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Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy

Marsico Institute

Press Room

New Resource Available for Teaching Children Mathematics

Cover of book

January 2015

Executive Director Dr. Douglas Clements and colleagues have a new resource -  Developing Essential Understanding of Geometry and Measurement  - available from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in January 2015.  This book focuses on essential knowledge for teachers about geometry and measurement. It is organized around four big ideas, supported by multiple smaller, interconnected ideas--essential understandings. Taking teachers beyond a simple introduction to geometry and measurement, the book will broaden and deepen their mathematical understanding of one of the most challenging topics for students--and teachers. It will help teachers to engage students, anticipate their perplexities, avoid pitfalls, and dispel misconceptions. Teachers will also learn to develop appropriate tasks, techniques, and tools for assessing students' understanding of the topic.

Get your copy of Dr. Clements’ new book here.

Why Math Might Be the Secret to School Success

December 2014

The Marsico Institute's own Dr. Douglas Clements was on NPR this week to talk about the Building Blocks program.

"Little children are big news this week, as the White House holds a summit on early childhood education on Wednesday. The president wants every 4-year-old to go to preschool, but the new Congress is unlikely to foot that bill.

Since last year, more than 30 states have expanded access to preschool. But there's still a lack of evidence about exactly what kinds of interventions are most effective in those crucial early years.

In New York City, an ambitious, $25 million study is collecting evidence on the best way to raise outcomes for kids in poverty. Their hunch is that it may begin with math."

Click here to read more.

The Building Blocks of Early Mathematics

November 2014

What are the building blocks of mathematics? How important are they? Doug Clements answers these questions by summarizing recent research and development work. One effective instructional approach featured in all these is basing instruction on learning trajectories. This approach will be illustrated through a set of research projects using learning trajectories successfully.

Dr. Douglas Clements was recently the keynote speaker at the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment conference in Ireland to speak about his research and Building Blocks program.

A Study Seeks to Determine What Makes Prekindergarten Successful

Building Blocks

March 2014

Read about the latest research (conducted with Drs. Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama on their Building Blocks curriculum) to understand what makes quality education successful and scalable.

Play, Mathematics, and False Dichotomies

Kids holding puzzle pieces

April 2014

Dr. Clements' and Dr. Sarama's latest resource on play-based learning in a blog forum presented by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Click here to read more.

Children's Museum of Denver Broke Ground on a Multi-million Dollar Museum Expansion

Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

April 2014

The Children's Museum of Denver broke ground today on a major Museum expansion, announcing the plans, timeline and a naming gift for the $15.8 million campaign. Museum president and CEO, Mike Yankovich, cited the "critical role" the Museum plays in early childhood education, and its 74% attendance growth since 2003 as the need for this much-anticipated expansion. 

Click here to read more. 

Building Blocks curriculum cited as effective curriculum in New York Times

Child Using Building Blocks

January 2014 

Douglas Clements, PhD, and Julie Sarama, PhD developed and evaluated an innovative curriculum for early children education, preschool to grade 2 with funding from the National Science Foundation. The Building Blocks project created exemplary mathematics materials designed to enable all young children to meet the new preK-grade 2 standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (principal investigator Doug Clements was on the writing team for NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics). The article written in the New York Times makes a case for using what we know to increase the quality of early childhood education nationwide.

Click here to read.

Play and Self-Regulation: Lessons from Vygotsky

Picture of Toddler Baking

December 2013 

Assistant Director of Research, Carrie Germeroth, is published as contributing author in the Journal of Play. In the article the authors consider the analysis of the literature on play research by Lillard and others in the January 2013 Psychological Bulletin, an analysis that questioned the prevailing assumption of a causal relationship between play and child development, especially in the areas of creativity, reasoning, executive function, and regulation of emotions. The authors regard these connections as critical for teachers in early-childhood classrooms and for other advocates of child play. They claim that the conclusions of Lillard and her coauthors place these professionals in a difficult position because they already face sharp pressure to replace play with academic activities. The authors suggest that the difficulty researchers have in linking play to development partly results from a failure to account for both cognitive and non- cognitive developments across a complex trajectory. To help see the problem more clearly, they argue for a return to the Vygotskian and post-Vygotskian theories that differentiate between immature and mature play. The authors then describe their creation, an observational tool based on such theories, that helps researchers and practitioners judge the quality of pretend play.

Click here to download.

Learning and Teaching Early Math: The Learning Trajectories Approach, 2nd Edition by Douglas H. Clements, Julie Sarama

child playing with abacus

November 2013 

In this important book for pre‐ and in‐service teachers, early math experts Dr. Douglas Clements and Dr. Julie Sarama show how "learning trajectories" help diagnose a child's level of mathematical understanding and provide guidance for teaching. By focusing on the inherent delight and curiosity behind young children's mathematical reasoning, learning trajectories ultimately make teaching more joyous. They help teachers understand the varying levels of knowledge exhibited by individual students, which in turn allows them to better meet the learning needs of all children. Using straightforward, no‐nonsense language, this book summarizes the current research about how children learn mathematics, and how to build on what children already know to realize more effective teaching.

For ordering information click here.


