Helping Children Learn Math
School of Education Professor Nancy Jordan wins prestigious award
The joys of counting often begin during the toddler years as children sing along to “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” or laugh with The Count on Sesame Street. But what happens when a child struggles to match those numbers with quantities?
Many children, especially those with learning difficulties and from low-income families, enter kindergarten without basic number competencies. Without this foundational number sense, these children struggle with achievement in elementary and middle school mathematics.
“Early misunderstandings cascade into more severe math weaknesses in later grades, especially when instruction shifts abruptly from whole numbers to fractions,” said Nancy Jordan, Dean Family Endowed Chair of Education and professor in the School of Education (SOE) at the University of Delaware.
Jordan helps these young students and their teachers through research grounded in the science of how children learn, especially in relation to early number sense and fractions understanding. 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.
For example, Jordan’s research in early number sense has demonstrated that children’s number competency in kindergarten predicts their mathematical achievement through at least the third grade. Her research also showed that kindergartners from low-income families are much more likely to follow a low performance, flat growth learning path in math than their middle-income peers.
With these findings in mind, Jordan and her colleagues developed Number Sense Interventions, a widely used curriculum that allows teachers to help students at risk for these mathematical challenges.
In recognition of this work and related research, the Division of Research in the Council of Exceptional Children has selected Jordan as the 2020 recipient of the Kauffman-Hallahan-Pullen Distinguished Researcher Award.
This award recognizes the critical importance of research in special education that has had a meaningful impact on the field. It honors individuals or research teams whose creation of a research base, as well as the work done to translate the research into practice, has resulted in more effective services or education for exceptional individuals.
Supported by the Institute for Education Sciences, Jordan’s current project seeks to develop a similar fraction sense intervention. With colleague 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 invention to be used by teachers in authentic small-class settings for struggling students. Students engage in meaningful everyday activities, such as racing or measuring with cups, and teachers use animated digital presentations.
“Our fractions intervention provides an alternative approach to engage struggling learners and encourage deeper learning,” said Jordan. “The goal is to have an intervention that will be fully useable by teachers, not just researchers.”
“Dr. Jordan is an internationally recognized, impactful scholar and teacher who has created a large body of usable knowledge — one that is addressing a critical societal problem. She is also dedicated to disseminating her findings in children’s mathematics to a wide audience, including researchers, teachers and policymakers,” said Chrystalla Mouza, Distinguished Professor of Teacher Education and director of the SOE. “She successfully translates her work to improve educational practice, especially for those with disabilities and limited educational opportunities in STEM. I find her especially deserving of the Kauffman-Hallahan-Pullen Distinguished Researcher Award.”
Jordan officially received the award on Feb. 7 at the annual meeting of the Council of Exceptional Children in Portland, Oregon.