Strengthening Tomorrow’s Education in Measurement (STEM)

[12-06 through 11-09 (2 years + one year no-cost extension]
National Science Foundation, REESE program

This project was an initial step toward solving a compelling problem that has received insufficient research attention in mathematics education: Why do U.S. students perform and understand measurement so poorly, in contrast to other content domains and students’ in other developed countries? The problem is well-documented, but no comprehensive, empirically-grounded explanation has been advanced. Absent such an explanation, efforts to redress the problem via changes in curricula, professional development, or teacher education will remain unfocused and ineffective. The research literature (e.g., Clements, 1999; Lehrer, 2003, Strom, Kemeny, Lehrer, & Forman, 2001) suggests that four factors shape the problem, directly and in interaction: (1) deficits in published elementary and middle school curricula, (2) problems in teachers’ enactments of those curricula, (3) problems in the character of classroom discourse about measurement, and (4) teachers’ own knowledge of measurement. But the literature provides no guidance in how to estimate the effects of these factors.

Recognizing this interactive complexity, this project has assessed the capacity of elementary curricula to support robust student learning of measurement of length, area, and volume. Three elementary curricula (Everyday Mathematics, Scott-Foresman/Addison-Wesley’s Mathematics, and Saxon Mathematics) were selected based on market-share, differences in design (publisher-developed vs. NSF-funded) and local adoption patterns. Their complete content for length, area, and volume will be evaluated using a framework, built from research, that details the elements of robust understanding. To date, the analysis of length (K-3) and area (K-3) have been completed. That content includes (1) basic approach, (2) explicit content statements, e.g., definition of area, and (3) all problems, tasks, and activities linked to the target measures. Each evaluation has yielded a curriculum profile that has been communicated to each author team. The primary objective is to estimate the extent to which written curricula contribute to the problem of weak student learning.