Math in the Early Years: A Strong Predictor for Later School Success

October 2013

This issue of The Progress of Education Reform reveals five surprising findings about the strong relationship between early math instruction and later student achievement. Researchers have found that early knowledge of math not only predicts later success in math, but also predicts later reading achievement even better than do early reading skills. The paper concludes with implications and recommendations for state policy that will support the development of early math competencies and young children. (Dr. Doug Clements and Dr. Julie Sarama, University of Denver)


Preschool Pays Off for Denver Third Graders


August 2013

Melissa Mincic, PhD, Assistant Director of Policy and Practice, commented on Colorado Public Radio about a new study of 3,000 Denver third graders that shows preschool is paying off. Click here to read the article or listen .






Morgridge's Doug Clements named to Colorado's Early Childhood Leadership Commission (ECLC)

August 2013

The Early Childhood Leadership Commission recently named new members, appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper, to their groundbreaking organization. Doug Clements, PhD, Morgridge College of Education Professor, Kennedy Chair and Executive Director of the Marsico Institute, was selected to serve as a Representative of Foundations and Non-profits on the 3-year-old committee with the mission to improve outcomes for young children ages birth to eight.

"I was delighted to be invited to join this committee, which is doing such important work for the young children of our state. Colorado is far ahead of most other states in bringing together the diverse organizations, institutions, and individuals concerned with early education and helping them combine their forces and visions to support the development and education of all young children."

Colorado is a national leader in early childhood education and has been cited for exceptional work in the update to "From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development" sponsored by the National Research Council (of the National Academy for Science).

Colorado has established a network of 30 local early childhood councils serving 55 counties to collaboratively plan, network, develop resources and implement early childhood initiatives at the community level. The aim is to materially improve the quality of, and access to, services for young children and their families.

"I had read that update to From Neurons to Neighborhoods," remembers Clements, " just before our research team moved from New York state to Morgridge College of Education here at the University of Denver. I saw Colorado, in specific, mentioned as a national leader. That report and what I have seen firsthand, confirms my notion that the climate for innovative early childhood education is exceptional in here in Colorado."


Marsico Institute's Doug Clements, PhD, Urges Congress to Heed Surprises in Early Childhood Mathematics

Doug and Julie

June 2013

The United States, world leader in technological innovation, is sadly lagging behind in math education. By fourth grade 7% of US children are considered "advanced" in math while in Singapore for instance, 38% meet the advanced standard.

Enter Doug Clements, selected by the IES (Institute of Educational Sciences) and the SRDC (Society for Research in Childhood Development) to take the podium for a recent congressional briefing. Clements is a former preschool and kindergarten teacher and presently a Kennedy Endowed Chair, Professor at the University of Denver, Director at the Marsico Institute, and internationally recognized research scientist in early childhood mathematics education. Clements appealed to the packed room to recognize the "surprising importance" of early childhood mathematics intervention. The urgency of this hearing was heightened by the effect that Sequestration has had on research budgets.

"I wanted to highlight our research findings and quickly communicate the unexpected potential...the far reaching effects that early childhood mathematics holds for our nation's future – the children we are educating now hold the key to that future" Clements noted.

In Clement's Congressional Briefing he emphasized these five surprises from his team's research—especially that of Julie Sarama, also a Kennedy Endowed Chair and Professor at DU—in building the TRIAD (Technologically-enhanced, Research based, Instruction, Assessment and professional Development) educational model.

Surprise 1: Math's Predictive Power
"Our research has revealed that mathematical thinking is cognitively foundation," Clements asserts. "For instance, mathematics skills improve language skills and literacy. Further, building that mathematics education foundation turns out to be the best predictor of school success.

Surprise 2: Children's Math Potential
"This is a surprise you can see with your own eyes in a classroom setting," Clements smiles. "Integrating math skills into play reveals a surprising capacity for solving numerical and even geometrical problems by children as early as three years of age. The bonus here, is that you quickly discover that children have a natural love of math."

Surprise 3: Educator's Underestimate Math
"Often math is missing in early childhood classrooms. I'm afraid that some teachers get into early childhood education because they want to avoid teaching math" laughs Clements. "Most are simply unaware of the power of a math intervention. Once they see the amazing competence their students can develop with good teaching, the teachers love it as much as the children and they are able to challenge them appropriately."

Surprise 4: Math Intervention beyond Early Childhood
"We see that early gains – cognitive seeds — can be lost if children are not challenged to take on higher levels of play. The key is to understand how children learn in levels and to promote thinking at each level.

Surprise 5: We Already Know a Lot
"We are making new discoveries every day about early childhood mathematics. But I can't emphasize enough," Clements states with intensity, "that we already know a lot about how children think and learn math. Learning trajectories synthesize this knowledge. Here is an area where we can make the most gains on every developmental front."

The sandy haired, mild looking professor and father of four, eases back in his chair. Known as a research dynamo, he fills up all the small spaces in his professional life in order to preserve balance with his family life. "Going to a conference, he will be fine tuning his speech in the car on the way to the airport, and even have his laptop open on the tram from the parking lot" comments his wife Julie Sarama, also a PhD, and Clement's invaluable research partner. Together the pair have garnered over 20 million dollars in research grants, are both endowed chairs for the University of Denver, head up the innovative Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy and have published 120 refereed research studies, 18 books, 70 chapters, and 275 additional publications.

"The idea of a Congressional briefing is just be brief" Clements observes. "I decided not to inundate them with the data from our research. I got off the podium and walked around so that I could make a better connection with the decision-makers, influencers and staffers in that room. If they are surprised by our results, they may be more willing to learn more and perhaps make substantive changes in the future."

Play, Mathematics, and False Dichotomies