Skip to content

Building Blocks and TRIAD

Evidence rating
3
Cost rating
1
Review: November 2019

Building Blocks is a preschool mathematics curriculum for children between the ages of 3 and 4. It is delivered in preschools and aims to improve mathematics ability. Building Blocks includes software and print materials for children, teachers, and families.

TRIAD (Technology-enhanced, Research-based, Instruction, Assessment and professional Development) is a scale-up model that supports the Building Blocks curriculum via professional development for teachers (including a Web application that supports teaching based on learning trajectories), classroom materials and classroom coaching.

The overall programme is particularly designed for children who live mainly in poverty and are, therefore, at risk of experiencing difficulty in education. The intervention is delivered by trained teachers.

The maths activities are aimed at moving the children through developmental levels to meet learning goals. Teacher training sessions are focused on the learning trajectories for each mathematical topic.

EIF Programme Assessment

Evidence rating
3

Building Blocks and TRIAD has evidence of a short-term positive impact on child outcomes from at least one rigorous evaluation.

What does the evidence rating mean?

Level 3 indicates evidence of efficacy. This means the programme can be described as evidence-based: it has evidence from at least one rigorously conducted RCT or QED demonstrating a statistically significant positive impact on at least one child outcome.

This programme does not receive a rating of 4 as it has not yet replicated its results in another rigorously conducted study, where at least one study indicates long-term impacts, and at least one uses measures independent of study participants. 

What does the plus mean?

The plus rating indicates that this programme has evidence from at least one level 3 study, along with evidence from other studies rated 2 or better.

Cost rating
1

A rating of 1 indicates that a programme has a low cost to set up and deliver, compared with other interventions reviewed by EIF. This is equivalent to an estimated unit cost of less than £100.

Child outcomes

According to the best available evidence for this programme's impact, it can achieve the following positive outcomes for children:

Enhancing school achievement & employment

Improved maths ability - based on study 1a, study 1b, study 1c, study 2, study 3

Improved language ability - based on study 1a

Building Blocks and TRIAD

Key programme characteristics

Who is it for?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to the following age-groups:

  • Preschool

How is it delivered?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to implementation through these delivery models:

  • Group

Where is it delivered?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to its implementation in these settings:

  • Children's centre or early-years setting

The programme may also be delivered in these settings:

  • Primary school

How is it targeted?

The best available evidence for this programme relates to its implementation as:

  • Targeted selective

Where has it been implemented?

Ecuador, England, United States

UK provision

This programme has been implemented in the UK.

UK evaluation

This programme’s best evidence does not include evaluation conducted in the UK.

Spotlight sets

EIF does not currently include this programme within any Spotlight set.

Building Blocks and TRIAD

About the programme

What happens during delivery?

How is it delivered?
  • Building Blocks/TRIAD is delivered to children 15 minutes per day on most school days, by trained preschool teachers.
What happens during the intervention?
  • Teachers attend training to learn about the curriculum and the learning trajectories for each mathematical topic.
  • Learning Trajectories is the core of the Building Blocks/TRIAD curriculum. The print materials provide information on children's development along the trajectories, the instructional activities move the children through developmental levels to meet learning goals.
  • Children (aged 3 – 4) are taught the Building Blocks/TRIAD curriculum through software and print material.
  • The curriculum is aimed at developing children's geometric thinking, spatial skills, measurement, understanding of patterns and more.

What are the implementation requirements?

Who can deliver it?
  • Building Blocks/TRIAD is delivered by trained teachers in preschool, with a minimum of QCF-level 4/5 qualifications.
What are the training requirements?
  • The practitioners have between 2-6 days of programme training.  Booster training of practitioners is recommended. 
How are the practitioners supervised?

Practitioner supervision is provided through the following processes:

  • It is recommended that practitioners are supervised for a total of 24 hours per full programme delivery by one host agency supervisor (qualified to QCF level 6), with 8 hours of programme training.
What are the systems for maintaining fidelity?

Programme fidelity is maintained through the following processes:

  • Training manual
  • Other printed material
  • Other online material
  • Video or DVD training
  • Face-to-face training
  • Fidelity monitoring. 
Is there a licensing requirement?

Yes, there is a licence required to run this programme.

How does it work? (Theory of Change)

How does it work?
  • High-quality curriculum-based educational experiences increase young children's mathematics competencies.
  • The Building Blocks curriculum provides multiple resources to support teachers in providing high-quality educational experiences to young children.
  • In the short term, children increase their mathematical knowledge (concepts and processes).
  • In the longer term, children also develop language and executive function competencies, and those who are most at risk for school have higher achievement in  mathematics.
Intended outcomes

Enhancing school achievement & employment

Building Blocks and TRIAD

About the evidence

Building Block’s most rigorous evidence comes from a cluster RCT which was conducted in the US (study 1a).

This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of children.

This programme has evidence from at least one rigorously conducted RCT along with evidence from an additional comparison group study.  Consequently, the programme receives a 3+ rating overall.

Study 1a

Citation: Clements et al., 2011 Sarama et al., 2012 Watts et al., 2017
Design: Cluster RCT
Country: United States
Sample: 1305 children enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten Schools
Timing: Post-test
Child outcomes: Improved maths ability
Improved language ability
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 3

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Spitler, M. E., Lange, A. A., & Wolfe, C. B. (2011). Mathematics learned by young children in an intervention based on learning trajectories: A large-scale cluster randomized trial. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 42(2), 127-166.

