by Jane Sevier
Vanderbilt University Professor Bethany Rittle-Johnson was one of a select group of researchers and representatives from state and local governments, national organizations and foundations invited to participate in the National Governors Association Expert Roundtable for Strengthening Early Mathematics Education.
Under the aegis of the NGA Center for Best Practices, the roundtable convened in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 20, 2013, to discuss a research and policy report on early math instruction (preschool through Grade 3) being prepared for U.S. governors.
An expert on how children learn math, Rittle-Johnson, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, proposed that the report include encouraging preschoolers to study patterns as a way to support early algebraic reasoning and to explore problems before explicit instruction begins.
“The panel recommended getting the word out that early mathematics learning and teaching is just as important as literacy,” Rittle-Johnson said. “It gets much less attention even though early math skills are stronger predictors of academic success than early reading skills. We also stressed teacher preparation and professional development, such as adding an endorsement or certification for early math specialists.”
Rittle-Johnson’s research focuses on understanding how knowledge change occurs, bridging psychological theory and educational practice. Her specific interests are in how children learn problem-solving procedures and important concepts in domains such as mathematics. She also collaborates with teachers, cognitive scientists and computer scientists to apply and test her research in educational settings.
The NGA devises solutions to public-policy challenges and is the only research and development entity that directly serves the nation’s governors. The organization created the Common Core State Standards now being adopted in states across the country.