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Mathematical and Scientific Development in Early Childhood: A Workshop Summary
search is carried out, it is often not guided by theoretical frameworks and does not draw on research on cognitive development, as Clements and Worth pointed out.
The lack of connection between current research and practice in this field is not unfamiliar to researchers and practitioners. The NRC reports Eager to Learn (National Research Council, 2001b) and From Neurons to Neighborhoods (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000) both emphasize the importance of better aligning research and work on translating that research into practice, taking into account the complexities of educational settings. From Neurons to Neighborhoods concludes that “as the rapidly evolving science of early child development continues to grow, its complexity will increase and the distance between the working knowledge of service providers and the cutting edge of the science will be staggering. The professional challenges that this raises for the early childhood field are formidable” (p. 42).
The key question then is how evidence from the most recent research in cognitive development can find its way into the worlds of policy and practice. The influence of research on the development of literacy skills demonstrates that a strong research base can influence policy and practice. The research base in mathematics and science is weaker than that in literacy, with less developed basic and applied research and fewer longitudinal studies (especially in science). In order to build from and strengthen this existing research base substantial work must be done to draw together the disparate strands into a coherent framework to identify both what is known and where the most promising future lines of research may lie.
The danger, of course, is to want to rush determinedly toward knitting together research and practice too early, before there is a deeper understanding of where the productive research intersections are and how those intersections may be useful to early childhood educators and curriculum developers. This rush to application with tentative findings was cautioned against by several workshop participants. The thrust of discussions suggested instead that the gap between research and practice cannot be closed until existing lines of research concerning children’s learning of mathematical and scientific ideas are evaluated systematically and integrated into a more coherent picture of development. Only then can the areas in which further research is needed and those where the research evidence is sufficiently robust to inform practice be identified. In sum, a synthesis study that pulls together the applicable lines of research from developmental psychology, cognitive science, and applied research in early childhood settings to clarify what is known about very young children’s ability to engage in mathematics and science is a logical next step in advancing both research and practice in these domains.