Golinkoff receives NIH stimulus grant to study preschoolers' geometric knowledge
Roberta Golinkoff


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7:45 a.m., Nov. 11, 2009----Roberta Golinkoff, H. Rodney Sharp Professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware, and graduate student Wilkey Wong wanted to know what preschool children understand about geometric shapes and how to manipulate them. There is a link between spatial skills and mathematical abilities for older children, but there is little research on what younger children can do.

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Without understanding what preschoolers know about shapes, educators cannot develop adequate curricula for their young students. Now, with the help of a $904,828 federal stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health, Golinkoff and Wong will be uncovering young students' geometric abilities.

The grant funds Golinkoff's newest project, "Shape Up: Preschooler's Knowledge of Spatial Concepts and Future Mathematics Achievement."

"Math has a large spatial component. Children who have more knowledge about geometric forms may well have better mathematical abilities than those who don't," said Golinkoff. "We will examine what children know about shapes at three years of age and how this predicts their spatial and mathematical knowledge a year later."

The research team will study about 150 preschool children over a span of two years by conducting several different but related studies. One aspect of the research will include asking preschoolers to point to shapes by name and manipulate them to create various structures. Another component of the research utilizes a machine called an "eye tracker." This technology will actually document how children inspect geometric shapes and whether they look first to the center of the shape or immediately to the vertices to draw a conclusion about what it is.

"The eye tracker assesses what children look at when comparing two forms," explained Golinkoff. "In this study, we're also determined to figure out what kids in different social classes, who have different types of experiences, know about geometric forms."

Golinkoff points out that in this two-year, longitudinal study, the geometric concepts and materials used are based on national standards of what children should know before entering kindergarten. "This is important," she notes, "because numerous reports have argued that America is falling behind other countries in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math. To maintain our position in a global economy, we must understand what children know and how to build on their strengths in our instruction."

"But teaching in preschool classrooms about geometric forms can be done in an engaging and motivating way," she continued. "No one is talking about curricula that just make kids sit still and listen."

Golinkoff is passionate about these issues, having just published A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool (Oxford), about how children learn best when material is presented in an engaging manner.

Golinkoff's project is already underway as she and Wong refine the materials they will use to assess preschool children's knowledge.

Article by Cassandra Kramer