Cognitive Underpinnings of Math Learning and Early Play Based Intervention
- Author(s): Green, Chloe Teressa
- Advisor(s): Worrell, Frank C
- Bunge, Silvia A
- et al.
For my graduate research presented in this dissertation, I employed cognitive development theory to evaluate key cognitive abilities that contribute to both typical and atypical mathematical learning in children and adolescence. I incorporated these findings into a novel play-based intervention for children at-risk for math learning disabilities (MLD). My dissertation work is represented in the following three papers.
In the first paper, I synthesized literature identifying the common cognitive precursors to math learning disabilities. I analyzed how core numerical processing weaknesses (e.g. number sense) in early childhood, restrict the developmental plasticity of mathematical learning. Furthermore, I identified how common weaknesses in other domain-general cognitive abilities (e.g. working memory and processing speed) serve to further exacerbate mathematical learning weaknesses in MLD. Taken together, these findings inform theoretically grounded approaches used to identify children with MLD, and identified promising approaches to early intervention.
In the second paper, I sought to characterize the cognitive factors that are most predictive of future math achievement in typically developing children and adolescents. I analyzed data from a longitudinal study of children between 6 and 21 years old who completed a
battery of neuropsychological testing at 3 time points over the course of 5 years. I was specifically interested in the role of fluid reasoning (FR), or the ability to think logically to solve novel problems. Fluid reasoning has not been particularly well characterized in relation to math achievement. Structural equation modeling was employed to compare the relative contribution of spatial abilities, verbal reasoning, age, and FR in predicting future math achievement. This model accounted for nearly 90% of the variance in future math achievement. In this model, FR was the only significant predictor of future math achievement; age, vocabulary, and spatial skills were not significant predictors. The findings build on Cattell’s conceptualization of FR as a scaffold for learning, showing that this domain-general ability supports the acquisition of rudimentary math skills as well as the ability to solve more complex mathematical problems.
In the third paper, I pilot-tested a novel game-play intervention for children at risk for math learning disabilities. The intervention involved playing numeracy and cognitive speed games four days per week for 14 weeks. A single-case-study design was employed to evaluate response to intervention in 3 first- and second-grade students. The intervention took place during an after-school program. All three students demonstrated a significant improvement in weekly arithmetic fluency and marginal improvements in processing speed. However, there was variability during baseline testing in arithmetic fluency scores, limiting causal inference. This study provides preliminary evidence to suggest that game-based interventions that train basic numeracy and processing speed skills, may serve as an effective preventative approach that builds on children’s intrinsic motivation to engage in playful learning.