, and educators. Many of the families we partner with and serve are juggling modified work, childcare, and school activities, sometimes all simultaneously. Our project team has remained very mindful of these challenges while considering creative ways to continue our important collaborative work. Through this process we have acknowledged the multitude of hardships that families and teachers have faced while remaining resilient. We have been fortunate in that all of our partner teachers and families continue to be committed to the project and have been incredibly flexible as we navigate new ways to work together. Teachers and families have expressed interest in continuing this partnership and have shared that they see the potential value that this research can bring to the field, and to their communities. 

Nevertheless, our co-design activities and research have had to pivot. Our teacher partners are currently either teaching in hybrid programs with reduced numbers of children and health and safety restrictions in place, or teaching completely remotely. But in both instances, they have chosen to continue our work together. For our upcoming co-design and pilot study activities, we have requested that teachers review the latest resources and then engage in feedback discussions with our team instead of enacting the activities with children in their classroom as originally planned. All teachers have shown interest and willingness to engage in these virtual, follow-up conversations. Several teachers who work in hybrid models also expressed an interest to test the latest iterations in their classroom, and we are working with these teachers to determine how best to do so taking into account the existing restrictions and setting modifications. 

Similarly, families have also expressed interest in implementing activities as part of our upcoming research study. Given the current health emergency and the necessity for remote school, families are seemingly finding the opportunities to try out new activities and resources with their children especially valuable. While we will unfortunately not be able to visit with families in person as planned, our team is working to determine how best to virtually connect with families in order to collect this valuable feedback from them. We are exploring meeting with families over Zoom, using screen captures during digital app play, sending videos of activity implementation, and other related data collection options.

Product(s): With prior NSF funding, our team created a curricular program to integrate science in preschool. The program included classroom activities to promote science in various settings (large group/circle time, small group, free choice centers, and routines). All activities promote engagement in science practices to understand concepts in life (plant growth), physical (force and motion), and earth (light and shadow) science. The program also included apps with unique affordances for science learning, designed to strengthen science investigations and provide opportunities for repeated practice.

The current effort is extending this work by creating additional science activities that integrate mathematics and engineering learning goals to capitalize on the symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship between science and these domains. This work also includes developing additional apps to highlight these connections and a series of activities for families at home, including Spanish versions for DLLs/ELLs.

So far, our team has developed the following:

Shadow Unit: Children explore how shadows are made. They cast shadows, change shadow size, combine shadows, and engage in investigations about light and shadow.

  • 3 additional classroom activities:  1. Shadow Math, 2. Design a Shadow Theater Space, 3. Where’s the Shadow
  • 7 activities for home/families: 1. Design a Shadow Box Theater Space; 2. Outdoor Together Shadows; 3. Indoor Together Shadows; 4. Silly Shadow Walk; 5. Shadow Moves; 6. I Spy Shadows; 7. Story Character Shadows
  • 2 apps to strengthen learning across school and home: 1. Shadow Cave app and 2.Doggy Daycare app

Plants Unit: Children explore how plants grow. Children observe indoor and outdoor plants. They measure and record plant growth and plant a class garden.

  • 3 additional classroom activities: 1. Design a Mini Class Garden; 2. Floppy Tomato Plant Support; 3. Our Garden Mural
  • 7 activities for home/families: 1. Big or Small Plants; 2. Find and Measure Plants; 3. From Seed to Table; 4. How Many Plant Colors; 5. Matching Plant Card Games; 6. My Seed Book; 7. Plant Part Hunt
  • 2 apps to strengthen learning across home and school: 1. Wonder Farmer’s Market app and 2.Garden Globetrotters app

Ramps Unit: Children explore how objects move on a ramp. They observe rolling and sliding objects, adjust ramp heights, investigate textured surfaces and bowl.

  • 3 additional classroom activities: 1. Design a Bowling Lane; 2. Let’s Bowl; 3. Around the Obstacle Course
  • 7 activities for home/families: 1. I Spy a Ramp; 2. Act Out a Story; 3. Ramp Hunt; 4. Roll or Slide; 5. Yoga Ramps; 6. Obstacle Course; 7. Solve It with a Ramp
  • 1 app to strengthen learning across school and home: 1. Coconut Canyon app

Learning in Places: Field Based Science in Early Childhood Education

PI: Carrie Tzou, Megan Bang(Former PI)
: PreK-3
Target Audience: Teachers, families, PreK3 students, community-based organizations

Disciplines/Subject Areas: 
Ecology, biology, earth science

Project Description: Seattle Public Schools, Tilth Alliance, the University of Washington Bothell, and Northwestern University partner with preK-3 children, families,  educators, and community based organizations to co-design equitable, culturally based, field-based science education utilizing outdoor habitats, including gardens. We are working to reimagine how children can engage in seasonal field-based science, driven by “should we” questions that cultivates ethical deliberation and decision-making around socio-ecological systems and issues that are consequential to them, their families, and their communities.

