CURF Introduction: How do children think and grow?

Hello everyone!

My name is Vanshika Narala and I’m a current recipient of the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Presently, I’m a senior graduating early in December from Pitt with majors in Neuroscience and Psychology, minors in Chemistry and Theatre Arts, and a Certificate in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. With my gap semester, I am hoping to further my involvement in my research, work as a medical assistant, and, if permitted based on global health standards, potentially travel. After my gap semester, I am hoping to pursue medical school.

Through CURF, I hope to gain better scientific writing and research skills, which could aid in my future endeavors academically. Furthermore, I anticipate that CURF can help me develop professionally by helping me in enhancing my communication and soft skills.

This semester, I am working with Dr. Melissa Libertus in the Kid’s Thinking Lab to study cognitive development in children. Specifically, I am studying how mathematical development can be influenced by domestic factors, such as maternal vs paternal interactions with young toddlers in English- vs Spanish-speaking families. We plan to study the parent-child dyads by giving them various tasks that could promote “math talk”, such as pictures of a playroom that includes clocks and countable objects. We will encourage parents and children to talk about these images as though they were pictures in a book. While the images include various number symbols and countable sets of objects that may help promote math talk, parents and children are not explicitly told that they should talk about math, and may choose to talk about other aspects of the images, including color, shapes, etc. We will record and transcribe all of the conversations and then code the transcriptions for how often mothers and fathers might include math talk in their discussion with their children.

After this portion of the study, we will evaluate the toddlers’ math performance using several short math assessments administered by the experimenter. Ultimately, we will see whether there are correlations between how often the parents incorporate math into their conversation with their children and how their children perform in math. We will finally test for differences in this relation between parent math input and children’s math performance for mothers versus fathers.

Through this study, we hope to learn more about mathematical development and add to the current research in the field. By focusing on younger children, we hope to target mathematical development at an earlier stage and see whether there may be certain periods where math talk is particularly beneficial. By understanding how parental input may enhance children’s math skills, it may be possible to help children who might be struggling with developing certain skills. As early math performance is associated with broader cognitive development and academic achievement, this work may help us develop interventions for improving math skills and hopefully these other outcomes as well.

Overall, through this fellowship, I am excited to continue learning about math development in young children and gain skills that could prepare me for my future!

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