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Positive Early Math Experiences for African American Boys

Central to The Abacus Project’s mission is providing positive early math experiences for Black children. Many African American men with successful STEM careers attribute much of their achievement to positive early math experiences, however, research shows that racial disparities in math achievement are evident as early as kindergarten and these wide gaps persist throughout elementary, middle school, and high school.

Despite significant education reform efforts such as reducing teacher turnover, increasing spending, and hiring more qualified teachers, little impact has been made on the math trajectories of African American boys. A fundamental re-imagining of early math learning opportunities is needed.

Exposure to high-quality math environments allow children to develop executive functioning skills by allowing them to plan, focus, and build on past experiences. These skills include the ability to resist distraction, shift attention between multiple components of a task, and retain and process information, all of which support learning and academic performance.

Recent research shows that the areas of the brain most affected by early exposure to poverty are the ones related to executive functioning skills and reasoning. Children from low-income families and under-resourced communities often have less-predictable home routines and are frequently exposed to high-stress environments, making them less likely than children from wealthier families to have well-developed executive functioning and math skills.

Creating a high-quality math environment involves implementing sequential learning activities that give children a logical order or sequence of steps to follow. These allow children to think, plan, reflect, and problem solve.

To learn more, read Positive Early Math Experiences for African American Boys: Nurturing the Next Generation of STEM Majors.

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