Initial Findings: Our research explores different dimensions of the Learning in Places (LIP) project, including both teacher and student learning. For example, one preliminary analysis focused on educators’ engagement with power and historicity and racialized dynamics in partnership classrooms. An aspect of our work has been to raise educators’ awareness of the ways that they communicate about Indigenous peoples, Black people, and other people of color as well as how they interact with students and families of color. We engaged educators in a series of reflections about these issues utilizing our educator frameworks (e.g. Power & Historicity framework) and watched videos of partner teachers engaging students in discussions related to our instructional storyline. We also examined educators disproportionately escalated responses to black boys' behaviors in outdoor spaces. Our analyses of data have shown remarkable shifts in educators becoming attuned to these dynamics and engaging in what we think of as micro-repairs in real-time instruction.

In addition to our analyses of classroom implementation data, we are also analyzing student interviews. Preliminary findings highlight, for example, significant differences in the range of relations that students attended to in ecosystems, as well as their understandings of the function of different species and phenomena in ecosystems. More specifically, there are statistically significant increases in students’ reasoning about interspecies relations, species behaviors, and species functions and impacts on ecosystems as a result of the learning engagements our project team designed. For kindergarten students, we are finding significant increases in their engagement with causal relations, and with second graders we are finding significant increases in their reasoning about balancing or feedback loop relations.

Pilot findings from pre-service teacher training
Overall we found that pre-service elementary teachers reported that the LIP model transformed their interest, agency, and desire to teach science. However, closer analysis of their beginning models of socio-ecological systems reflected a need for deeper attention to key systems features, attention to reasoning across scales and to relational specificity. Interestingly, pre-service teachers’ initial models and the models in students’ pre-interviews are somewhat aligned. In this project we focus on refining the pedagogical practices that scaffold educators’ model development.


  • We have developed a set of cognitive task interviews (findings described above) that elicit children’s observational and explanation practices, as well as their understandings and reasoning about relations and functions in ecosystems, and their reasoning about perturbations in socio-ecological systems.
  • As part of our family storyline, we have developed a set of what we’re calling “family tools” for field-based science sensemaking. We are using these tools (all available on our website) to study families’ place-based sensemaking.

Key Challenge: Our current context of the global pandemic, uprisings against racial injustice and anti-Blackness, and climate crises have deepened the need for educators to connect science with ethical deliberation and decision-making, and to center science within the cultural context of childrens’ and families’ lives. At its foundations, from our rhizome to each lesson in our family and classroom storylines, to our frameworks, the Learning in Places project works towards just and sustainable socio-ecological systems thinking. To this end, we are engaging in professional development that highlights the ways in which field-based science teaching is steeped within narratives of anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity, and actively working to both recognize micro and macro practices that perpetuate these. We are also always actively working to center family sensemaking as an anti-racist strategy, emphasizing the deficit views of families (especially families of color) that pervade early childhood education as well as traditional family involvement strategies in schools. 

Remote Learning: Learning in Places developed a full family seasonal storyline for families to engage in outdoor sensemaking together during remote learning.  This was part an intentional strategy to support families’ science engagement during remote learning, but also to support teachers in continuing to build relationships with families through the tools. We have found that, in this time of remote learning, the family seasonal storyline has provided much-needed support and tools for schools and even pre-service teacher educators to engage families and students in science sensemaking and field-based science pedagogy.

On our Learning in Places website:

Measuring Early Mathematical Reasoning Skills: Developing Tests of Numeric Relational Reasoning and Spatial Reasoning             

PI: Leanne Ketterlin Geller
Target Audience: Elementary teachers, grades K-2

Disciplines/Subject Areas: Early elementary mathematics, specifically spatial and numeric relational reasoning

Project Description: Early mathematics skills are strong and powerful predictors of success in school and future socioeconomic status. Research in Mathematics Education (RME) researchers are building assessment resources for educators to use to help their students improve and achieve success in early mathematics. Specifically, the Measuring Early Mathematical Reasoning Skills (MMaRS) system will provide educators with easy to use assessment resources and meaningful information about students’ numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning skills. Numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning are two early mathematics skills particularly predictive of algebraic reasoning, leading to Algebra I, which is a gatekeeper to success in post-secondary efforts in STEM domains. Currently, there are no widely available assessments for young children that focus on these two important mathematics constructs. The MMaRS tools will be developed for each grade level (K-2) and may be administered by teachers throughout the school year to monitor their students’ learning and design appropriate instruction based on data from the classroom assessments.

