Skip to main content

Improving preschoolers’ mathematics achievement with tablets: a randomized controlled trial

Abstract

With a randomized field experiment of 433 preschoolers, we tested a tablet mathematics program designed to increase young children’s mathematics learning. Intervention students played Math Shelf, a comprehensive iPad preschool and year 1 mathematics app, while comparison children received research-based hands-on mathematics instruction delivered by their classroom teachers. After 22 weeks, there was a large and statistically significant effect on mathematics achievement for Math Shelf students (Cohen’s d = .94). Moderator analyses demonstrated an even larger effect for low achieving children (Cohen’s d = 1.27). These results suggest that early education teachers can improve their students’ mathematics outcomes by integrating experimentally proven tablet software into their daily routines.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Notes

  1. Math Shelf© was created, designed, and developed by John Schacter, Ph.D.

References

  • American Academy of Pediatrics, Communications and Media Council (2015) Beyond turn it off: how to advise families on media use. (Policy statement) Retrieved from http://www.aappublications.org/content/36/10/54.

  • Baroody, A. J., Lai, M., & Mix, K. S. (2006). The development of young children’s early number and operation sense and its implications for early childhood education. In B. Spodek & O. N. Saracho (Eds.), Handbook of research on the education of young children (pp. 187–221). Mahwah: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baroody, A. J., Eiland, M., & Thompson, B. (2009). Fostering at-risk preschoolers’ number sense. Early Education and Development, 20, 80–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benoit, L., Lehalle, H., & Jouen, F. (2004). Do young children acquire number words through subitizing or counting? Cognitive Development, 19, 291–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berch, D. B. (2005). Making sense of number sense: implications for children with mathematical disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 38, 333–339.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berkowitz, T., Schaeffer, M. W., Maloney, E. A., Peterson, L., Gregor, C., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. (2015). Math at home adds up to achievement at school. Science, 350, 196–198.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blackwell, C. (2014). Teacher practices with mobile technology: integrating tablet computers into the early childhood classroom. Journal of Education Research, 7, 231–255.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boddum, M. R. (2013). Plugged in: a focused look at parents’ use of smartphones among children 2–5 years of age (Master’s thesis). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 1538383).

  • Bracken, B. A. (2007). Bracken school readiness assessment (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school: expanded edition. Washington: National Academy Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brenneman, K., Stevenson-Boyd, J., & Frede, E.C. (2009). Mathematics and science in preschool: policy & practice. National Institute for Early Education Research. New Brunswick, NJ.

  • Butterworth, B. (2005). The development of arithmetical abilities. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 3–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carroll, R. J., Ruppert, D., & Stefanski, L. A. (1995). Measurement error in nonlinear models. New York: CRC Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Carson, V., Clark, M., Berry, T., Holt, N. L., & Latimer-Cheung, A. E. (2014). A qualitative examination of the perceptions of parents on the Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the early years. International Journal of Behavior Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11, 65–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chard, D. J., Baker, S. K., Clarke, B., Jungjohann, K., Davis, K., & Smolkowski, K. (2008). Preventing early mathematics difficulties: the feasibility of a rigorous kindergarten mathematics curriculum. Learning Disability Quarterly, 31, 11–20.

    Google Scholar 

  • Clark, W., & Luckin, R. (2013). What the research says, iPads in the classroom. Institute of Education, London, United Kingdom.

  • Clarke, B., & Shinn, M. (2004). A preliminary investigation into the identification and development of early mathematics curriculum-based measurement. School Psychology Review, 33, 234–248.

    Google Scholar 

  • Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2009). Learning and teaching early math: the learning trajectories approach. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Department of Health (2014). Make your move—sit less—be active for life!. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

  • Dyson, N., Jordan, N. C., & Glutting, J. (2013). A number sense intervention for urban kindergartners at risk for mathematics learning difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 46, 166–118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Falloon, G. W. (2013). What’s going on behind the screens? Researching young students’ learning pathways using iPads. Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning [Online]. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcal.12044/abstract.

  • Falloon, G. W. (2014). Young students using iPads: app design and content influences on their learning pathways. Computers and Education, 68, 505–521.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feigenson, L., & Carey, S. (2003). Tracking individuals via object-files: evidence from infants’ manual search. Developmental Science, 6, 568–584.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Flewitt, R., Messer, D., & Kucirkova, N. (2014). New directions for early literacy in a digital age: the iPad. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.

  • Frye, D., Baroody, A. J., Burchinal, M., Carver, S. M., Jordan, N. C., & McDowell, J. (2013). Teaching math to young children. Washington: Institute of Education Sciences.

