AERDF honored as one of Fast Company’s 2024 World Changing Ideas

Our Approach

EF+Math supports teams of educators, researchers, and developers in creating math learning approaches that can dramatically increase students’ math outcomes. We aim to do this through an intentional focus on the integration of EF skill development in math learning approaches that address conceptual understanding and complex problem solving, in ways which afford equitable experiences in math learning.

Creating Equitable Math Learning Approaches through Advanced Inclusive Research and Development

To reach our goals, EF+Math supports teams of educators, researchers, and developers in developing math learning approaches using inclusive R&D processes. These teams are creating prototypes and research methods that support math learning and generate new knowledge about several learning science based hypotheses for how to improve math outcomes.

EF+Math’s core hypothesis is that developing students’ EF skills within high-quality math instructional approaches will improve math outcomes significantly. These math learning approaches support students in developing their conceptual understanding and multi-step problem solving skills, key math skills for improving math learning outcomes.

We hypothesize that by intentionally designing for equity and creating approaches that build on students’ cultural, social, and linguistic assets, foster a sense of belonging, and provide all students with opportunities to learn challenging math and develop their identity as math learners, math learning outcomes will improve. By designing for use in real-world classrooms, the math learning approaches will be more useful and usable, which we expect will lead ultimately to better outcomes.

Our focus on leveraging an Inclusive R&D model across all project teams is a crucial part of our approach. This model is an equity-focused process that places Black and Latinx students, students living in poverty, educators, families, and communities at the center of developing transformative math learning approaches. EF+Math’s project teams were supported directly for the first several years by our Educator Leadership Council, a cornerstone of our inclusive R&D model. The Council was a diverse group of 17 educators who work at the classroom, school, and district levels. Our teams are currently supported by our Program Advisory Board which includes many members of the previous ELC, a group of advisors providing critical expertise in middle year (grades 3–8) math curriculum and instruction and research. They advise in areas of inclusive evaluation, communications, distillation of scientific insights, and support us in our dissemination and field building activities.

What are executive functioning skills? How are they connected to math learning?

Improving competencies known as ‘Executive Function (EF)’ skills can be a powerful lever to improve math learning.

EF skills are foundational skills that all students possess that allow them to have agency over their attention, thoughts, emotions, and behavior. EF skills include the ability to hold and work with information in mind, the ability to focus attention on what a student deems important and ignore what she deems unimportant, and to be flexible in her thinking.

EF+Math builds on a compelling research base

  • Strong EF skills are closely associated with strong math performance.
  • Students from low-income households with strong EF skills demonstrate very similar math
    performance to their peers from  higher income households.

Our advanced inclusive R&D process is guided by four main principles:

1. We center and elevate Black and Latinx students, students living in poverty, and their families, educators, and community members’ voices and perspectives and partner with them as co-experts with a shared ownership of outcomes.

2. We are asset-based, assuming and affirming the mathematical brilliance of Black and Latinx students and students living in poverty, with a focus on elevating students’, educators’, families’ and communities’ inherent strengths and voices, including their knowledge, skills, beliefs, values, perspectives and cultural backgrounds.

3. Our work is rooted in racial equity and its intersections with considerations of class, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, nationality, language and ability.

4. We remain sociopolitically engaged and responsive to the challenges of systemic racism due to systems and structures that perpetuate inequities.

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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Equity in education means high quality learning opportunities and outcomes are co-constructed by and for individuals that have been historically marginalized while preferencing their identities, values, and cultural wealth, acknowledging the role of power, identity, access, and achievement.*

We center diversity, equity and inclusion in every part of our work—from how we designed our program, to how we selected our awardees, to the composition of our own team and advisory boards. Our inclusive R&D approach brings researchers, developers and educators together to co-design practical approaches that prioritize the voices and lived experiences of the teachers and students we serve. Our educator partners specialize in working with students who have been traditionally underserved; with their guidance, the approaches we develop will empower students, affirm their innate abilities and provide conditions for them to tap into their agency.

Together, we are committed to:

  • Providing access to high-quality mathematics instruction infused with opportunities for students to strengthen their executive function skills, 

  • Inviting educators, students, and families to participate as co-experts to co-own the research and design process, 

  • Encompassing and honoring the identities of students at the intersection of mathematical thinkers and cultural wealth and the identities of students, families, educators and community members as co-experts in the design and development process,

  • Defining achievement collectively and with culturally relevant measures, to include performance on mathematical tasks and engagement with mathematical thinking,

  • Assuming and affirming the power of Black and Latinx students, students living in poverty, and educators to co-create math learning approaches for community transformation and social change,

  • Building and funding teams that represent the racial, ethnic and gender balance of the students we serve, 

  • Collaboratively engaging a range of researchers, educators, product developers and community advocates in ways that build our collective expertise and

  • Holding all funded teams accountable to the principles of targeted universalism, which designs strategies for specific groups of students to achieve universal goals.

* Our working definition of equity is heavily influenced by Rochelle Gutiérrez’s model of four dimensions of equity in a mathematics education context (Gutiérrez, 2009; Gutiérrez, 2012).

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