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National Science Foundation awards College of Education grant to improve early education

Photo by Taylor Lippman

Three professors in the College of Education have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to investigate effective methods related to early mathematics education. The team of researchers – assistant professors Gena Nelson, Hannah Carter and Peter Boedeker – will conduct meta-analysis of early math interventions for children ages 3-8, specifically focusing on informal learning environments away from the traditional classroom setting. Their idea for this project originated prior to the emergence of COVID, and it now has the potential to create an even larger impact given the current situation that many caregivers are faced with as more students engage in remote learning.

Gena Nelson, assistant professor, Department of Early and Special Education

“Our goal is to inform parents and community partners about how they can intentionally provide mathematics learning opportunities for young children in environments that represent everyday experiences,” Nelson said. “Learning happens outside of the formal classroom setting, and we hope our project positively impacts the opportunities parents and community partners provide children.”

Nelson began researching early childhood education in graduate school, and for the last five years, her research has examined different aspects of early mathematics interventions and instruction for students with learning disabilities. She’s found that most students are not identified as having a learning disability until elementary school. Her work focuses on recommendations for working with families and caregivers to promote healthy learning environments related to mathematics.

Hannah Carter, assistant professor, Department of Literacy, Language and Culture

The project is a three-year meta-analysis that does not involve any human participants in the research process. The team will use published research studies from around the world as their “subjects,” looking for differences between the studies’ variables such as participants, learning environment, children and adults to identify patterns in the outcomes. Nelson said that a meta-analysis takes what has been conducted in a narrow field of research and synthesizes the results of studies in order to provide practical implications as well as next steps for research. Throughout the process, Nelson and the other professors will be collaborating with and training graduate students at Boise State who may soon become independent researchers in their own right.

“These researchers will be providing vital information for families and caregivers to support early math skills for young children in new and impactful ways, as well as a solid knowledge base for future scholarly work,” said Jennifer Snow, College of Education interim dean.

Peter Boedeker, assistant professor, Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Foundational Studies

As the project progresses, findings will be shared with researchers and practitioners through peer-reviewed manuscripts and presentations at various conferences. To reach an even broader audience, the team will develop a public website and produce informational brochures for parents and childcare providers, as well as for teachers and policymakers.

Their work aligns directly with the College of Education in preparing future teachers and other practitioners who will one day work with children and their families, according to Nelson.

“As a community, when we invest in young children’s learning opportunities, we are investing in our future workforce – our next generation of teachers, engineers, physicians, scientists and decision makers,” she said. “So we hope that the results of this study will impact how educators communicate with parents and caregivers about the support they can provide to their children in informal learning environments to promote increased mathematics understanding.”