Effects of Combined Attention and Academic Interventions for Kindergarten Children with Significant Difficulties in Mathematics

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National Science Foundation (NSF),ECR-EHR Core Research, 2100328, subcontract with Vanderbilt University
Principal Investigator


Low math skills significantly limit access to post-secondary education, employment, and lifetime earnings. Because math difficulties can be detected early in schooling, early intervention is key for preventing the negative consequences of persistent low math achievement. Kindergarten is a particularly important developmental time-window within which to intervene given that children who enter and exit kindergarten with low math knowledge are at high risk for having long-term difficulties in mathematics. Many kindergarten children who do not respond adequately to classroom math instruction are characterized as having both low math knowledge and difficulties in focusing and sustaining attention. One way to tackle the math learning difficulties of these at-risk kindergarten children, then, might be to create interventions that conjointly address mathematics and attention. The purpose of this project is to test the effects of a novel approach to intervention in which instruction in mathematics and training in attention are combined. The aim of this study is to determine whether combined intensive attention training and math intervention leads to greater math learning than the same math intervention without attention training. The study will also seek to determine whether the effects of combined training on mathematics are sensitive to the use of quantitative information during attention training. Two hundred and ten children identified as not having made progress in math in the fall semester of kindergarten will be randomly assigned to one of three active intervention conditions in the spring semester: 1) an intensive mathematics intervention; 2) the same mathematics intervention combined with adaptive game-like attention training designed to improve the abilities to focus and sustain attention; or 3) the mathematics intervention combined with similar adaptive attention training, but where the child has to focus on and respond to quantitative information in the games. Multiple measures of math, attention, and attention-related cognitive competencies such as working memory are measured prior to the intervention, immediately following the intervention, and after a one-month follow-up. The study is designed to address ongoing questions regarding whether cognitive training - in this case, when combined with math intervention - holds any promise for improving mathematical learning for young children at high risk for persistent low math achievement. This award is supported by the EHR Core Research Program (ECR). ECR supports fundamental research in STEM education in critical research areas that are essential, broad and enduring. The ECR program is distinguished by its emphasis on the accumulation of robust evidence to inform efforts to (a) understand, (b) build theory to explain, and (c) suggest interventions (and innovations) to address persistent challenges in STEM interest, education, learning, and participation. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.