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Clements' and Sarama's Early Childhood Education Research Spotlighted in Science

Release Date: August 22, 2011

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The work of husband-and-wife researchers Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama is featured in Science magazine's special section on early childhood education.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The research of University at Buffalo faculty members Douglas H. Clements, PhD, and Julie Sarama, PhD, is featured in a special section of Science magazine focused on the value of educational programs for the earliest of childhood learners -- children 2, 3 and 4 years old.

Effective early childhood education, the magazine states, can have a significant impact on many aspects of adult life, such as "your comfort with math or even the size of your paycheck."

Identifying which education programs are the most effective is crucial to the nation's education policy and can help guide parents.

Clements' and Sarama's "Building Blocks" pre-kindergarten mathematics program, funded by the National Science Foundation, is one program shown to be effective.

"Very young children have the potential to learn mathematics that is complex and sophisticated," Clements and Sarama state in their article, "Early Childhood Mathematics Intervention," published in the current edition of Science, one the premier research periodicals in the U.S. (Their article is available here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6045/968.full.)

"Unfortunately, this potential is left unrealized for many children throughout the world. Fortunately, researcher-based early childhood mathematics interventions exist that increase these children's mathematical knowledge. There is much to gain, and little to lose, by engaging young children in mathematical experiences."

According to Clements and Sarama, mathematics is not just one more "subject" to be learned. Mathematical thinking is "cognitively foundational," they write. For example, preschool children's knowledge of mathematics predicts their later school success into high school. Further, it predicts later reading achievement, even better than early reading skills.

The quantitative, spatial, and logical reasoning competencies of mathematics form a cognitive foundation for thinking and learning across subjects, according to Clements' and Sarama's article. Given the importance of mathematics to academic success and to a nation's economic success, all children need a robust knowledge of mathematics in their earliest years, the UB researchers say.

The good news is that all children can develop such mathematical knowledge and skill. Sarama and Clements have created educational interventions that have been shown to be effective in helping all children learn mathematics. These are structured around "learning trajectories" -- research-based paths of learning based on a synthesis of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and mathematics education.

Building Blocks' basic approach is finding the mathematics in, and developing mathematics from, children's activity. The program's curriculum was designed to help children extend and "mathematize" their everyday activities, from building blocks to art and stories to puzzles and games.

"Young children have the potential to learn mathematics that is both deep and broad," says Sarama. "We are trying to ensure that this potential is realized for all children."

Clements and Sarama's breakthrough work teaching very young at-risk children the fundamentals of math, using Building Blocks, has attracted attention by several national media outlets.

This includes a front-page story in The New York Times calling their work one of the few projects in the field of cognitive science to establish a successful track record. Clements' and Sarama's "Building Blocks," could "transform teaching from the bottom up," the Times article stated.

"Doug and Julie are exceptional researchers," says UB Graduate School of Education Dean Mary H. Gresham. "It's wonderful that their work with these young children is being recognized outside of traditional educational journals. It's really important research."

Clements' and Sarama's research also has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Educational Studies.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
Senior Editor, Law, Social Work and Education
Tel: 716-645-4600
anzalon@buffalo.edu