As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative resources for use in a variety of settings. Informal STEM learning opportunities are often rare in rural locations where the early childhood education system is also under-resourced. Through partnerships with educational researchers, early math educators, pediatric health experts, and pediatric clinics, this project will develop and study a new opportunity for informal math learning. The project will work with pediatric clinics that serve rural immigrant families who are racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse. The project leverages the high levels of trust many caregivers have in their child’s pediatrician to improve math learning during critical early years. This project will build on a previous program where physician text messages to caregivers supported youth literacy development. In this instance the project will support caregivers’ math interactions with their 3- and 4-year-olds to cultivate children's math knowledge and skills. The text messaging program will be grounded in research in child development, mathematics learning, parenting practices, and adult behavior change. Texts will also provide caregiver supports for how to engage their children in mathematical activates in their everyday lives and provide information about the important skills children are developing. Text messages will be co-developed with caregiver input, and focus on content underlying mathematical development such as Number Sense, Classification and Patterning, Measurement, Geometry, and Reasoning. Caregivers will receive text messages from their pediatric clinics three times a week for eight months. For example, three related texts supporting Number Sense include: “FACT: Kids enjoy counting and it prepares them for K! Mealtimes are a fun time to practice counting objects;” “TIP: At a meal, say: Can you count all the cups on the table? All the plates? What else can you count? (Forks) Tell them: Great job!” and “GROWTH: You are helping kids to count & get ready for K. At the park, ask: How many bikes are there? How many birds? Count together & find out!” Throughout the planning and implementation phases of the project the team will work closely with early education math experts, key advisors, and caregivers to ensure the text messaging program is tailored to meet the cultural, linguistic, and contextual needs of rural caregivers and children.
The project will research impacts of the text messaging program on children, caregivers, and clinical staff. First, the project will investigate the impact of the texting program on children through a randomized trial, and pre-and-post measures of early childhood math skills and abilities. Second, using interviews at baseline and in a 9-month follow-up, the project will study the texting program’s impact on caregivers’ perceptions regarding the importance of math learning for young children. Third, the project will explore the impact of the text messaging program on health professionals’ understanding of math learning in early childhood by collecting qualitative data and assessing attitudes about the clinic’s role in supporting early math. Caregivers and clinic staff will also participate in focus groups to better understand impacts for each of these groups. The project will reach 1000 families, who will be randomly assigned to treatment or control groups through block-randomization, stratified by caregiver language and child’s age. This parent-informed project will build evidence toward new approaches to promoting early math in the pediatric clinic, an informal environment that can reach all families and can leverage innovative technology. Findings will be shared widely though a communication and engagement plan that includes children, caregivers, physicians and clinic staff, informal STEM educators, researchers, and policy makers.
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