Examining Kindergarten Approximation Skills as a Predictor of Children Requiring Learning Support for Mathematics

Project Number
OER 16/12 RB

Project Duration
May 2012 - August 2014


Two approaches dominate efforts to characterize core deficits underlying children's mathematical learning difficulties. The domain-general approach conceives of mathematical learning difficulties as resulting from dysfunction in supporting cognitive systems, such as working memory, visuo-spatial processing, and attentional control, and is the focus of ongoing research in CRPP (CRP4/07KL, OER2/08KL, OER49/08KL; Lee, Ng, Bull, Pe, & Moon, 2011; Lee, Pe, Ng, Ang, Hasshim, & Bull, in press). The current proposal focuses on the domain-specific approach which posits that mathematical learning difficulties result from deficits in basic numerical processing (''number sense''), and addresses two core aspects of number sense that relate to approximation skills; 1) the 'approximate number system' (ANS) which is a mental system of approximate number representations, activated during both non-symbolic approximations (e.g., judging which array of items is more numerous) and symbolic number tasks (e.g., understanding the quantitative relationships between numbers); 2) number-line representations. Accurate number line representations are argued to be a core element of basic maths education that enables efficient processing of numerical quantities, allowing us to make magnitude comparisons, have knowledge of number sequences, and consider the appropriateness of answers to arithmetical calculations. This research program has 3 objectives: 1) To establish a battery of tasks to measure domain specific numerical skills in young (K2 - age 6 years) children. 2) To determine whether approximation skills measured in kindergarten reliably predict later mathematical achievement, including the need for mathematics learning support; 3) To determine the effect of environmental factors associated with the home, and individual differences in spontaneous focus on number, on approximation skills, and to consider which factors could be targetted for future intervention. We are not aware of previous studies conducted in Singapore that have examined these issues. Most exploratory and intervention research is targeted at the primary and secondary level, meaning educators may have missed early opportunities to identify mathematical difficulties and offer intervention. The research addresses a priority topic of the NIE Research Framework that more attention be paid to early childhood education, with support for the development of levelling up strategies to expand the learning opportunities for low achievers. Also highlighted within Strand 4 is the need for research on how families influence child development and learning. The 7th OER funding call also highlighted the need for specialised instruments for identifying specific abilities/skills. The proposed research may produce tasks that achieve this in terms of assessing core numerical skills early in development.

Research Themes
Early Childhood and Preschool Education

Funding Source

Related Links
ReEd Vol 7 (2012): Predicting Math Performance Early

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