Age and Individual Differences in Mathematical Abilities: From Kindergarten to Secondary School (Continuation)

Project Number
OER 02/08 KL

Project Duration
September 2008 - August 2011


In the last decade, a number of studies have examined the relationships between working memory, executive functioning, and academic achievement (Bull, Johnston, & Roy, 1999; Bull & Scerif, 2001; Gathercole, Pickering, Knight, & Stegmann, 2004). Our previous work showed that working memory accounted for a quarter of the variance in individual differences amongst 10 year olds (Lee, Ng, Ng, & Lim, 2004). Furthermore, some components of mathematical problem solving were found to be more working memory intensive than others. Specifically, children's ability to discern the quantitative relationships amongst protagonists in a story problem was both highly predictive of success and closely related to their working memory capacity (Lee, Ng, & Ng, in press). Because previous studies have focused on mathematical performance in a narrow age range, several important questions regarding its long-term development cannot be answered. For example, although previous findings suggest that working memory intervention will likely improve mathematics performance, more information is needed on the kind of mathematics skills that will likely benefit. As this information is age dependent, more information is also needed on the developmental time course of both working memory and mathematical skills. This information will allow us to develop a more precise schedule for intervention delivery. In the proposed study, we will continue our on-going efforts in tracking the development of children's working memory, executive functions, and mathematical skills. We will also examine the extent to which the development of algebraic skills in primary and secondary schools are dependent on earlier competencies. Findings from this study will help curriculum developers and mathematics educators enhance the existing mathematics curriculum, in particular, in smoothing students' transition from arithmetic to algebra. The proposed study is part of a six years longitudinal study. An earlier application covering the whole longitudinal sequence was approved. However, due to financial constraints, funding was granted on an annual renewal basis. Our existing budget is expected to run out at the end of August, 2008. The current application covers the next seven months of the project (from September). Because of the delay in funding approval for NIE and the schedule for considering larger grants, a larger application to cover the remainder of the project will not be submitted until later this year when OER considers larger grants. In the first two years of the project, we recruited over 650 children from 30 schools. In the first wave of data collection, children from four cohorts were each given an extensive battery of tests that measure working memory capacity, efficiency of executive functions, socio-motivational beliefs, and mathematical competence. We developed and revised 11 executive functioning tests and an extensive battery of curriculum guided mathematical tasks for each age group. We are currently half way through the second year of our data collection. Approximately 300 children are scheduled to be tested in the second half of 2008.

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