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I study the cognitive development of children’s mathematical thinking and its reciprocal relationship with early childhood education. My focus is on the early years in particular, as it is important to set children up with strong foundational cognitive skills and positive attitudes towards math learning. One main question that motivates my research is: how do young children learn the meaning of numerical symbols (i.e. number words and digits)? Learning number symbols requires understanding the associations between number words, digits, and quantities, and flexibly using all three formats. For example, the word ‘three’ refers both to the digit 3 and also to this many items: ***. Children first memorize the count sequence as a series of meaningless words. They are only considered to know the meaning of number symbols once they can both a) use these words to label corresponding digits and b) use words and digits to designate exact quantities. I find the question of how this learning occurs fascinating because:
- From a theoretical perspective, I am interested in how early experience with number symbols influences both the way children think about quantity, as well as the brain circuits involved in processing number.
- From an applied perspective, learning the meaning of numbers is an important foundational mathematical skill, and subsequently learned skills build on earlier ones. Moreover, math abilities measured in kindergarten are predictive of later academic achievement.