Baylor Education and Research Program Returns to Campus and Mayborn Museum to Help Young Learners Improve Math Skills

July 15, 2022
Baylor SOE MELA program

Baylor School of Education graduate Caitlin Brandenberger, BSEd '17, MSEd '18, is a kindergarten teacher at Bell's Hill Elementary, a Baylor SOE Professional Development School campus in Waco ISD. She is a master teacher for the MELA program.

Media Contact: Kelly Craine, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-297-9065
SOE Contact: Meg Cullar, Baylor School of Education, 254-710-6435
Follow us on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (July 15, 2022) – After a 2020 hiatus due to COVID and a 2021 program embedded in a local summer school, Baylor University’s Mathematics for Early Learners Academy (MELA), sponsored by the Baylor School of Education (SOE), has returned to the Baylor campus July 5-28 to host students ages 4 to 6 at the Mayborn Museum.

The summer program, designed for students who have just finished PreK or kindergarten and directed by Sandi Cooper, Ph.D., professor of mathematics education, aims to establish a solid foundation in “number sense,” especially for students who have been identified as having difficulty in mathematics.

The program, which has measurably helped young students ages 4-6 achieve or exceed grade-level expectations in early math skills and number fluency, continues to test its new curriculum and assessments and conduct research on “teacher noticing” that studies the Baylor teacher-education students who are teaching in the program.

“MELA is all about gaining number sense, which is composing and decomposing numbers — more than just counting,” Cooper said. “When you think about the number 5, you can see it as a sum of 3 and 2 or of 4 and 1, and there are sets of five and counting by fives. And 5 can be found in the real world; for example, a nickel represents the number 5. It’s about understanding what numbers mean, not just rote counting.”

For 2022, Baylor SOE is partnering with three school districts and hosting more than 60 students from five different elementary schools:

  • Waco ISD – Alta Vista Elementary, Crestview Elementary and South Waco Elementary
  • La Vega ISD – La Vega Primary
  • Midway ISD – Castleman Creek

MELA staff includes 11 master teachers, five Baylor students, seven paraprofessionals from participating ISDs, five graduate students (from two Baylor departments) and two research consultants, who are recent Baylor doctoral graduates.

Ongoing research

Cooper said that research shows early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than are reading skills but that many preschools don’t focus enough on math. Students often don’t receive interventions in math until later grades.

During MELA, the Baylor team is conducting research in early-mathematics curriculum, assessment tools and teacher training.

When MELA began, the teaching team modified a curriculum designed for the full academic year. Then, based on collected research data from MELA sessions, an expert team of Baylor educators developed a four-week curriculum designed for summer intervention use, such as by districts during their summer-school programs. Assessment tools administered both before and after the MELA program are part of the curriculum package being developed.

In 2021, due to COVID limitations, MELA was embedded in a campus summer school at La Vega Primary School, allowing the Baylor research team to implement pilot testing of the newly developed four-week curriculum and accompanying assessment tools, collecting feedback for further development. Research-based evaluation of the MELA curriculum is ongoing with a research team collecting data and evaluating student development.

“Embedding the program inside a traditional summer school was a valuable research venue, especially for curriculum development,” Cooper said. “We made some updates to this year’s curriculum based on last year’s experiences.”

Returning to the Mayborn Museum allows the teaching team more flexibility, Cooper said.

“The goal remains to produce a summer-school curriculum that would be made available to any school district,” Cooper said, noting that a faculty team also is working on efforts to support students who are English language learners.

In addition to the research related to the development of number sense for young learners, Cooper organized a team of graduate student researchers to study the professional growth of the Baylor SOE teacher education students as they prepared and taught math lessons in the summer program.

This research focused on “Teacher Noticing” was designed to determine how these Baylor students “notice” mathematical learning based on young learners’ verbal responses and interactions with the tasks. As part of this research, the Baylor students participate in a “video club” once a week to review video clips of themselves and their peers and discuss the process of noticing – attending, responding and interpreting.

Baylor campus benefits

Cooper said the MELA experience is enhanced by being on the Baylor campus, based at the Mayborn Museum.

“The Mayborn provides appropriate classrooms, and the students also can venture into the wonderful exhibits,” Cooper said. “We go on number walks throughout the museum, and we are able to go into the exhibits to experience mathematical explorations.”

Students are also enjoying this summer’s “Superhero” special exhibit at the Mayborn, and MELA includes field trips to other campus locations, such as the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat and Baylor athletic facilities.

“By hosting at the Mayborn for 2022, we are able to offer more instructional time devoted to the concepts presented in the newly developed MELA curriculum,” Cooper said. “At the Mayborn, MELA is from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m., and the entire time is organized by the MELA staff and focused on math. The instructional time includes whole group lessons, small group lessons, stations and museum walks focused on number development. Hosting at Baylor provides more focused time for the program to have impact on these children.”


For more than 100 years, Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, leaders in K12 and higher education, psychologists, professors, researchers, and more. With more than 60 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice. Visit to learn more.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.