Associate professor and graduate student present research at psychologist convention

By Bridget Gum 

Recently, Karen Gischlar, an associate professor in Rider’s School Psychology Program, and Stephen Rudzinski, a psychology graduate student, presented their research on a new math curriculum for preschoolers at a conference.

 Gischlar and Rudzinski submitted their proposal to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) for the 2020 Annual Conference, which they attended on Feb. 20 in Baltimore. 

Gischlar said that “as a former kindergarten teacher and, subsequently, school psychologist, I have always been intrigued by how young children develop the early foundational skills that are the precursors to conventional reading, writing and mathematics skills.”

According to Rudzinski, “prior research has suggested that children’s math skills when they enter kindergarten are the strongest predictors of future math achievement.” Gischlar and Rudzinski based the framework off of a pre-existing curriculum for school-age children in grades K-8 but changed it so that it would better incorporate early development areas that are more specific to preschoolers. 

Rudzinski said “the framework was broken down into six categories of evaluation criteria: general program design (including big ideas and objectives), instructional design (things such as giving students multiple opportunities to respond and cumulative review), instructional procedures (does the program give instructions for demonstration of concepts and methods on how errors should be corrected?), other program components (including home-school connection and materials for English language learners) and evidence-based (the research that went into creating the curriculum).”

Gischlar’s previous first-hand experience in this field is part of what inspired her to pursue this topic of study. She wanted to make a change in the preschool curriculum to best prepare the students for kindergarten and further education. Robin Hojnoski, a former professor of Gischlar from Lehigh University, piqued her interest in early math curricula evaluation framework and she and Rudzinski continued the research from there.

Rudzinski was interested in this area of study because he “saw this as an opportunity to explore both of my interests in research and early childhood development.” The opportunity was presented to him by Gischlar in 2018, which was Rudzinski’s first year as a graduate student. 

Currently, both Gischlar and Rudzinski are working on a paper for an early childhood journal where they will re-introduce their framework and hope it will become more accessible to preschool educators. The framework will also be distributed to the professionals who viewed the poster at the conference.

When Gischlar was looking for a graduate assistant, she was very impressed with Rudzinski’s background and his interest in the subject matter, as well as the fact that Rudzinski chose to attend the graduate program at Rider, specifically for their outstanding research opportunities and involvement. Gischlar had been the professor advising Rudzinski on graduate schools and helped Rudzinski decide on Rider. It was simply fated that they ended up working together on this research project. 

Gischlar said that “Stephen [Rudzinski] and I worked together on the project, along with Dr. Hojnoski. Steve did a lot of the legwork in searching the literature and forming the introduction and rationale for our framework.”

Gischlar said that the conference was very popular and many people came to see and ask questions about their research. Gischlar said that “most were practitioners, rather than researchers which is where we want this work to be, in the hands of practicing school psychologists who can work with early childhood educators in their school systems in choosing an empirically sound curriculum.”

Associate Professor in the psychology department Karen Gischlar said she was always intrigued by “how young children develop the early foundational skills,” due to her previous experience as a kindergarten teacher.

Rudzinski said that he enjoys learning about why people do what they do and how their brain works when doing these tasks. He also said that he could see himself pursuing a career in school psychology, especially in the research part of this field. Both Gischlar and Rudzinski got very positive feedback at the conference for their research and hope that it takes off from there and is implemented in the school system.

Gischlar also added that “Rider’s school psychology Ed.S. program is ranked number 5 in the nation for research productivity. We have an amazing program that has produced regional and national awards and scholarship winners.”

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