Penn State Looks At Ties Between Vocabulary And STEM Struggles

June 12, 2018
Penn State researchers will investigate ties between oral vocabulary difficulties and their connection to math and science difficulties.

Young children who struggle early with vocabulary often struggle with reading as well during the primary grades, according to an article from The Pennsylvania State University. Penn State researchers will study whether these difficulties also lead to math and sciences difficulties throughout elementary school via a three-year, $1.5 million National Science Foundation-funded research project. Principal Investigator Paul Morgan, professor of education and demography and director of Penn State’s Center for Educational Disparities Research, and his team will analyze data to identify risk factors for oral vocabulary difficulties prior to or by kindergarten, and then look at how oral vocabulary and reading difficulties during kindergarten and first grade may increase children’s risk of experiencing mathematics and science difficulties across second to fifth grade.

“There are various reported risk factors for oral vocabulary difficulties during early childhood," says Morgan. "If oral vocabulary difficulties are tied to difficulties in mathematics and science, our project will provide new knowledge regarding how best to help children experiencing STEM learning difficulties, including early during their school careers.”

Such students are reportedly likely to experience low levels of mathematics and science achievement by middle and high school, limiting their STEM-related educational and career opportunities. Students from low-income families, English Language Learners, racial and ethnic minorities and those with disabilities are more likely to display learning difficulties in STEM, according to Penn State.

Co-principal investigators are Marianne Hillemeier, professor of health policy and administration and demography at Penn State; and George Farkas, professor of education at the University of California, Irvine. The Center for Educational Disparities Research, jointly established by Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute and the College of Education, provided seed funding for the research.

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