Susan Mayer, professor emeritus

The University of Chicago Behavioral Insights & Parenting (BIP) Lab has received a $1.5 million grant from Carina Initiatives, an organization dedicated to helping more children succeed at math and computer science, for a project to determine how technology such as easy-to-use digital apps can help to promote the acquisition of math skills among young children.

The BIP Lab’s project is called About TIME (Technology in Math Education) and is a two-year initiative that expects to generate fresh insights about the role of technology and parent engagement in early math learning and how technology might be used to reduce the troubling and persistent disparities in math skills between high- and low-income children.

Ariel Kalil, Daniel Levin Professor

About TIME will involve two distinct field experiments and a randomized control trial. Susan E. Mayer, professor emeritus, and Ariel Kalil, Daniel Levin Professor, are the principal investigators and will lead the project, along with support from research scientists, post-docs, and graduate students at the BIP Lab, which is housed at the Harris School of Public Policy. 

“We are thrilled to receive this support from Carina Initiatives for this vital effort,” said Kalil, who co-directs the BIP Lab with Mayer. “It is crucial that we further our collective understanding for the role technology can play in overcoming the barriers that put low-income parents and their children at a disadvantage when it comes to math learning. Without intervention, that disadvantage often endures from a young age through high school and beyond.”

“BIP Lab is one of the foremost organizations in helping us understand the impact that technology can have in improving early math education, particularly in underserved communities,” said Josh Taylor, from Carina Initiatives. “This important work will help academics, policymakers, and app developers design more effective learning opportunities and help prepare more kids from more communities to thrive in the modern, math infused world.”

This new body of research builds on previous studies from the BIP Lab, including the PACT and MPACT initiatives. About TIME delves into the potential of digital apps to remove some of the barriers that drive learning disparities. Compared to non-digital math learning materials such as games and manipulatives, apps may be used more readily and may be more efficient at conveying new math skills.

Multiple barriers impede parental engagement in math. Both parents and preschool teachers resist engaging children in math relative to reading, which may be due to cognitive load, math anxiety, problems of adult planning and scheduling, and adult-child frictions.

“Few interventions meaningfully increase children’s math skill because few low-cost scalable solutions exist,” explained Mayer. “Building up the evidence base for the use of early math apps will have far-reaching implications for app developers, parents, educators, and governments looking for cost-effective solutions to increase children’s early math skills.”

The contributions of About TIME are expected to be significant, and include:   

  • helping app developers and developers of non-digital learning materials understand how children and parents use digital and non-digital materials.
  • comparing the relative efficiency of digital and non-digital tools and time spent using them for increasing child math skill by family background.
  • fostering a discussion about the appropriate use of digital apps by preschool-aged children and the role that parents can play to optimize math learning.
  • informing cost-benefit analyses for governments and programs considering subsidizing digital and non-digital learning materials for children.

Please visit for more information about BIP Lab and their research.