Pre-K Early Algebra Through Quantitative Reasoning (PreKEA)

This project is initiating an innovative approach to pre-K students' development of quantitative reasoning through measurement. This quantitative approach builds on measurement concepts and algebraic design of the pre-numeric stage of instruction found in the Elkonin-Davydov (E-D) elementary mathematics curriculum from Russia. The project team is adapting and refocusing the conceptual framework and learning tasks of the E-D pre-numeric stage for use with four-year-olds.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1212766
Funding Period: 
September 1, 2010 to August 31, 2013
Full Description: 

This is an exploratory project that endeavors to initiate an innovative approach to preK students’ development of quantitative reasoning through measurement. This quantitative approach builds on measurement concepts and algebraic design of the pre-numeric stage of instruction found in the successful Elkonin-Davydov (E-D) elementary mathematics curriculum from Russia. The PreKEA project will adapt and refocus the conceptual framework of the E-D pre-numeric stage with respect to early algebra in the context of teaching experiments with preK and kindergarten students. A primary goal of the project is to obtain a proof-of-concept and lay down a conceptual and empirical foundation for a subsequent full research and development DR K-12 proposal.

The importance of early algebra (EA) in mathematics education has been acknowledged by the publication of a separate chapter solely devoted to early algebra and algebraic reasoning in the second Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning (Lester, 2007). Given that “much prior research highlights the difficulties that middle and high school students have with algebra,” the proponents of EA argue that “the weaving of algebra throughout the K-12 curriculum could lend coherence, depth, and power to school mathematics, and replace late, abrupt, isolated, and superficial high school algebra courses” (Carraher & Schliemann, 2007, pp. 670-671). At the same time, “quantitative thinking is unavoidable in EA” as it “does not seem realistic to first introduce youngsters to the algebra of number and then proceed to problems steeped in quantities as ‘applications’ of algebra” (ibid., p. 671). While the E-D curriculum with its proven track record focuses on the development of quantitative and measurement reasoning among elementary-aged children in grades 1–6, it is feasible that much younger children, even four-year-olds, can access the pre-numeric ideas. This is supported by research by Baillargeon (2001) and Wynn (1997) who showed that infants as young as two-months old demonstrate the development of number and measurement concepts. The PreKEA project will identify key concepts of the E-D pre-numeric stage relevant to four-year-olds and develop and explore lesson units which can be integrated into US preK settings. The project team combines the international expertise of PI Berkaliev who served as project coordinator and international liaison for an NSF-funded international project US-Russian Working Forum on Elementary Mathematics: Is the Elkonin-Davydov Curriculum a Model for the US? and who also brings the perspective of a mathematician, with the theoretical, methodological, and empirical expertise of co-PI Dougherty who has been one of the leading figures in working with, adapting, and studying the implementations of the E-D curriculum in the US, as well as a group of five leading Russian experts who developed, implemented, and studied the original E-D curriculum. The project resources include the E-D curriculum materials and articles only available in Russian.

The PreKEA (PreK Early Algebra through Quantitative Reasoning) project has the potential to make contributions beyond the preK early algebra curriculum that it will develop and implement. The PreKEA project can benefit disadvantaged students by using an innovative approach to EA instruction that has the potential to broaden access and at an early stage change the situation when disproportionately many disadvantaged students are not prepared adequately for learning quantitative reasoning and algebra. With research in preK narrowly focused on particular topics, the results of this project have the potential to inform a broader field including mathematics education and early childhood education with evidence that young children can access and interact with more complex mathematics, extending beyond counting.

Developers and researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Iowa State University are initiating an innovative approach to pre-K students' development of quantitative reasoning through measurement. This quantitative approach builds on measurement concepts and algebraic design of the pre-numeric stage of instruction found in the Elkonin-Davydov (E-D) elementary mathematics curriculum from Russia. The project team is adapting and refocusing the conceptual framework and learning tasks of the E-D pre-numeric stage for use with four-year-olds. The adaptation is being done in collaboration with experts in Russia who were involved in the original E-D development. A primary goal of the project is to obtain a proof-of-concept and lay down a conceptual and empirical foundation for a subsequent research and development.

The research progresses using teaching experiments involving six students. Each student is engaged in 15 minute one-on-one sessions twice each week. Sessions are videotaped and transcribed for further analysis. The analysis of the data is conducted by the project team in collaboration with Russian consultants.

The research findings and methodology will provide grounds for supporting more complex and sophisticated mathematical ideas that will inform curriculum development for pre-K students and teachers. Results will be published and reported widely.

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