Daniel Ansari is a developmental psychologist and developmental cognitive neuroscientist. The goal of his research is to better understand how children acquire numerical and mathematical skills. He is particularly interested in how children learn numerical symbols, such as number words and Arabic numerals. To this end, he uses both behavioral and brain-imaging methods to examine individual difference in how children acquire foundational numerical and mathematical skills in early education.
My plans for the fellowship period
There exist vast individual differences between children when they begin formal schooling. Some children come well-prepared for the learning challenges that lie ahead of them, while others lack critical foundational skills that are necessary for them to succeed in early, formal education. What causes these individual differences? How can they be effectively identified to inform instruction? The aim of my research program is to a.) better understand what knowledge and skills are key to making the critical transition from pre-school to early, formal education and b.) develop ways to screen for children who may be at risk of lagging behind their peers in their development of numerical and mathematical skills. More specifically, in the next three years, my research will be focused on understanding the key predictors of early numerical and mathematical success. Through both cross-sectional and longitudinal research that combines behavioral and brain-imaging methods, I will seek to better understand ‘what counts’ in the early years for the later development of numerical and mathematical skills and understanding. Furthermore, I aim to develop and validate measures of pre-school numerical abilities across different countries to allow for the screening of children who may be at risk of developing mathematical difficulties.
How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Over the past decade, multiple research findings have brought into sharp focus that early numerical and mathematical skills are a critical predictor of later school and life success. Indeed, early numerical skills are as strong a predictor of later success in school as are early literacy skills. Therefore, early numeracy really does count in children’s lives. Despite the now well-documented importance of numeracy in early education, research into the factors that contribute to individual differences in numerical and mathematical understanding and skills still lags behind progress made to identify the factors that contribute to children’s early literacy skills. My research aims to close this gap by identifying the key foundational competencies that form the basis upon which children build their numerical and mathematical skills. In addition to research aiming to identify the building blocks of mathematical competencies, I aim to design and validate tools to screen children’s numerical skills before they enter formal schooling across a variety of countries. This will yield novel data on the extent of which pre-school children across the globe are prepared to meet the challenges of formal mathematics education in the early years. This research will inform the pedagogical strategies of early childhood educators.