Initial Findings: Learning progressions of numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning are the framework for the classroom assessment resources developed under the MMaRS project. We are iteratively refining these learning progressions through analysis of teacher surveys, cognitive interviews, and collaborating with teachers to understand their intended uses of the assessment resources. We have also analyzed data from cognitive interviews to better understand how assessment items function with K-2 students. Next, we will collect evidence about the accessibility of the item models through think-aloud interviews and begin the final item writing process.

Instruments: We designed cognitive interview protocols to empirically validate the hypothesized learning progressions for the numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning constructs. We also developed two teacher surveys to assist with the refinement of the learning progressions. As we move forward in the project, we are developing assessment resources to support teachers instructional decisions (e.g., flexible classroom groupings, sequencing).

Key Challenge: A key challenge facing researchers working in early grades mathematics is the limited instructional time for teaching mathematics due to the emphasis on early literacy in many schools. Because of this limited time, teachers need to carefully design mathematics instruction to be efficient, build on students’ background knowledge and skills, and support growth along the progression of understanding. Using data from carefully designed classroom assessments can help teachers design effective and well aligned instruction.

To address this challenge, RME researchers convened two work sessions in July 2020 with ten Dallas-Fort Worth area teachers who serve as the MMaRS Teacher Advisory Panel to learn more about their formative assessment needs and practices with their kindergarten through second grade students. These sessions were conducted virtually due to COVID-19. The Teacher Advisory Panel provides ongoing support to the RME research team to ensure the results of the assessments the researchers are building will be useful to guide teachers’ instructional decision making and support student learning of numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning.

Product(s): Visit the MMaRS website to view MMaRS' 2020 STEM for All Video, presentations, publications, and technical reports..


  • Ketterlin-Geller, L.R., Zannou, Y., Sparks, A., & Perry, L. (in press). Empirical recovery of learning progressions through the lens of educators. Journal of Mathematical Behavior.
  • Ketterlin-Geller, L. R., & Pinilla, R. (in press). The promise of learning progressions-based classroom assessments to improve instruction. Enhancing Effective Instruction and Learning Using Assessment Data: Theory and Practice. Hong Jiao & Robert Lissitz.  Information Age Publishing. Charlotte, NC.
  • Perry, L., Kuehnert, E., & Ketterlin-Geller, L. R. (in press). Promoting spatial orientation: Math activities for school and home learning. Teaching Young Children.
  • Perry, L. (2019). Development of an early grade relational reasoning subtask: Collecting validity evidence on technical adequacy and reliability. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education (IJRES), 1-21. DOI: 10.1007/s10763-019-09968-1

Networking Urban Resources with Teachers and University to enRich Early Childhood Science (NURTURES) Phase II: Expansion and Evaluation                       

PI: Charlene Czerniak
Target Audience: PreK-3 teachers, children, and parents/caregivers

Disciplines/Subject Areas: The NURTURES project focuses on Life, Physical, and Earth/Space science. The program is aligned to the Framework/NGSS standards covering all SEPs, CCs, and most DCIs for these grade levels.

Project Description: The University of Toledo NURTURES project aims to transform early childhood science teaching based upon NGSS standards to measurably increase student science, literacy, and math achievement. The program includes two primary components: (a) teacher PD (composed of a two-week Summer Institute (SI) for PreK-3 teachers and academic year PD including monthly professional learning community (PLC) meetings and one-on-one coaching), and (b) family engagement in scientific inquiry (composed of family science activity take- home packs and family science events hosted after school or in the community). With a design based on the Harvard Complementary Learning Model (Harvard Family Research Project, 2019), the program aligns educational resources to provide comprehensive programming addressing the learning needs of children and emphasizing family engagement in education.

Initial Findings: NURTURES has served 5082 students including 2200 African American, Hispanic, and mixed-race students and their family members. The program was recognized as an outstanding research-based PD program with the 2017 Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) member institutions and was cited in the NSF-sponsored CADRE preK-3 STEM report (Sarama et al., 2018).

