Excellence in Education Scholarship
Professor Nancy C. Jordan elected to National Academy of Education
Early mathematical understanding often begins as young children engage in playful activities with their parents and caregivers. Toddlers and preschoolers relish in everyday numerical activities, like breaking three eggs into a bowl and adding half a cup of chocolate chips to brownie batter. But what happens when a child struggles to match number symbols with quantities or understand that numbers can be broken down into smaller parts?
Many children enter kindergarten with limited number competencies. Children with learning disabilities, as well as those from under-resourced communities, are especially at risk. Without this foundational number sense, these children experience challenges in elementary mathematics.
Nancy C. Jordan, the Dean Family Endowed Chair of Education and professor in the University of Delaware’s (UD) College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), helps these young students develop early number sense and fractions understanding through research grounded in the science of how children learn. In partnership with colleagues at UD and other universities, she has not only identified predictors of mathematical growth and achievement, but translated her findings into practical, evidence-based curricula, interventions and assessments for elementary and middle school teachers.
In recognition of her contributions to the field of special education and her research on mathematical learning, Jordan has been elected to membership in the National Academy of Education (NAEd). This prestigious organization advances high-quality education research and its use in policy and practice, and its members are elected on the basis of outstanding scholarship related to education. Jordan is one of 17 national and international scholars elected to membership this year, and she is the second member from UD to receive this honor.
“In inviting Dr. Jordan into membership, the National Academy of Education has recognized her outstanding contributions to the learning sciences, especially for young children who are struggling to master foundational concepts in mathematics. With careful attention to the needs of educators, Dr. Jordan has also worked to make her research widely available and accessible to both teachers and parents,” said Gary T. Henry, CEHD dean and professor in the School of Education (SOE) and the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration. “Her work has been particularly valuable for teachers who are serving under-resourced communities, fulfilling a critical aspect of our college’s mission. I am grateful for Dr. Jordan’s dedication to these communities, and I am proud to have her as a colleague here at UD.”
In addition to contributing groundbreaking work in the field of mathematical learning, Jordan is dedicated to disseminating her research to a wide audience, including researchers, teachers, parents and policymakers. For example, Jordan and her colleagues developed the Screener for Early Number Sense, a tool for identifying pre-k, kindergarten and first-grade students at risk for later struggles in mathematics, and Number Sense Interventions, a widely used curriculum that allows teachers to help students with these challenges.
These tools are based on Jordan’s research in early number sense. Her work demonstrates that children’s number competency in kindergarten predicts their mathematical achievement through at least the third grade. Jordan’s research also showed that kindergartners from under-resourced communities, who likely come to school with limited experiences with numbers, are much more likely to follow a low performance, flat growth learning path in math than their middle-income peers.
“Dr. Jordan is an exceptional scholar whose work has far-reaching, meaningful impact in the fields of mathematical cognition and learning disabilities. She has created a large body of usable knowledge focusing on the improvement of mathematical learning in students from underserved communities,” said Chrystalla Mouza, Distinguished Professor of Teacher Education and director of the SOE. “The School of Education faculty is very proud of Dr. Jordan’s induction in the National Academy of Education.”
Supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Institute for Education Sciences (IES), Jordan’s current projects focus on children’s understanding of fractions. In her IES-supported work, Jordan seeks to develop a fraction sense intervention. With colleague and former student Nancy Dyson, assistant professor in the SOE, Jordan is collaborating with Delaware teachers to develop a new approach to teaching fractions based on their previous research on predicting and addressing elementary and middle-school fraction difficulties.
Jordan and Dyson intentionally designed the intervention to be used by teachers in authentic settings for struggling students. Students engage in meaningful everyday activities, such as racing or measuring with cups, and teachers use animated digital presentations.
In a second NSF-supported project, Jordan is studying young children’s understanding of fractions before they come to school and the relationship between this informal knowledge and their fraction learning in instructional settings.
With Nora Newcombe of Temple University, Jordan and her team are investigating whether individual differences in informal fractions knowledge among first graders are associated with short and long-term mathematical outcomes. The project specifically targets underrepresented populations in STEM fields, including ethnic and racial minority groups and students from under-resourced communities. Much like Jordan’s research in number sense, the findings from this work are expected to inform new first grade curricula in mathematics.
“I am humbled by the honor of membership in the National Academy of Education. I am especially grateful to my wonderful students at the University of Delaware, who have played a key role in my career success,” said Jordan.
Jordan will be officially inducted into the organization at the NAEd annual meeting in November 2022.
Jordan joins Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Chair and professor in CEHD’s SOE and in the departments of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Linguistics and Cognitive Science, who was inducted into the NAEd in 2021 for her work on language, literacy, education and spatial reasoning in infants and young children.
Article by Jessica Henderson