- Educators in Title I schools are being invited to participate in a NewSchools Venture Fund initiative to blend math instruction in grades 3-8 with lessons that build students’ executive function skills, such as working memory and being able to focus on a task.
- Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the five-year grant program — with $9 million awarded in the first year — will bring educators together with researchers and developers to design tools that “work for real teachers and real students,” Melina Uncapher, the director of the EF+M program and a neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco, said during a media call.
- The program will prioritize designs focusing on building students’ conceptual understanding in math and their ability to solve complex problems. Educators will be able to apply to be part of an Educator Leadership Council or a District Co-Design Partnership, and two webinars will be held next week for those wanting to learn more.
A paper appearing earlier this year in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly showed gaps in kindergartners’ executive function skills — such as being able to shift one’s attention and control inhibitions — can contribute to later difficulties in academics, including math, throughout the elementary years.
“For example, working memory deficits may contribute to difficulties in comprehending text, following multi-step instructions, or effectively using strategies to solve mathematics or science problems,” the authors wrote. They concluded that interventions focusing on “cognitive processing deficits” and that jointly address executive function as well as academic skills could benefit students.
Uncapher said the EF+M program is being “open-ended” about what designs might make it into classrooms. They could be tools and programs that supplement existing curricula or activities for homework, she said. She added that the program will strive to have an “inclusive research and development process.”
Debbra Lindo, who will chair the leadership council, said the organizers will elevate the voices of teachers in the design process. Often in research-practice partnerships, she said, “If educators are brought to the table they are often talked over or disregarded.”
In a statement about the new program, Lindsay E. Jones, president and CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said, “We’ve long recognized the importance of executive function in supporting student agency and achievement. We are excited to see more focus on this area, and have high hopes for this project.”