NURTURES was initially funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Mathematics and Science Partnership program (Award # 1102808). Findings from this award include:

  • Reinhart’s (2019) longitudinal case study revealed an increase in open-ended and inferential questions asked in the classroom, increased use of questions with higher levels of abstraction, increased use of SEP practices, decreased behavior management issues, and increased science content knowledge and confidence to teach science,
  • Students who had a NURTURES-trained teacher experienced a STAR (Renaissance Learning, 2013; 2014a; 2014b) spring score net gain of 8.6 points in Early Literacy, 17.0 points in Mathematics, and 41.4 points in Reading compared to students who had never had a NURTURES teacher (Paprzycki et al., 2017). The 41.4 points in STAR Reading translated to a Hedges’ g effect size of 0.25, a level considered substantively important by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) (2013),
  • A longitudinal study found significant differences between NURTURES treatment and control groups with the treatment group sustaining early literacy and mathematics gains to middle school (Heuring et al., 2020),
  • Students who had a NURTURES-trained teacher experienced a 6.14 advantage points as compared to the average non-intervention student on the 5th grade Ohio Achievement Science Subtest. The treatment effect size (Hedges’ g) was 0.156, which is to be interpreted as a treatment group having, on average, 0.16 higher scores in standard deviation units as compared to the scores of the control cohort (Kaderavek et al., 2020),
  • Achievement gaps between non-minority and minority students in reading and mathematics were reduced for minority students. In science, the intervention roughly compensated for the attainment gap between boys and girls and partially ameliorated the gap between minority and non-minority children’s scores (Mentzer & Paprzycki, 2020), and
  • There was a significant positive effect of having a NURTURES-trained teacher on students’ mean learning growth rates for early literacy of 2.5 months and for mathematics of 1.9 months (Hapgood et al., under review).

With the current NSF DRK-12 grant (Award # 1721059), we explored the relative impact of teacher PD versus teacher PD plus parent involvement on student gains. We used a RCT research design to compare student outcomes among three groups: PD + family engagement group, PD-only group, and a control group. This research demonstrated that the NURTURES intervention statistically impacted student learning over the control group without intervention (Hedges’ g effect size of 0.34; a level considered substantively important by WWC). Early analyses suggested higher test scores for children in the family engagement condition, but COVID-19 disrupted our ability to collect sufficient data for analyses this past spring.

Instruments: The SCIIENCE instrument (Kaderavek et al., 2015) assesses pedagogical practices aligned with the NGSS. Specifically, through the micro-analysis of classroom inquiry activity, with a focus on teacher behaviors, the SCIIENCE allows an examination of the degree to which teachers engage in practices such as eliciting hypotheses, use of models, fostering use of evidence in arguments, among others. It has an inter-rater Kappa coefficient reliability among trained SCIIENCE coders at consistently above .80, Concurrent validity has been documented with the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (.71) (La Paro & Pianta, 2003) and the Horizon Classroom Observation Protocol (.70) (Banilower et al., 2006).

A project-developed rubric entitled Family Understanding of Science and Engagement (FUSE) (Michaelson, 2019), was created to measure degree of completion, depth of completion, and demonstration of scientific understanding of family science packs.

Key Challenge: The face-to-face aspects of our project have reached over 5000 students from predominately urban settings. However, COVID-19 school closures highlighted the disparity among some student populations resulting in lower participation rates in family engagement activities when they were placed online.

Remote Learning: During the COVID-19 school closures, we adapted program delivery through electronic or no-contact methods. Adaptions we implemented include:

  • Transitioning family engagement materials from physical materials (packs, paper, supplies) to electronic materials (PDF, website, video, simulations) with adaptions for use with common household items.
  • Moving family engagement events from a school gathering model to an online model featuring prepared activity videos for families with a culminating live online event (e.g., using Webex) for teachers and families to share their experiences and promote discourse.
  • Changing elements of research that involved in-person classroom testing to online test delivery or mailing of test materials.

In addition to these adaptations, several elements of the NURTURES program were already designed for online delivery. Teacher professional learning community (PLC) and coaching components of the program are facilitated entirely online with through secure technical infrastructure (Cisco Webex and Basecamp project management applications). Our summer institutes were not impacted by the pandemic, but the success of the PLCs and coaching suggest that components of the summer institute could be modified for online learning. Future research could study modifications for teacher professional development. Our experience with online family components was mixed. For families that participated, they were highly engaged. However, reaching families online in an urban setting was found to be challenging and only a few numbers of families were reached during the COVID-19 shutdowns. Future research needs to examine ways to more effectively engage families online.


Website: http://nurtures.utoledo.edu  NOTE: Our website features family engagement videos


  • Family Packs. Twenty Family Science Packs (FSP) for 5 different grade levels (PreK, Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd) are sent home quarterly by teachers to make home-school connections in science and encourage family science inquiry and discourse. Each FSP is a zippered canvas bag containing inquiry activities aligned with the SEPs, DCIs, and CCs in the Framework (NRC, 2012) as well as various early learning standards (e.g., NAEYC, 2016; ODE, 2012), which build upon one another gradually increasing in level of complexity thereby allowing all levels of learners to progress through them at their own pace. Each FSP is self-guided and includes a newsletter with the directions, necessary materials, and a Journal Sheet for children to record data or visually represent understanding.
  • Community Events. Community events (two per year minimum hosted by the school) give families opportunities to engage in informal science activities after school (e.g., at parent science nights) or in the community (e.g., a park, zoo, public library, farm). A wide range of activities (e.g., engineering challenges, simulations, observations, demonstrations) are geared for families of young children and are designed to foster adult-child interaction around a variety of science topics. Each activity is scaffolded by an “event guide” for parents/caregivers to facilitate their child’s experience, and roles are given to adults and children (e.g., adult “navigators” and child “science investigators”). The “Event Guides” are designed to stand alone and include step-by-step directions for adults (suggestions for language, questions, and spaces to record children’s responses). Additional information for engaging children is on the back.


