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Baylor Education and Research Program Returns to Campus and Mayborn Museum to Help Young Learners Improve Math Skills | Media and Public Relations

Media Contact: Kelly Craine, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-297-9065
SOE Contact: Meg Cullar, Baylor School of Education, 254-710-6435
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WACO, Texas (July 15, 2022) – After a 2020 hiatus due to COVID and a 2021 program embedded in a local summer school, Baylor University’s Mathematics for Early Learners Academy (MELA), sponsored by the Baylor School of Education (SOE), has returned to the Baylor campus July 5-28 to host students ages 4 to 6 at the Mayborn Museum.

On Monday, July 18, from 9 to 11 a.m., these young students will be in for a mathematical treat as Baylor student-athletes will join them to share how they use math in their respective sports. The special demonstration will be held inside the Getterman Indoor Softball Practice Facility, just down University Parks Drive from the Mayborn Museum. On July 26, Baylor Provost Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D., will be a special guest at MELA.

The summer program, designed for students who have just finished PreK or kindergarten and directed by Sandi Cooper, Ph.D., professor of mathematics education, aims to establish a solid foundation in “number sense,” especially for students who have been identified as having difficulty in mathematics.

The program, which has measurably helped young students ages 4-6 achieve or exceed grade-level expectations in early math skills and number fluency, continues to test its new curriculum and assessments and conduct research on “teacher noticing” that studies the Baylor teacher-education students who are teaching in the program.

“MELA is all about gaining number sense, which is composing and decomposing numbers — more than just counting,” Cooper said. “When you think about the number 5, you can see it as a sum of 3 and 2 or of 4 and 1, and there are sets of five and counting by fives. And 5 can be found in the real world; for example, a nickel represents the number 5. It’s about understanding what numbers mean, not just rote counting.”

For 2022, Baylor SOE is partnering with three school districts and hosting more than 60 students from five different elementary schools:

Waco ISD – Alta Vista Elementary, Crestview Elementary and South Waco Elementary La Vega ISD – La Vega Primary Midway ISD – Castleman Creek MELA staff includes 11 master teachers, five Baylor students, seven paraprofessionals from participating ISDs, five graduate students (from two Baylor departments) and two research consultants, who are recent Baylor doctoral graduates.

Ongoing research

Cooper said that research shows early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than are reading skills but that many preschools don’t focus enough on math. Students often don’t receive interventions in math until later grades.

During MELA, the Baylor team is conducting research in early-mathematics curriculum, assessment tools and teacher training.

When MELA began, the teaching team modified a curriculum designed for the full academic year. Then, based on collected research data from MELA sessions, an expert team of Baylor educators developed a four-week curriculum designed for summer intervention use, such as by districts during their summer-school programs. Assessment tools administered both before and after the MELA program are part of the curriculum package being developed.

In 2021, due to COVID limitations, MELA was embedded in a campus summer school at La Vega Primary School, allowing the Baylor research team to implement pilot testing of the newly developed four-week curriculum and accompanying assessment tools, collecting feedback for further development. Research-based evaluation of the MELA curriculum is ongoing with a research team collecting data and evaluating student development.

“Embedding the program inside a traditional summer school was a valuable research venue, especially for curriculum development,” Cooper said. “We made some updates to this year’s curriculum based on last year’s experiences.”

Returning to the Mayborn Museum allows the teaching team more flexibility, Cooper said.

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