Strengthening Measurement Curriculum, Teaching, and Research (STEM II)

[8-09 through 8-12]
National Science Foundation, REESE program

This project builds on the resources and results of the Strengthening Tomorrow’s Education in Measurement (STEM) project that has produced a fine-grained analysis of the character and limitations of the spatial measurement content (length, area, and volume) in three elementary mathematics curricula. Evidence from national and international assessments and smaller-scale research studies have repeatedly shown that U.S. students’ understanding of measurement is poor, but empirical research has not revealed the source of the problem. The STEM results have shown that fundamental deficits in written curricula are very likely one contributing factor (though not the sole factor). One aspect concerns content placement: Measurement appears late in primary grade texts, decreasing the likelihood of sufficient attention. The second concerns content: Curricular treatments of length and area have not sufficiently focused on the iteration of units (the core of measurement) and moved too quickly to the use of rulers and counting units. Weak attention to unit iteration makes it difficult for students to understand the process of measurement (how sweeping through space produces measure numbers) and limits students’ success to highly routine and practiced contexts. The costs of poor measurement learning severely limit latter learning in mathematics and science.

This project will expand, deepen, and report STEM results for length, area, and volume, but will also centrally address the tasks of putting that knowledge to work to improve educational practice (curriculum and teaching). Measurement teaching and learning in the elementary grades can be very successful (e.g., Stephan, Bowers, Cobb, & Gravemeijer, 2003), though it remains unclear what ordinary teachers working with commercial curricula need to know to use those materials more effectively. This project will complete the primary grades analysis of length, area, and volume and explore with the authors of the three elementary curricula ways of strengthening their existing materials. It will analyze the highly-regarded Singapore mathematics curriculum and compare and contrast findings with the U.S. results. It will develop and test effective ways of enriching pre-service teachers’ knowledge of core measurement principles and work with practicing teachers to improve their measurement lessons, using both innovative activities and existing curricular content. Finally, it will implement a three-year measurement “mini-center” to bring together the major U.S. research and development scholars and projects for sustained interaction, innovation, and collaboration.