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Mathematical and Scientific Development in Early Childhood: A Workshop Summary
The National Research Council (NRC), through the Center for Education (CFE), wishes to build on the work in early childhood it has already done. In particular, the NRC wishes to focus on research on young children and their learning of mathematical and scientific ideas. The workshop that is the subject of this report, one in a series of workshops made possible through a grant to the CFE from the National Science Foundation, is the starting point for that effort. The center’s mission is to promote evidence-based policy analysis that both responds to current needs and anticipates future ones. This one-day workshop was designed as an initial step in exploring the research in cognition and developmental psychology that sheds light on children’s capacity to learn mathematical and scientific ideas. The workshop brought experts together to discuss research on the ways children’s cognitive capacities can serve as building blocks in the development of mathematical and scientific understanding. The workshop also focused on curricular and resource materials for mathematics and science found in early childhood education settings as a means to examine particular research-based assumptions that influence classroom practice.
The workshop was a collaborative effort in which the Mathematical Sciences Education Board and the Board on Science Education, both of which operate under the umbrella of CFE, ensured that the perspectives of both subjects were well represented. The committee that planned the workshop began with a charge that included these questions:
What is the state of research into the basic cognitive building blocks in mathematics and science? What does this research base suggest about the development of conceptual underpinnings in these subject areas?
Is there a body of research that addresses both conceptual development in these subject areas and environmental influences?
How are these concepts now addressed across early childhood education settings in the United States?
In what ways can the research about conceptual building blocks in early mathematics and science development be used to help minimize later achievement differences in these subject areas across racial and socioeconomic groups?
Researchers specializing in both mathematics and science were invited to provide an overview of the current state of the scholarship that addresses these questions. Experts in the development of science and mathematics curricula for very young children were invited to offer their perspectives and describe several working programs that promote science or mathematics learning. The committee that planned the workshop did not evaluate the effectiveness of these programs, but merely identified a variety of programs that it believed would provide the basis for a stimulating discussion of the topics it was charged to explore. This summary report of the discussions and presentations at the workshop is designed