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The IERI Research Community :: Projects

Scaling Up TRIAD: Teaching Early Mathematics for Understanding with Trajectories and Technologies

Douglas H. Clements

Julie Sarama, Jaekyung Lee


Background: TRIAD II builds upon our work and research for the "proof-of-concept" TRIAD I project. Although the successes of research-based, visionary educational practices have been documented, most projects are not successfully taken to scale. Such an enterprise is especially challenging if one is addressing the diverse population that teaches Pre-K. TRIAD (Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development) is a pre-K mathematics intervention that follows twelve research-based guidelines, including research-based mathematics curricula with an emphasis on teaching for understanding following learning trajectories, and using technology at multiple levels.

Purpose: Addressing the goals of the Interagency Educational Research Initiative (IERI, a combination of IES, NSF, and NIH), we are scaling up the implementation of the TRIAD (Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment, and professional Development) intervention, developed in our current IERI project. This "proof-of-concept" project produced evidence of TRIAD's effectiveness, but only on a limited scale. Effective scale up considers not only an increase in the number of classrooms, but also increased diversity of settings, increased complexity, and challenges of sustainability. It uses strategies to avoid the dilution and pollution that often plagues such efforts and achieve broad success.

Intervention: The TRIAD intervention increases math achievement in young children, especially those at risk, by means of a high-quality implementation of the NSF-funded Building Blocks math curriculum, with all aspects of the curriculum based on a common core of learning trajectories through which children develop. TRIAD not only provides these curriculum materials, but also professional development, including distance education, an innovative TRIAD-Web site that supports teaching based on learning trajectories, and classroom coaching.

Setting: Participants will be 120 PreK teachers and 1440 children in two states. From each PreK classroom, 12 kindergarten-intending children will be randomly selected for assessment, and they will be followed through grade 1. The schools serve low-achieving populations, but their settings and racial/ethnic and socioeconomic compositions of students are diverse. Samples are drawn from urban and rural settings and include varying racial mixes. The project began in June 2006 and will continue for five years.

Research Design: We will use a multisite cluster randomized experimental design that enables a formal test of the generalizability of TRIAD's impact over the varied settings in which it may ultimately be implemented. Schools will be randomly assigned to one of three conditions, Experimental, Experimental-Follow Through, and Comparison. We will examine the fidelity of implementation and assess the immediate and long-range effects of the intervention. We will employ hierarchical linear models (HLMs) to measure and examine the effects of the intervention on individual students mathematics performance trajectories and account for possible variations of the effects among varied school/classroom settings. In addition, we will measure the sustainability of the intervention using fidelity of implementation and classroom observation instruments. Our teacher questionnaire and coach/mentor reports will triangulate these data, indicating whether teachers' commitment to, and classroom performance in teaching, the curriculum was sustained.

In 120 classrooms in New York and Massachusetts, 14 kindergarten-intending preschoolers will be randomly selected for assessment. The control teachers continued using their school's mathematics activities, which, typical for preschools, showed a mixture of influences. The largest group uses a city-wide set of activities that included number sense, operations, modeling/representing, measurement, data and reasoning, and uncertainty. Other control classrooms used the Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies Inc., 2001) or homegrown materials.

All instruments were created for this project in the phase 1 TRIAD project. Children's mathematical knowledge will be assessed with our "Building Blocks Assessment" (BBA), which uses an individual interview format, with explicit protocol, coding, and scoring procedures and assesses children's thinking and learning along research-based developmental progressions within areas of mathematics considered significant for preschoolers, as determined by a consensus of participants in a national conference on early childhood mathematics standards, rather than mirroring the experimental curriculum's objectives or activities. Classroom teaching practices and environment will be assessed by two newly-created observational instruments, "Fidelity of Implementation" and "Classroom Observation of Early Mathematics Environment and Teaching" (COEMET) created based on research on the characteristics and teaching strategies of effective teachers of early childhood mathematics. Teacher and parent questions will complete the data collection.

Findings: We are currently in the first year of professional development. Data collection involved only the initial Teacher Questionnaire. Other data collection will begin in Fall 2006.

For more information about this project, go to the TRIAD website at and to TRIAD I project page.