    Google Scholar 

  • Geary, D. C., Hoard, M. K., Nugent, L., & Bailey, D. H. (2013). Adolescents’ functional numeracy is predicted by their school entry number system knowledge. PloS One, 8, e54651. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054651.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gersten, R., Jordan, N. C., & Flojo, J. R. (2005). Early identification and interventions for students with mathematics difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 38, 293–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ginsburg, H. P., & Baroody, A. J. (2003). Test of early mathematics ability (3rd ed.). Austin: Pro-Ed.

    Google Scholar 

  • Griffin, S. (2002). The development of math competence in the preschool and early school years: cognitive foundations and instructional strategies. In J. M. Roher (Ed.), Mathematical cognition (pp. 1–32). Greenwich: Information Age.

    Google Scholar 

  • Griffin, S. (2004). Building number sense with number worlds: a mathematics program for young children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 173–180.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Griffin, S., Case, R., & Siegler, R. S. (1994). Rightstart: providing the central conceptual prerequisites for first formal learning of arithmetic to students at-risk for school failure. In K. McGilly (Ed.), Classroom lessons: integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 24–49). Cambridge: Bradford.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hannula, M. M., Lepola, J., & Lehtinen, E. (2010). Spontaneous focusing on numerosity as a domain-specific predictor of arithmetical skills. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 107, 394–406.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hernandez, A. (2014). Toddlers and tablets. Education Next, 14, 94–95.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hershberg, T., & Robertson-Craft, C. (2009). A grand bargain for education reform: new rewards and supports for new accountability. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hirsh-Pasek, K., Zosh, J. M., Golinkoff, R. M., Gray, J. H., Robb, M. B., & Kaufman, J. (2015). Putting education in “educational” apps: lessons from the science of learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16, 3–34. doi:10.1177/1529100615569721.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Huber, B., Tarasuik, J., Antoniou, M. N., Garrett, C., Bowe, S. J., & Kaufman, J. (2016). Young children’s transfer of learning from a touchscreen device. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 56–64. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.010.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jordan, N. C., & Levine, S. C. (2009). Socioeconomic variation, number competence, and mathematics learning difficulties in young children. Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 15, 60–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jordan, N. C., Glutting, J., & Ramineni, C. (2010). The importance of number sense to mathematics achievement in first and third grades. Learning and Individual Differences, 20, 82–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jordan, N. C., Glutting, J., Dyson, N., Hassinger-Das, B., & Irwin, C. (2012). Building kindergartners’ number sense: a randomized controlled study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 647–660.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Khoo, E., Merry, R., Nguyen, N. H., Bennett, T., & MacMillan, N. (2015). iPads and opportunities for teaching and learning for young children (iPads n kids). Hamilton: Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research.

  • Kraemer, H. C., Wilson, G. T., Fairburn, C. G., & Agras, W. S. (2002). Mediators and moderators of treatment effects in randomized clinical trials. Archives of General Psychiatry, 59, 877–883.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lee, Y., Lembke, E., Moore, D., Ginsburg, H., & Pappas, S. (2007). Identifying technically adequate early mathematics measures. Brooklyn: Wireless Generation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lillard, A. S. (2005). Montessori: the science behind the genius. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lillard, A. S. (2011). Mindfulness practices in education: Montessori’s approach. Mindfulness, 2, 78–85.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Little, R. J., & Rubin, D. B. (2002). Statistical analysis with missing data (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • MacDonald, A., Davies, N., Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2012). Early childhood mathematics education. In Perry et al. (Eds.), Research in mathematics education in Australasia 2008–2011 (pp. 169–192). SensePublishers: Australia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Malofeeva, E., Day, J., Saco, X., Young, L., & Ciancio, D. (2004). Construction and evaluation of a number sense test with head start children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 648–659.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mix, K. S., Huttenlocher, J., & Levine, S. C. (2002). Multiple cues for quantification in infancy: is number one of them? Psychological Bulletin, 128, 278–294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Montessori, M. (1914). Dr. Montessori’s own handbook. New York: Fredrick A. Stokes.

    Google Scholar 

  • Montessori, M. (1967). The discovery of the child. (M. J. Costello, Trans.). New York: Ballantine.

  • Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2015). Mplus User’s Guide. (7th ed). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (2012). Technology and interactive media as tools in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC.

  • National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers (2010). Common core state standards for mathematics. Washington, DC: Authors. https://www.corecommonstandards.com/core-standards/kindergarten-common-core-assessment-workbook-sample.pdf.

