Project Profile

Transforming Preschoolers’ Spatial Orientation: Leveraging New Technologies for Learning in Early Childhood Classrooms and at Home


The development of spatial orientation (SO) skills – the ability to identify the position of objects in space – is a strong predictor of math skills and later school success and academic achievement. However, even with the increasing evidence in the importance of SO skills for children, they are rarely included in kindergarten and primary school curriculum. This puts children at a severe learning disadvantage; children who lag behind their peers in school-entry mathematical skills are at high risk to continue to do so. Thus, fostering SO skills before children enter formal schooling provides them with a sound foundation for later mathematical learning. In this project, a team of learning scientists from the Education Development Center and Digital Promise Global, and public media producers from WGBH Educational Foundation, will develop and research a preschool mathematics curriculum supplement. It will leverage digital touch-screen tablets and augmented reality technologies with other hands-on, developmentally appropriate spatial learning activities.  These activities are aimed to increase preschoolers’ SO learning and STEM identity, particularly for underrepresented and underserved groups. The project will engage 39 teachers, 50 families, and approximately 585-780 preschool children in SO classroom and family SO learning activities. In addition, the project will generate a new augmented reality tablet app, a digital teachers’ guide for preschool classrooms, a digital family guide, and a validated SO assessment for preschool students. Findings from this study will illuminate the potential for this approach on preschoolers’ SO learning. The study will also add to the literature on how to design digital activities that foster learning and knowledge that the field can capitalize on for other domains and age groups.  Through this work, the team seeks to broaden the participation of young children, parents, and preschool teachers in robust math and technology learning experiences that increase STEM identities. The project will use a design-based research approach to develop and test a spatial orientation (SO) intervention. The research questions are focused around 4 areas: 1) Usability and Comprehensibility: What design elements or scaffolds within the learning activities (classroom and home) ensure usability and comprehensibility? 2) Instructional Supports: What instructional activity elements or teacher and caregiver scaffolds are associated with successful engagement in SO activities with preschool children? 3) Potential for Augmented Reality: What aspects of the augmented reality digital activities increase preschoolers’ ability to understand SO concepts? 4) Student Learning and STEM Identity: Does engagement in these instructional activities lead preschool children to increase their SO knowledge and STEM identity over time and in comparison to students who do not experience the intervention? And do additional SO learning experiences at home increase preschoolers’ SO knowledge and skills? Researchers will collect data from children (assessments, observations), teachers (observations, interviews, and surveys), and advisors (recommendations). Data from teachers’ interviews will be analyzed through qualitative data analysis software, and student learning task data will be analyzed quantitatively. Student and classroom observation data, and teacher surveys, will be analyzed with quantitative and qualitative software. In addition to documents based on the research, the project will generate a learning blueprint and a conjecture map to inform the development team. To ensure ongoing quality of the project activities, external formative and summative evaluations will seek to document the project’s adherence to the proposed plans for research and development, successes, and challenges in developing and implementing a technology-infused intervention, and contributions of knowledge to the field. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.



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Co-Principal Investigator(s)
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Award Number
Project Duration
2021 - 2024
Developing and Testing Innovations (DTI)
Education Development Center, Waltham, MA
Project Work State
District of Columbia
Target Gradespan(s)
Early Childhood (PK)
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Mathematical sciences
Target Participants
Youth / students
Parents / caregivers / families
Black/African American participants
Hispanic/Latino participants
Students eligible for free lunch or reduced-price lunch