New Faculty Member Eric Knuth Explores the Effects of Early Learner Exposure to Algebra

Eric Knuth

New College of Education faculty member, Professor Eric Knuth, along with colleagues at UW-Madison and Technical Education Research Centers (TERC), recently received three new federal grants to continue their work on Project LEAP. Project LEAP is a portfolio of projects focused on the development, implementation, and testing of a sustained and comprehensive approach to early algebra.

Knuth is joining the Department of Curriculum and Instruction this August, with a focus on STEM Education. “We are excited to build upon the positive results of our prior early algebra work over the past decade. The new projects will provide an innovative model for transforming children’s mathematical experiences so that all children are better prepared for the more formal study of algebra beginning in the middle grades,” says Knuth.    

Algebra is often a subject that students struggle with at mid-level grades. Knuth’s research studies the effect that an early introduction to algebraic concepts can have on understanding in later education.

The funding will support three research projects that are expected to run for the next several years:

Building a Grades K-2 Early Algebra Learning Progression Prototype for Diverse Populations

This grant was awarded through the National Science Foundation for $1.61 million and focuses on building a framework of algebraic thinking for early learners. The sustained focus on mathematical learning throughout schooling is thought to strengthen college and career readiness. This research will focus specifically on diverse learners in at-risk settings.

Extending a Grades 3-5 Early Algebra Learning Progression into Grades K-2

This grant was awarded through the Institute for Education Sciences for $1.39 million. It also focuses on designing early algebra learning for children in grades K-2. The study measures learning within the progression, and descriptions of students’ thinking as they progress through the program.

Identifying Effective Instructional Practices that Foster the Development of Algebraic Thinking in Elementary School

This grant was awarded through the National Science Foundation for $1.37 million.

This project seeks to identify methods and instructional practices that are associated with increased student performance in early algebra and formal pattern recognition. It aims to develop an early algebra classroom observation protocol for use in teacher education and professional development. This includes the use of data and video tools to document effective instructional practices as a reference for teachers. 

“I have always been impressed by the College of Education’s tradition of research excellence and outreach,” adds Knuth, “and I look forward to contributing to that tradition.”