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Funded Grants

Kennedy Institute

Funded Grants

The goal of the research—and research and development—work we conduct at the James C. Kennedy Institute for Educational Success is to support the creation and implementation of well-funded, high-quality schools from early childhood through college. This research and development has been funded by:

  • National Science Foundation (NSF),
  • U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Research (IES),
  • Los Alamos National Labs Foundation (LNAL),
  • Gates Foundation,
  • Heising-Simons Foundation, and
  • National Governors’ Association.

Our current projects are described below:


Children's Measurement Project—Learning Trajectories to Support the Growth of Measurement Knowledge: Pre-K through Middle School
How do children think and learn about geometric measurement—length, area, and volume? Funded by the National Science Foundation, this research and development project focuses on the learning and teaching of measurement in early and elementary education. Conducted in collaboration with Jeffrey Barrett and Craig Cullen from Illinois State University, we are producing research-based developmental progressions—descriptions of the levels of thinking children move through as they learn— in measurement across a seven-year span. These developmental progressions are the core of research-based learning trajectories—with full trajectories including instructional activities and teaching strategies (Sarama & Clements, 2009). We are testing the hypothesis that such well-researched learning trajectories will provide specific, generalizable resources and tools to improve instruction, assessment, and curriculum development. In exposing these learning trajectories to rigorous evaluation, and refining them as necessary, we will produce a more complete research basis for them as well as for the measurement and fraction modeling called for by the Common Core State Standards. We actually wrote the learning trajectory for measurement for the Common Core State Standards (and the standards themselves were based on this learning trajectory), and we wish to take it to the next level. Presently, we have submitted for publication a study of a learning trajectory for area, including a comparison of different approaches to teaching. Our study of length will be next.
Connect4Learning (C4L)—Early Childhood Education in the Context of Mathematics, Science, and Literacy

We have been funded by the NSF to combine our work on the Building Blocks math curriculum with that of colleagues in other fields. The Connect4Learning interdisciplinary curriculum will connect four basic domains of learning. In addition to mathematics, the grant includes experts in science (Kimberly Brenneman, Rutgers University), literacy/language (Nell Duke, Michigan State University) and social-emotional development (M. L. Hemmeter, Vanderbilt University). Early childhood is full of debates about subject matter, with arguments arising about new emphases on mathematics taking too much time away from literacy. Science is rarely mentioned. Further, there is little research on whether an emphasis in one area necessarily means less emphasis in others, or whether they can be combined each to the benefit of others. The researchers believe the latter, and believe Connect4Learning curriculum will encourage all children to develop their full potential in all four areas-a potential that is greater than often realized.

The CREMAT Project—Using Rule Space and Poset-based Adaptive Testing Methodologies to Identify Ability Patterns in Early Mathematics and Create a Comprehensive Mathematics Ability Test

Increased interest in early mathematics has led to an increased need for assessments. We need better assessments, that are diagnostic, telling researchers and teachers more about what children know and can do and what they still need to learn. And we need to do that efficiently—so that assessments take up a minimum of valuable school time. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the CREMAT Project has enabled Drs. Sarama and Clements, along with colleagues (and mother-and-son team) Curtis Tatsuoka and Kikumi Tatsuoka (recently deceased), to create and test a new early mathematics assessment. This assessment will use innovative statistical and computer technology to give teachers more useful and detailed information about children's knowledge of mathematics in less time than existing assessments. Fast but fully informative assessments help teachers really know their students, and support their use of the powerful teaching strategy of 'formative assessment' or individualizing learning. This year is the first in which the computer-adaptive test will be piloted.


Developing Teaching Expertise @ Mathematics (Dev-TE@M) is a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded, materials development project at the University of Michigan School of Education with whom we are partnering in this project. The purpose of this project is to build practice-focused professional development modules for practicing elementary mathematics teachers.

The overarching goal of the Dev-TE@M project is to improve student learning in mathematics by improving the knowledge and skills of elementary mathematics teachers. We aim to do this by creating a system of high-quality professional development modules that address two fundamental challenges:

1. The need for teachers to develop core elements of professional knowledge and practice in ways that are usable in their work; and

2. The need for a system that can support such professional learning at scale –– by many teachers, across contexts.

This system includes a series of modules focused on helping classroom teachers improve their teaching of elementary mathematics as well as a series focused on the development of mathematics leaders to work with classroom teachers on their practice.

Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics

Learning Trajectories are seen more and more in education—standards, assessments, curricula, and National Research Council reports are based on them. Drs. Sarama and Clements, recognized widely for their research and development of learning trajectories, decided to now truly put them to the test. The Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics is a national research project funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) that evaluates the usefulness of learning trajectories for improving student achievement in early math. That is, we are investigating if they are actually more effective than other approaches and, if so, how to best use them to support young children’s learning.

Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories (LT2)

LT2 is a web-based tool for early childhood educators to learn about how children think and learn about mathematics and how to teach mathematics to young children (birth to age 8). The website will allow teachers to access information about the learning trajectories for math, review short video clips of classroom instruction, and test their own understanding of children’s development. Funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports the development of children’s software other platform improvements. Additional funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation supported the initial development of the website and continues to fund development of important standards, assessment, and infant toddler content to the site.

Los Alamos National Labs Foundation (LNAL)

Workshops have been conducted in mathematics for elementary, middle, and high school teachers from Northern New Mexico for 10 years. The focus of the workshops is on supporting participating teachers to develop a deep understanding of the mathematics that they teach. Instruction modeled aligns with research based best practices.

Preschool-Elementary-Coherence Project (COHERE)

DU’s Marsico and Kennedy Institutes are members of a Heising-Simons Foundation-funded group, the Development and Research in Early Mathematics Education (DREME) Network. The goal of DREME is to advance the field of early mathematics research in the U.S., significantly improving how early math is taught and learned. We wish to improve children’s early math competence and in turn their overall education success. The DREME Network will focus on mathematics from birth through age eight years, with an emphasis on the preschool level. The Preschool-Elementary Coherence (COHERE) project will investigate the relationship between school district and school efforts to create policy alignment and curricular coherence on coherence of learning opportunities and student experiences.

Math and Executive Function Project (EF)

Another DREME Network project will develop and evaluate enhanced mathematics activities designed to contribute to the joint development of mathematical and executive functions in early childhood. The knowledge gained from this work will be useful in guiding teachers’ and parents’ interactions with children. Thus, with Heising-Simons Foundation funding, Network members and selected colleagues will collaborate to conduct research and development projects that are innovative and rigorous, basic and applied, and that address high-priority early mathematics topics that will inform and motivate other researchers, educators, policymakers and the public.

Scalable Professional Development in Early Mathematics: The Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories Tool

Recent work has clearly documented the importance of early mathematics, the right of all young children to a high-quality mathematics education, and the need for dramatic, wide-ranging actions to support the teachers of young children in providing such education. If high-quality mathematics education does not start in preschool and continue through the early years, children can be trapped in a trajectory of failure. To help meet that need, the Heising-Simons Foundation has funded Kennedy Endowed Chairs Julie Sarama and Douglas Clements to substantially upgrade the technology and impact of a research-based teacher preparation and professional development tool for educators who teach young children mathematics. In the course of decades of research-and-development work funded by the NSF and IES, Sarama and Clements developed a power tool for professional development of teachers of early mathematics. This software tool, Building Blocks Learning Trajectories (BBLT) presents early childhood mathematics learning trajectories, connecting the three critical components of early childhood mathematics: the mathematical content, how children think about and learn that content, and teaching strategies. BBLT provides scalable access to research-based learning trajectories via descriptions, videos, commentaries, and interactive experiences. This BBLT web application has contributed to successful city-wide scale up efforts. The Heising-Simons Foundation has funded them to upgrade this tool for newer platforms and enhance its capabilities so that it will be available throughout the U.S. on multiple common platforms (tablets, phones, computers) reaching far more diverse audiences.

The TRIAD Project

A large project that is just being completed is "Scaling Up TRIAD: Teaching Early Mathematics for Understanding with Trajectories and Technologies," the third of a sequence of rigorous evaluations of a model of scaling up successful interventions, in this specific case, to increase math achievement in young children, especially those at risk, by means of a high-quality implementation of the "Building Blocks" math curriculum, with all aspects of the curriculum–content, pedagogy, technology, and assessments–based on a common core of learning trajectories. The reason this is important is that although the successes of some research-based educational practices have been documented, so too has the inability U.S. schools to successful adopt and scale up these practices. A particularly challenging educational and theoretical issue is scaling up educational programs across the large number of diverse populations and contexts in the early childhood system in the U.S., while avoiding the dilution and pollution that usually plagues such efforts to achieve broad success. With previous funding, Sarama Clements created a research-based model to meet this challenge in the area of mathematics, with the intent to generalize the model to other subject matter areas and other age groups. The field also needs transferable, practical examples of scale up; empirical evidence of the effectiveness of these examples; and focused research on critical variables–all leading to refined, generalizable theories and models of scale up.

Results of the present study indicated high levels of fidelity of implementation resulting in consistently higher scores in the intervention classes on the observation instrument and statistically significant and substantially greater gains in children's mathematics, again with substantial effect sizes in preschool and continuing into kindergarten and 1st grade, significantly more so in the "Follow Through" condition in which Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers also received professional development.