Taking Children into Account, CURF Introduction: Caitlin Convery

Hello! My name is Caitlin Convery and one unique fact about me is that I lived in Northern Ireland for 8 years, but I quickly lost my accent after moving to the U.S.

I am currently a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in psychology and minoring in sociology, with a particular interest in child development, and I will be graduating in May! Outside of the classroom I work as a research assistant in the Kids’ Thinking (KiT) Lab at Pitt, where our research focuses on the development of math cognition and how parents influence and support their children’s math achievement. This semester, with the support of the CURF Fellowship, I am continuing my independent research project under the direction of my Principal Investigator, Dr. Melissa Libertus, and my graduate student mentor, Alex Silver. My project is titled, Examining the Role of Children’s Responsiveness when Studying the Impact of Parents’ Use of Math Elicitations on Children’s Math Performance.

In an effort to understand what causes early individual differences in math, my project aims to examine potential factors that may impact child math performance. Specifically, I am investigating whether parental questioning and eliciting can promote their child’s math learning. In addition to looking at this important parent factor that may shape children’s math learning, I will also be examining the role of the child in this study. I am considering a potential moderation that may actually influence how beneficial this scaffolding is for individual children. I hypothesize that the relation between parental elicitations & child math learning is dependent on the child’s level of responsiveness. I predict that use of math elicitations may be more beneficial for more responsive children since high levels of responsiveness may indicate that they are paying attention and therefore focusing on what the parent is saying. On the other hand, less responsive children may not be actively listening, and may be more easily distracted. This would show that child math learning does not rely only on parents’ math input but may also depend on how children respond to it.

By examining how parental math elicitations are related to children’s math performance, our results will inform research in this field and provide information about potential targets for future intervention. Additionally, this research is important broadly for parents and educators. Results indicating that particular types of math input may be more beneficial to children’s math learning than others can help inform parents and educators about ways to interact with children by encouraging them to ask children more math-related questions. Given how important the early home numeracy environment is for children’s early math development, parents especially should understand the impact that they have on their child’s development. Hopefully, this research may help change the way parents speak to their young children about math in an attempt to close the gaps in math performance that are observed even before the beginning of formal schooling.

Right now I am in the process of applying to positions to gain full-time work experience after graduation during a gap year (or 2) before applying to graduate programs. My research experiences at Pitt are what inspired me to continue schooling and pursue a graduate degree in child development. Although I am passionate about psychology research, I have taken classes outside my major requirements which have also sparked my interest. After taking a sociology course focusing on societal deviance, I was inspired to pursue a minor in sociology. My goal is to find a way to combine both sociology and developmental psychology in my future plans for research, graduate school, and eventual career. I would be especially interested in looking at the development of social skills and behavior in children. I hope that participating in the CURF Fellowship will further expose me to other ways of thinking about the questions I study. I would love to expand my knowledge, and I believe that listening to my peers discuss their current research in other fields will be such a great opportunity to hear different perspectives, while simultaneously improving my critical thinking skills as I apply what I have learned from them to my own work.

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