Effects on Mathematics and Executive Function of a Mathematics and Play Intervention Versus Mathematics Alone

Early education is replete with debates about “academic” versus “play” approaches. We evaluated 2 interventions, the Building Blocks (BB) mathematics curriculum and the BB synthesized with scaffolding of play to promote executive function (BBSEF), compared to a business-as-usual (BAU) control using a 3-armed cluster randomized trial with more than 1,000 children in 84 preschool classrooms across three districts (multiracial or multiethnic, low income, 27% English Language Learner). Impact estimates for BBSEF were mixed in sign, small in magnitude, and insignificant. Most impact estimates for BB were positive, but only a few were statistically significant, with more in the kindergarten year (delayed effects), including both mathematics achievement and executive function (EF) competencies. Gains in both mathematics and EF can be mutually supportive and thus resist the fade-out effect.

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Footnotes

This research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grants R305A080200 and R305A080700. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the U.S. Department of Education. Although the research is concerned with theoretical issues, not particular curricula, components of the intervention used in this research have been published by the authors and their collaborators on the project, who thus could have a vested interest in the results. Researchers from an independent institution oversaw the research design, data collection, and analysis and confirmed findings and procedures. The authors wish to express appreciation to the school districts, teachers, and children who participated in this research and Carrie Germeroth, PhD, who contributed to previous versions of the research. Fatih Unlu and Lily Fesler were at Abt Associates when most of the reported research was conducted.

Note: Appendices for this article are available online only at https://pubs.nctm.org/view/journals/jrme/51/3/article-p301.xml?tab_body=supplementaryMaterials

Contributor Notes

Douglas H. Clements and Julie Sarama, Morgridge College of Education, Marsico Institute, University of Denver, Katherine A. Ruffatto Hall 160, 1999 East Evans Avenue, Denver, CO 80208-1700; Douglas.Clements@du.edu and Julie.Sarama@du.edu

Carolyn Layzer, Social and Economic Policy Division, Abt Associates, 10 Fawcett Street, Cambridge, MA 02138; Carolyn_Layzer@abtassoc.com

Fatih Unlu, RAND Corporation, Education and Labor Division, 1776 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90401; Funlu@rand.org

Lily Fesler, Stanford Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA 94305-3096; lfesler@stanford.edu

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