  • Hapgood, S., Michaelson, K. M., Kaderavek, J.N., Paprzycki, P., Czerniak, C. M. & Molitor, S. (under review). Longitudinal impact of a Framework-aligned initiative on early literacy and mathematics growth curves. Manuscript submitted for publication in Journal of Research in Science Teaching.
  • Kaderavek, J. N., Paprzycki, P., Czerniak, C. M., Hapgood, S., Mentzer, G., Molitor, S. & Mendenhall, R. (2020) Longitudinal impact of early childhood science instruction on 5th grade science achievement. International Journal of Science Education.
  • Kaderavek, J.N., North, T., Rotshtein, R., Dao, H., Liber, N., Milewski, G., Molitor, S.C. and Czerniak, C.M. (2015). SCIIENCE: the creation and pilot implementation of an NGSS-based instrument to evaluate early childhood science teaching. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 45, 27-36.
  • Reinhart, M., Bloomquist, D., Gilbert, A., Strickler-Eppard, L., Czerniak, C., Kaderavek, J. & Molitor, S. (2016). Taking science home: Connecting schools and families through early childhood science activity packs. School Science and Mathematics., 116, 3-16.
  • Tuttle, N., Stanley, W. and Bieniek, T. (2016). Engineering Motion: Building Derby Cars in K-2 Classrooms. Science and Children, January, 46-53.
  • Tuttle, N., Kaderavek, J. N., Molitor, S., Czerniak, C. M., Johnson-Whitt, E., Bloomquist, D., Namatovu, W., and Wilson, G. (2016). Investigating the impact of NGSS-aligned professional development on PK-3 teachers’ science content knowledge and pedagogy. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 27: 717-745.
  • Paprzycki, P., Tuttle, N. Czerniak, C. M., Molitor, S., Kaderavek, J., and Mendenhall, R. (2017). The impact of a Framework-aligned science professional development program on literacy and mathematics achievement of K-3 students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. DOI: 10.1002/tea.21400. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/tea.21400.
  • Tuttle, N. Mentzer, G.A., Strickler-Eppard, L., Hapgood, S., Bloomquist, D. Molitor, S. Kaderavek, J., and Czerniak, C.M. (2017). Exploring how families do science together: Adult-child interactions at community science events. School Science and Mathematics: 117, 175-182.
  • Gilbert, A., Czerniak, C. & Kaderavek, J. (Submitted June 2017). Elementary science teachers' experiences with synchronous online, asynchronous online and face-to-face coaching. Journal of Science Teacher Education.
  • Strickler-Eppard, L., Czerniak, C. M., & Kaderavek, J. (2019). Families’ Capacity to Engage in Science Inquiry at Home Through Structured Activities. Early Childhood Education Journal, 1-12.

Theses and Dissertations:

  • Bloomquist, D.L. (2016). The Effects of Coaching Using a Reflective Framework on Early Childhood Science Teachers’ Depth of Reflection and Change in Practice. The University of Toledo, Toledo, OH.
    Gilbert, A.M. (2016). The Nature of Elementary Science Teachers’ Experiences with Synchronous Online, Asynchronous Online and Face-to-Face Coaching. The University of Toledo, Toledo, OH. 
  • Reinhart, M. A. (2019). A Longitudinal Study of an Urban Kindergarten Teacher’s Instructional Strategies for and Perceptions of Young Children’s STEM Inquiry. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toledo, Toledo, OH.
  • Reinhart, M.L. (2012). Inquiry-Based Science Activities in Early Childhood: The Use of Take-Home Family Packs to Support Meaningful Oral Discourse. The University of Toledo, Toledo, OH.
  • Strickler-Eppard, L.J. (2016). A Detailed Analysis of Family Utilization of Science Activity Packs. The University of Toledo. Toledo, Ohio.

Sensing Science through Modeling: Developing Kindergarten Students' Understanding of Matter and Its Changes

PI: Carolyn Staudt
Grades: K
Target Audience: Our target audience is kindergarten students and their teachers.

