Research in kindergarten classrooms shows that a pilot program of the Baylor School of Education (SOE) helps those students gain an advantage in math understanding as compared to their peers.
The Math for Early Learners Academy (MELA) was a month-long program held in Mayborn Museum each of the last two summers, serving early childhood students in Waco ISD. In summer 2016, the program enrolled one class of 17 students who were entering kindergarten. During the school year, the MELA research team evaluated the children’s progress in early fall and late spring of the school year.
“Midway through the fall semester, we conducted an assessment of all the kindergarten children at Brook Avenue Elementary, including our MELA students,” said Dr. Sandra Cooper, professor of mathematics education in SOE’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and founder and director of MELA. “From those results, we saw that our MELA students were ahead of their peers, which we expected in the short term.”
Cooper said that researchers gave another assessment at the end of April 2017.
“Once again, we saw that the MELA students were ahead of their peers, without any other intervention during the school year,” Cooper said. “We were very pleased that MELA gave them a boost that kept them moving forward in mathematics learning throughout the entire academic year.”
The research team, led by Cooper, includes curriculum and instruction faculty members Rachelle Rogers, EdD; Lakia Scott, PhD; and Trena Wilkerson, PhD. Doctoral students Keith Kerschen and Ryann Shelton also are team members.
Baylor SOE funding helped MELA expand to three classes this summer, including two classes of rising kindergarteners and a second-year class of the students from last summer, who are now entering first grade. The 28 students enrolled are from Brook Avenue and South Waco Elementary Schools. The program works in partnership with Waco Independent School District and the Mayborn Museum with community connections through Prosper Waco.
Cooper said research shows that early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than are reading skills, but that many preschools don’t focus enough on math.
“It’s all about gaining number sense, which is composing and decomposing numbers—more than just counting,” she said. “When you think about the number 5, you can see it as a sum of 3 and 2 or of 4 and 1, and there are sets of five and counting by fives. And five can be found in the real world; for example, a nickel represents the number 5. It’s about understanding what numbers mean, not just rote counting.”
Each MELA classroom has a master teacher, plus teaching assistants who lead small groups of students. The master teachers are Emily Bray Draper, BSEd ’12, Jennifer Williams and Raven Richard, BSEd ’17.
The program also helps Baylor students gain additional experience. Teaching assistants are senior elementary education majors Mandy Hinshaw, Kristen Lanier, Rachel Perry, Emily Taylor and Anastasia Walton; senior middle grades science major Loren Losli; junior elementary education major Andrea Toledo-Castillo; and master’s candidate Katelyn Hamilton, BSEd ’17.
“As a junior, I had field experience teaching high-achieving students in third grade, so this is a big difference, and I am getting a lot of exposure to different age groups and developmental levels,” Perry said.