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Column One: Research

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The James S. McDonnell Foundation last month awarded $4.3 million to nine teams of researchers to apply knowledge from cognitive science to classroom settings.

Under the three-year grants, the researchers are expected to develop models for how children learn in subjects ranging from 1st-grade arithmetic to high-school history. They then are expected, in conjunction with teachers, to design and test teaching materials and instructional practices that can be applied in classrooms.

John T. Bruer, the foundation's president, said the grants would create a network of researchers and educators using cognitive science to improve teaching and learning.

"Any program of educational reform and school restructuring that is not based on an understanding of how our children's minds work and what this means for how teachers and students interact in the classroom will not succeed," Mr. Bruer said.

The new grants are the second set of awards made by the foundation to support cognitive research in education. Seven of the awards are continuations from the previous round, made in 1987. Awards to researchers from the University of Rochester, who will develop a curriculum on research and communication skills for middle-school students, and from Gonzaga University and the University of Washington, who will develop models of writing instruction, are new.

Daily exposure to traditional mathematics-instruction activities--such as homework and textbook use--appears to be related to math achievement, according to a new analysis of data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

However, the study found, such activities appear to have more of an effect on students' computational skills than on their ability to solve problems.

The study by the National Center for Education Statistics is based on the 1985-86 naep assessment, which tested a national sample of children in grades 3, 7, and 11. A report on the assessment, issued in 1988, found that high-school students displayed a "dismal" level of achievement in the subject.

The new data found that, even when course-taking was held constant, 11th-grade boys outperformed girls, and white students had significantly higher achievement scores than blacks and Hispanics.

Copies of the report, "Mathematics Achievement and Classroom Instructional Activities," are available for $5.50 each by writing: Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402; the stock number is 065-000-00430-5.--rr

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