Disciplines/Subject Areas: 
This project focuses on teaching and learning physical science content (specifically states of matter and phase changes) through the use of inquiry- and modeling-based practices.

Project Description: The major goal of the Sensing Science through Modeling Matter: Kindergarten Students’ Development of Understanding of Matter and Its Changes project is to develop, research, and document a model-based inquiry approach to building kindergarten students’ conceptual understanding of matter and its changes. There is little research that has systematically used a model-based inquiry framework to explore early childhood students’ learning of physical science concepts. Another goal of this project is to integrate probeware and simulations into an inquiry-based, model-centered curriculum that will contribute important data on the evolving structure and content of kindergarten children’s physical science models as well as demonstrate children’s understanding of models and modeling as they engage in discourse and guided inquiry.

Initial Findings: This is a summary of the research results for 2018-2019 school year, organized by research question. This study involved one school with three teachers in Indiana and two schools with two teachers at each site in Massachusetts. Due to COVID 19, the 2019-2020 the implementation was completed in full in Indiana and partially completed in Massachusetts. View our Year Three Annual Research Report results.

Q1. Do kindergarten students’ concepts of matter change as they engage in S2M2 instruction?
The analyses of MM-K Pre and Post Interview Total scores indicate significant gains in S2M2 students’ ability to understand and use simple particle models to explain material phenomena both in terms of MMK Total scores (F (1,137) = 237.97, p<.01, ηp 2=.64) and on each of the component scores: Materiality, States of Mater (SOM) and Phase Changes (PC). Repeated measures ANOVA showed that there was a statistically significant difference in Pre-and Post MPG Matter Interview Total Scores.
Q2. Are different digital simulation tools associated with differences in students’ learning of particle models?
There was also a small but statistically significant effect for Technology (F (1,134) = 7.65, p<.01, ηp 2=.05). Students who used the Thermonator tool had higher MMK Total scores and component scores than those who used the Particle Modeler tool (see Table 4).
Q3. Do students’ particle models cohere as they explain varied macroscopic phenomena?
Using the same overall procedure as described for Year 2 EMM models, we constructed heatmaps to provide a visual representation of changes in coherence of students’ models from pre and post MMK data (see Figure 4 in the linked Research Report) by geographic site. The two darkest colors represent the most coherent particle models (see key, Figure 4). Students at both sides showed a shift towards more coherent particle model use for both SOM and PC phenomena, although the heat maps indicate a more pronounced shift on PC phenomena for Site 2 students.

Instruments: See our Year Three Annual Research Report results for a description of the research instruments.

Key Challenge: We are presently not reentering the classroom during our no cost extension. We are reviewing our previous findings and looking more closely at student notebook drawings.

Remote Learning: Our research was completed in Indiana for 2019-2020 school year, but students in Massachusetts were not able to complete Phase Change (PC) lesson or exit interviews remotely.


Project page: https://concord.org/our-work/research-projects/sensing-science-modeling…

The S2M2 curriculum unit consists of three discourse-rich, model-based inquiry kindergarten lessons (Models and Modeling, States of Matter [SOM], and Phase Changes [PC]) that align with core science ideas and skills as outlined in A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council, 2012) and state academic science content standards. The S2M2 curriculum includes two written documents (the S2M2 Teacher Curriculum Guide and the S2M2 Student Science Notebook) and two iPad-based applications that children use during instruction to create, revise, and record their particle models of solids, liquids, gases, and phase changes—the Thermoscope and the Particle Modeler (used in 5 IN and 2 MA classrooms) the additional iPad-based application Thermonator (used in 2 MA classrooms). Each site also used the interactive story, the Land of Bump (see Sensing Science Apps link below). The S2M2 Teacher Curriculum Guide is designed as an educative curriculum guide (Davis & Krajcik, 2005), intended to promote teacher learning as well as student learning. In addition to outlining the science content and implementation mechanics of each lesson, the S2M2 Teacher Curriculum Guide provides information for teachers to not only help them develop general knowledge about implementing the unit, but also to increase their knowledge and skills for making decisions and instruction moves during specific instances in the unit (e.g., sample scripts to learn ways of framing and enacting productive student science discourse during the students’ generation and revision of a human model). The S2M2 Student Science Notebooks are designed to prompt students to make predictions, articulate (through words and drawings) their developing models, make sense of emerging patterns in their observations, and refine their models.

Sensing Science Apps that are available in the iPad store: https://concord.org/sensing-science-apps/&nbsp;

Supports for Science and Mathematics Learning in Pre-Kindergarten Dual Language Learners: Designing and Expanding a Professional Development System                   

PI: Alissa Lange
Target Audience: Preschool educators

Disciplines/Subject Areas: STEM domains separately and ways to integrate, including content and practices.

