Can Second-Graders Measure Up?

By Lani Abrigana
Curriculum Research and Development Group












Brows furrowed in concentration, second-graders at the Education Laboratory School work in groups to come up with equations based on diagrams showing 8 and two of its addends (e.g. 7+1=8, 2+6=8). They are then asked to draw a line segment representing the relationship of the addends and 8. After a specified amount of time, teacher/researcher Claire Okazaki calls each group to come up and explain their answers to their classmates. Another researcher, Fay Zenigami, observes and takes notes on the lesson, including how the groups, with varying degrees of confidence, go through their explanations of how parts relate to a whole.

The second-graders are helping researchers at the Curriculum Research and Development Group (CRDG) create a unique elementary mathematics program called Measure Up. During the past school year and for four weeks this summer, these students did number, measurement, algebra and geometry activities for 45 minutes to an hour each day while under observation. Researchers anticipate that these activities will stimulate the students’ algebraic thinking and foster development of their problem-solving skills throughout their elementary school years.

The curriculum now being designed and developed for grades 1–5 is based on preliminary work done by a group of psychologists, mathematicians and educators in
Krasnoyarsk, Russia. CRDG researchers, in collaboration with the Institute for Developmental Psychology and Pedagogy (IDPP) in Russia, will combine this earlier work with new findings from pilot-test sites in the U.S. In addition to the Education Laboratory School, the Connections Public Charter School in Hilo and a laboratory school associated with IDPP in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, are participating in this phase, which began in August 2001.

The research focuses on the curriculum and its effects on the class as a whole as well as each student’s growth. The research team uses its daily observation notes to chart the development of mathematical understandings and to identify instructional techniques that enhance the learning of mathematics. The team regularly conducts student interviews to validate or clarify what it observes in the class. These data are then used to assess students’ progress in understanding mathematics and identify revisions needed in the materials that will optimize student learning.

After the pilot-testing phase, the curriculum will be field-tested at other schools for further refinement and adjustment. Upon completion, materials will be disseminated nationally and internationally. Measure Up will be a total curriculum, including materials for students and teachers, along with professional development institutes for teachers and pre-service education courses.

Project Director Barbara J. Dougherty said “I have been amazed at the sophisticated mathematics young children are able to work with. These children are working with mathematical ideas that are often found in the middle grades.”

Ultimately, the Measure Up team aims to improve the teaching of elementary mathematics in order to lay the groundwork for all students to succeed in higher mathematics. Yes, second-graders can do algebra!