Available at
https://www.nctm.org/Publications/Journal-for-Research-in-Mathematics-Education/2011/Vol42/Issue2/Mathematics-Learned-by-Young-Children-in-an-Intervention-Based-on-Learning-Trajectories_-A-Large-Scale-Cluster-Randomized-Trial/

Sarama, J., Lange, A., Clements, D. H., & Wolfe, C. B. (2012). The impacts of an early mathematics curriculum on oral language and literacy. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(3), 489–502.

Available at
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0885200611000937?via%3Dihub

Watts, T. W., Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Wolfe, C. B., Spitler, M. E., & Bailey, D. H. (2017). Does early mathematics intervention change the processes underlying children’s learning? Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 10(1), 96–115.

Available at
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19345747.2016.1204640?journalCode=uree20

Study design and sample

The first study is a rigorously conducted RCT. 

This study involved random assignment of children to a treatment group and a business as usual group. 

This study was conducted in the USA, with a sample of children aged between 3 and 4. The majority of the children in the sample were low SES (85% free school meal eligibility), and were from an ethnically diverse population living mainly in poverty.

Measures

Maths achievement was measured using the Research-based Elementary Math Assessment (REMA) (expert observation of behaviour).

Language skills were measured using PALS-PreK (Invernizzi, Sullivan, Swank, & Meier, 2004), MCLASS:CIRCLE (Landry, 2007), and The Renfrew Bus Story – North American Edition (RBS; Glasgow & Cowley, 1994)

Findings

This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes.

This includes:

  • Maths ability
  • Language ability

More Less about study 1a

Study 1b

Citation: Sarama et al., 2012
Design: Cluster RCT
Country: United States
Sample: 1218 children enrolled in Kindergarten Schools
Timing: 1-year follow-up
Child outcomes: Improved maths ability
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 2+

Sarama, J., Clements, D. H., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2012). Longitudinal evaluation of a scale-up model for teaching mathematics with trajectories and technologies. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 5(2), 105–135.

Available at
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19345747.2011.627980

Sarama et al. (2012) describes additional outcomes from study 1a described above.  In this case:

  • At a one-year follow-up, maths achievement was measured using the Research-based Elementary Math Assessment (REMA)
  • This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes. 
  • The treatment group performed significantly better than the control group on the Research-based Elementary Math Assessment (REMA).
  • The conclusions that can be drawn from the findings reported in this paper are limited by methodological issues pertaining to study attrition.
More Less about study 1b

Study 1c

Citation: Clements et al., 2013
Design: Cluster RCT
Country: United States
Sample: 1079 children enrolled in Prime Grade Schools
Timing: 2-year follow-up
Child outcomes: Improved maths ability
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 2+

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2013). Longitudinal evaluation of a scale-up model for teaching mathematics with trajectories and technologies: Persistence of effects in the third year. American Educational Research Journal, 50(4), 812 – 850.

Available at
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0002831212469270

Clements et al. (2013) describes additional outcomes from study 1a described above.  In this case:

  • At a two-year follow-up, maths achievement was measured using the Research-based Elementary Math Assessment (REMA)
  • This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes. 
  • The treatment group performed significantly better than the control group on the Research-based Elementary Math Assessment (REMA).
  • The conclusions that can be drawn from the findings reported in this paper are limited by methodological issues pertaining to study attrition.
More Less about study 1c

Study 2

Citation: Clements & Sarama, 2008
Design: Cluster RCT
Country: United States
Sample: 253 children
Timing: Post-test
Child outcomes: Improved maths ability
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 2

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2008). Experimental evaluation of the effects of a research-based preschool mathematics curriculum. American educational research journal, 45(2), 443-494.

Available at
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3102/0002831207312908

Study design and sample

The study was an RCT. This study involved random assignment of children to a treatment group and a business as usual group.

This study was conducted in the USA, with a sample of children aged between 3 and 4. Many of the children attended schools that serve children from low-SES families.

Measures

Maths achievement was measured  using Early Mathematics Assessment (EMA) (expert observation of behaviour).

Findings

This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes.

This includes:

  • Maths ability

The conclusions that can be drawn from this study are limited by methodological issues pertaining to a lack of clarity in terms of baseline equivalence, and a lack of clarity in terms of intention-to-treat analysis, hence why a higher rating is not achieved.

More Less about study 2

Study 3

Citation: Clements & Sarama, 2007
Design: QED
Country: United States
Sample: 68 children
Timing: Post-test
Child outcomes: Improved maths ability
Other outcomes: None measured
Study rating: 2

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2007). Effects of a preschool mathematics curriculum: Summative research on the Building Blocks project. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 38(2), 136–163.

Available at
https://www.nctm.org/Publications/Journal-for-Research-in-Mathematics-Education/2007/Vol38/Issue2/Effects-of-a-Preschool-Mathematics-Curriculum_-Summative-Research-on-the-Building-Blocks-Project/

Study design and sample

The study was a QED study.

This study was conducted in the USA, with a sample of children aged 4 attending schools that serve children from low-SES families.

Measures

Maths achievement was measured using an individual interview format, with explicit protocol, coding, and scoring procedures (expert observation of behaviour).

Findings

This study identified statistically significant positive impact on a number of child outcomes.

This includes:

  • Maths ability (number & geometry test).

The conclusions that can be drawn from this study are limited by methodological issues pertaining to a lack of clarity in terms of baseline equivalence and a lack of clarity in terms of attrition, hence why a higher rating is not achieved.

More Less about study 3

Published November 2019   |   Last updated January 2020