You are here

News Update

Education in ABCs and density

Research: preschool math performance predicts future K12 academic achievement
PRESCHOOL AND PINE CONES—A preschool student at Hopkins Public Schools, above, is already learning how to inspect a pine cone with a magnifying glass as part of a lesson in STEM subjects.
PRESCHOOL AND PINE CONES—A preschool student at Hopkins Public Schools, above, is already learning how to inspect a pine cone with a magnifying glass as part of a lesson in STEM subjects.

Preschool math performance predicts future academic achievement more consistently than reading or attention skills, according to new research from New America and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

"STEM Starts Early" reports that preschool math knowledge predicts math achievement into high school, and a randomized study of McGraw-Hill’s Building Blocks curriculum, which embeds mathematical learning into preschool activities, led to higher scores in literacy and language, such as recognizing letters, expressing knowledge and understanding spoken words.

Early exposure to STEM also promotes executive function, such as the ability to revise predictions based on observations, according to the report.

Hopkins Public Schools near Minneapolis starts to teach math, technology, engineering and science instruction in preschool. “What we’re doing is creating a foundational understanding,” says Sara Chovan, the district’s early childhood and parent education coordinator.

Preschool students at Hopkins learn through play that incorporates scientific vocabulary such as density and gravity. In one lesson, teachers let students play with ramps, marbles and pingpong balls. Instead of showing students how to prop up the ramp to make the balls roll, teachers encourage exploration with questions such as, “What can we create to make the ball go faster?" and “How big could we make this?”

Four barriers

More preschools are considering how to integrate STEM into curriculum, says Susan Friedman, senior director of content strategy for the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

So why aren’t STEM ideas woven more seamlessly into early childhood education classes?

The report identifies four barriers:

1. Teachers and parents require additional knowledge and support to effectively teach early childhood STEM.

2. Early childhood teachers need more robust training in developmentally appropriate STEM instruction.

3. STEM funding appears to be skewed toward older children.

4. The public holds misconceptions about STEM, such as that it is designed for older children or students who excel in those areas.

At Hopkins, feedback from parents about early childhood STEM has been enthusiastic, Chovan says.

“It’s a very powerful thing to know that your kids are already getting these concepts,” she says.