Emergent Numeracy and Cultural Orientations (ENCO) project: Examining approaches to meaningful and contextual mathematics instruction

Shannon Monahan, University of Pennsylvania


Despite growing attention to multiculturalism in American classrooms, research indicates cultural themes of classrooms serving African American students are still largely mainstream. In this project, theory- and practice-based methods intended to make mathematics meaningful for a group of urban African American children attending Head Start were investigated. The project had four main objectives: (a) test the comparative effectiveness of alternative forms of pedagogical methods designed to teach preschool math in a meaningful way; (b) characterize aspects of the cultural and mathematical landscape of children's home environments in a further attempt to understand what constitutes meaningful mathematics; (c) evaluate a measure of task-specific engagement for Head Start children; and (d) investigate the impact of different instructional methods on children's engagement during mathematics activities. Participants included 160 children (mean age = 61 months, 95% African American) attending 4 urban Head Start centers. Each child received a pretest mathematics assessment, two instructional sessions, and a posttest. Participating children were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 instructional conditions. In the first condition, participants received mathematics instruction with manipulatives based on a commercially available preschool numeracy curriculum. In the second condition, the mathematics was embedded in stories. In the third condition, movement was present during instruction (e.g., clapping while counting). The fourth condition consisted of an attention-control comparison group. ANCOVA analysis demonstrated a significant main effect for method of instruction when covarying for baseline math performance. The posttest performance of children in the movement condition significantly exceeded the performance of all other groups. Further analysis revealed that both conceptual and procedural use of movement during instruction related to posttest performance. Participants' caregivers completed questionnaires about mathematics and cultural attributes in children's homes. Caregivers endorsed a variety of reasons for why mathematics was important during preschool and select responses related to child attributes. The psychometric properties of a task-specific engagement measure were evaluated. For children instructed with movement, engagement remained constant across instructional tasks while the engagement of children in the other conditions varied by task. This project provides a better understanding of the impact of different viable instructional approaches for supporting emergent numeracy.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|African Americans|Preschool education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Monahan, Shannon, "Emergent Numeracy and Cultural Orientations (ENCO) project: Examining approaches to meaningful and contextual mathematics instruction" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3271792.