Project Description: The SciMath-DLL project designed and tested a professional learning model for preschool teachers to support young children's science, technology, engineering, and math learning, with supports for dual language learners. Co-developed with educators, the model was an intensive, collaborative, multi-faceted approach to improving the quality of early STEM teaching and learning. We are now reporting our results and adapting our approach to reach more educators and to reduce cost. Current efforts include creating a larger online and social media presence, building capacity through teacher coaches, planning a preschool STEM video library, and supporting pre-service students.

Initial Findings: We found significant, positive impacts on educators' attitudes, beliefs, confidence, and knowledge related to teaching math and science, and towards working with dual language learners (under review, revise and resubmit). Findings related to impacts on teaching and coaching show promise - this paper is in preparation.


Website: www.ecstemlab.com

Newsletter: www.ecstemlab.com/newsletter

Preschool STEM Institute: www.ecstemlab.com/preschool-stem-institute

Journal Articles:

  • Brenneman, K., Lange, A., & Nayfeld, I. (2018). Integrating STEM into Preschool Education: Designing a Professional Development Model in Diverse Settings. Early Childhood Education Journal, 47(1), 15-28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-018-0912-z
  • Lange, A. A., Nayfeld, I., Mano, H., & Jung, K. (revise and resubmit). Effects of a professional development model on preschool teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge around STEM and teaching DLLs. 
  • Lange, A. A., Trivette, C., Nayfeld, I., & Mano, H. (in preparation). Impacts of a preschool professional development approach on teaching and coaching practice: A mixed-methods analysis.


  • Lange, A. A., Brenneman, K., & Mano, H. (2019). Teaching STEM in the Preschool Classroom: Exploring Big Ideas with 3-5 Year Olds. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Practitioner Publications:

  • Mano, H., Molina, K., Nayfeld, I., & Lange, A. A. (2019). Planting the Seeds of Engineering: Preschoolers Think about, Talk about, and Solve a Real Problem in the Garden. Science and Children, 57 (2), 80–84.
  • Lange, A. A., Dias, A., & Brenneman, K. (2016). Reflecting on Teaching Length Measurement to Young Children. Teaching Young Children, 9(5), 24-27. (product from SciMath DRK-12 predecessor project)


The Developmental Emergence and Consequences of Spatial and Math Gender Stereotypes           

PI: Sara Cordes

Disciplines/Subject Areas: Mathematics and spatial skills

Project Description: This project characterizes the developmental emergence, mechanisms, and consequences of spatial and math gender stereotypes in childhood. We aim to uncover when and how children acquire these gender stereotypes, the underlying assumptions driving these stereotypes (Do children believe boys are inherently better at, or simply prefer, math and/or spatial tasks?), and the implications for these stereotypes on STEM participation and performance.

Initial Findings: We have several key initial findings For example, our preliminary data collected for this project reveal a strong relationship between parent and daughter, but not parent and son, math attitudes, suggesting that young girls may be more aware of and in tune with the attitudes held by the adults in their lives (Hildebrand, Posid, Hymes, Moss-Racusin, & Cordes, under review). In a second study, we examined how math and spatial anxiety may moderate the impact of stereotype threat on task performance. In this study, we observed a negative impact of performance for children who performed a task framed as assessing math abilities, but only when the child had high math anxiety. This was not the case for children with higher spatial anxiety who participated in a task framed as assessing spatial abilities. In another study with adults, we find that math and spatial gender stereotypes appear be based on the assumption males enjoy and are more confident in these domains, but not that they are better at these domains. Conversely, we find stereotypes about female-associated domains (of reading and foreign language learning) rely upon the additional assumption that females have more inherent ability in these domains (Hildebrand, Liebenow, & Cordes, in prep). Developmental data, however do not appear to mimic these patterns.

Key Challenge: A key challenge of the present studies, is the role of race in considering the development of gender stereotypes. In the past, gender stereotype researchers have used methods that allow race to be ambiguous in assessing gender stereotypes. For example, past work has used only gender-based words like “girls” and “boys” or cartoon-like figures that do not have a “race”. However, recent work suggests that traditional stereotypes may actually only apply to beliefs about white individuals, at least in the United States. As such, it is important to consider what stereotypes children are aware of, or endorse, when race is salient. To address this in our work, we are considering the generalizability of our findings, the types of methods we use, and follow-up studies that explicitly consider the role of race in the development of math and spatial gender stereotypes.



  • Hildebrand, L.*, Posid, T.*, Hymes, L., Moss-Racusin, C., & Cordes, S. (under review). Does my daughter like math? Gender-specific relations between parent-child math attitudes.
  • Hildebrand, L., & Cordes, S. (in prep). An integrated model of math and spatial domains, gender, and STEM: Attitudes, beliefs, and skills
  • Hildebrand, L., Liebenow, H., & Cordes, S. (in prep). How robust are domain-specific gender stereotypes? Across stereotypically male, female, and neutral domains, different   assumptions drive gender biases.