  • National Research Council. (2009). Mathematics learning in early childhood: paths toward excellence and equity. Washington: National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Neumann, M. M., & Neumann, D. L. (2014). Touch screen tablets and emergent literacy. Early Childhood Education, 42, 231–239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Outhwaite, L. A., Gulliford, A., & Pitchford, N. J. (2017). Closing the gap: efficacy of a tablet intervention to support the development of early mathematical skills in UK primary school children. Computers & Education, 108, 43–58.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Perry, B. (2000). Early childhood numeracy. Australian Association of Mathematics. Commonwealth of Australia.

  • Piaget, J. (1970). Science of education and the psychology of the child (D. Coltman, Trans.). New York: Orion Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pitchford, N. J. (2015). Development of early mathematical skills with a tablet intervention: a randomized control trial in Malawi. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ramani, G. B., & Siegler, R. S. (2008). Promoting broad and stable improvements in low-income children’s numerical knowledge through playing number board games. Child Development, 79, 375–394.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models: applications and data analysis methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rigg, P.Z. (2004). Mathematics manual 1: linear counting, decimal system and memorization of operations. Montessori Research & Development, San Leandro, CA.

  • Rudd, L. C., Lambert, M., Satterwhite, M., & Zaier, A. (2008). Mathematical language in early childhood settings: what really counts? Early Childhood Education Journal, 36, 75–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sarnecka, B. W., & Carey, S. (2008). How counting represents number: what children must learn and when they learn it. Cognition, 108, 662–674.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schacter, J., & Jo, B. (2016). Improving low-income preschoolers mathematics achievement with Math Shelf, a preschool tablet computer curriculum. Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 223–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schacter, J., Shih, J., Allen, C. M., DeVaul, L., Adkins, A. B., Ito, T., & Jo, B. (2015). Math Shelf: a randomized trial of a prekindergarten tablet number sense curriculum. Early Education and Development, 27, 74–88. doi:10.1080/10409289.2015.1057462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schaeffer, B., Eggleston, V. H., & Scott, J. L. (1974). Number development in young children. Cognitive Psychology, 6, 357–379.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schoenfeld, A. H., & Stipek, D. (2011). Math matters: children’s mathematical journeys start early. Report of a conference held November 7 & 8. Berkeley, CA.

  • Seethaler, P. M., & Fuchs, L. S. (2010). The predictive utility of kindergarten screening for math difficulty. Exceptional Children, 77, 37–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sinclair, N., & Heyd-Metzuyanim, E. (2014). Learning number with TouchCounts: the role of emotions and the body in mathematical communication. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 19, 81–99.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Singer, J. D., & Willet, J. B. (2003). Applied longitudinal data analysis: modeling change and event occurrence. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Treffers, A. (1993). Wiskobas and Freudenthal: realistic mathematics education. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 25, 89–108. doi:10.1007/BF01274104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van de Walle, J., Lovin, L. H., Karp, K. S., & Bay-Williams, J. M. (2014). Teaching student-centered mathematics: developmentally appropriate instruction for grades pre-K-2 (volume I) (2nd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Watts, T. W., Duncan, G. J., Siegler, R. S., & Davis-Kean, P. E. (2014). What’s past is prologue: relations between early mathematics knowledge and high school achievement. Educational Researcher, 43, 352–360.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Woodcock, R. W., & Johnson, M. B. (1989). WJ tests of cognitive ability. Itasca: Riverside Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wynn, K. (1992). Addition and subtraction by human infants. Nature, 358, 749–750.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young-Loveridge, J., Peters, S., & Carr, M. (1998). Enhancing the mathematics of four year olds. An overview of the EMI’s 4 study. Journal of Australian Research in Early Childhood Education, 1, 82–93.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zeger, S. L., & Liang, K.-Y. (1986) Longitudinal data analysis for discrete and continuous outcomes. Biometrics, 42(1), 121.

  • Zomer, N. R., & Kay, R. H. (2016). Technology use in early childhood education. A review of literature. Journal of Educational Infomatics, 1, 1–25.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors thank Mary McCoy, Peggy Elston, and the principals and teachers in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for their work implementing Math Shelf and making this research possible.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to John Schacter.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Schacter, J., Jo, B. Improving preschoolers’ mathematics achievement with tablets: a randomized controlled trial. Math Ed Res J 29, 313–327 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13394-017-0203-9

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13394-017-0203-9

Keywords

  • Early childhood education
  • Preschool
  • Mathematics
  • Curriculum
  • iPads
  • Tablets
  • Computer-assisted instruction
  • Child development
  • Number sense
  • Kindergarten