MathScapes: Activating Public Spaces for Early Math Learning

Saturday, September 1, 2018 to Saturday, February 29, 2020
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Exhibitions, Parks, Outdoor, and Garden Exhibits
Elementary School Children (6-10) | Pre-K Children (0-5) | Families | Parents/Caregivers | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals | Learning Researchers
Access and Inclusion: 
Immigrant Communities
Low Socioeconomic Status
Young People's Project, Inc.

Mathematics plays a significant role in understanding and participating in science, technology, and engineering (STEM). Research shows that early mathematics experiences in everyday life are critical to the development of children's mathematical knowledge. This project will explore an innovative approach to fostering parent-child math interactions and conversations related to mathematical ideas. The approach will use community-based, exhibit installations called Mathscapes. These are artistic, culturally relevant, easily accessible, physical installations designed to encourage adults and children (ages 3 to 7) to use their immediate environment to playfully explore key early math concepts. The project also addresses a need for research about the cultural experiences and resources that marginalized children and families bring to mathematical conversations. Understanding parent-child interactions about mathematics community settings could result in new knowledge about early math learning among low income children and parents. As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

This exploratory study will design and investigate an innovative approach to encouraging math talk and math-related interactions between parents and children (ages 3-7) through the creation of MathScapes. These are temporary physical installations designed to use the immediate environment to playfully explore mathematical concepts. This study will be conducted in two Boston neighborhoods that are populated by low-income, non-dominant minority and immigrant families. Adopting a case study approach, the project will use observational methods, discourse analysis of parent/child talk, and interviews to study the interactions of 200 families at two neighborhood Mathscape installations. LENA devices will be used to capture parent/child talk at the Mathscapes while researchers use observational methods to document participant interactions, talk, and gestures. Data sources will include audio recordings of family talk, field notes of family interactions at Mathscape installations, surveys, and interviews. A qualitative approach will be used to produce research findings at multiple levels. The focus of the analysis will be to understand if this approach enhances the quality and quantity of math talk between parents and children. The project will be carried out by a research-practice-community partnership in Boston, Massachusetts that includes community mathematics educators, education researchers, and participating children and families. The design of community installations could promote engagement with math through adult/child conversations in culturally-relevant contexts situated in the local environment. By addressing the cultural experiences and resources of young people, the project could greatly enhance our understanding of how to leverage the resources that children and families bring to engaging with mathematics.

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.

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Team Members

Omowale MosesOmowale MosesPrincipal Investigator
Danny MartinDanny MartinCo-Principal Investigator
Catherine O'ConnorCatherine O'ConnorCo-Principal Investigator
Nermeen DarshoushNermeen DarshoushCo-Principal Investigator

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