  • Hildebrand, L., Liebenow, H., & Cordes, S. (2021, February). Different assumptions underlie male and female stereotypes. Poster accepted for presentation at the 2021 Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Annual Convention, Virtual.
  • Hildebrand, L., & Cordes, S. (2020, June). Are math and spatial gender stereotypes driven by beliefs about ability? Poster accepted for presentation at the Math Cognition and Learning Society (MCLS) Annual Meeting, Dublin, Ireland. (conference cancelled due to COVID-19)
  • Coffey, T., Hildebrand L., & Cordes, S. (2020, March). The influence of time pressure on math performance.Poster to be presented at the 2020 Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) Annual Conference, Boston, MA, USA. (virtual conference due to COVID-19)
  • Lim, C., Hildebrand L., & Cordes, S. (2020, March). The relation between math and spatial gender stereotypes and anxiety. Poster to be presented at the 2020 Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) Annual Conference, Boston, MA, USA. (virtual conference due to COVID-19) 
  • Hildebrand, L., & Cordes, S. (2020, June). The impact of framing on math performance: The role of math attitudes and working memory. In L. Hildebrand* (chair), Consequences and Correlates of Math Anxiety Across Development. Symposium accepted for presentation at the Math Cognition and Learning Society (MCLS) Annual Meeting, Dublin, Ireland. (conference cancelled due to COVID-19) 
  • Hildebrand, L., Lim, C., & Cordes, S. (2019, October). Framing matters: Relations between performance and math and spatial attitudes. Poster accepted for presentation at the 2019 Cognitive Development Society (CDS) Biennial Conference, Louisville, KY, USA. 
  • Hildebrand, L., & Cordes, S. (2019, June). Gender differences in math and spatial anxiety and self-concept in early elementary school. Poster presented at the Annual Mathematical Cognition and Learning Society (MCLS) Annual Meeting, Ottawa, ON, CA.

Young Mathematicians: Expanding an Innovative and Promising Model Across Learning Environments to Promote Preschoolers' Mathematics Knowledge 

PI: Jessica Young
Target Audience: Teachers and Families

Disciplines/Subject Areas:
Early mathematics: Number and operations, geometry, patterning, spatial representation, measurement, data

Project Description: Young Mathematicians (YM) addresses the critical need for an early childhood mathematics program that provides teachers and families with accessible instructional materials, supports, and professional development, and promotes children’s mathematics knowledge while narrowing opportunity gaps. This design and development project will transform the mathematics learning environments of preschool children from under-resourced communities by creating a cross-context school-home intervention. Our study builds on evidence of promise from our NSF-funded exploratory study, Scaffolding Mastery Motivation (DUE-1348564) by refining existing cross-context resources and furthers this work through the creation of resources that target new content areas for a robust school-home early mathematics intervention.

YM aims to broaden participation of groups traditionally under-represented in STEM by:

  • providing playful instructional mathematics materials that support adult-child interaction and engagement in mathematics (for teachers and families),
  • explicitly promoting school-home connections in mathematics,
  • addressing educators’ and families’ attitudes toward mathematics,
  • fostering high-quality mathematics opportunities across children’s learning environments.

Initial Findings: In collaboration with teachers, family partners, and project advisors, we have been developing new games and game materials with a particular focus on spatial reasoning, measurement, data, pattern, and shape skills. In April 2020 we began working closely with teachers to provide virtual professional development sessions. These sessions were designed to support teachers’ use of the mathematics games with children remotely, help them plan their work with families to encourage at-home use of the mathematics games, and to gather feedback about how we could improve the materials to better support teachers and families. We met weekly via a virtual meeting application and focused on children’s development of number concepts, patterns, and spatial reasoning skills. The teachers expressed that these sessions extended their thinking about the targeted mathematical concepts and gave them new ideas for mathematics activities to share with families. The teachers’ input and suggestions for materials revision has also been invaluable; for example, we have found that teachers and families prefer highly visual modes of communication, with less text. Using this feedback, we are developing a family-friendly format for the mathematics game directions, adding mathematics question prompts to the games, and compiling a suggested mathematics vocabulary list for teachers and families to emphasize. Teachers have noted that parents have found the revised YM materials accessible and easy to implement; in fact, one teacher shared that the parents of students in her classroom – especially those who may experience language barriers or have lower literacy or educational attainment levels – have gained confidence in their ability to support their preschooler’s mathematics learning and thinking.

Product(s): www.ym.edc.org