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Published October 12, 2021


Game on: GSE professor develops a pre-K assessment tool into a game kids navigate

Work will be supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

To help teachers determine if their pre-kindergarten students are ready for more formal schooling, a UB-led team of researchers will classroom-test a game-like tool that children play as it gauges their ability to pay attention, remember rules and control impulses.

The classroom version of the tool adapts the original assessment, known as Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders, or HTKS, which is now used by researchers worldwide to measure the skills that 4-to-8-year-olds need for success in school. The assessment asks children to follow commands, such as “touch your head,” which become progressively more difficult.

The researchers, led by Claire Cameron, principal investigator and GSE associate professor of learning and instruction, will try out game versions of the assessment with as many as 200 children. In one form, kids answer audio prompts by tapping an on-screen bear.

“This project will examine a child-led version, which we are calling ‘HTKS-Kids,’ that needs minimal work or intervention from a teacher and can be used in regular classrooms,” said Cameron. “The current version requires a trained researcher to give the assessment.”

The original HTKS tool — developed by Cameron and her colleagues — assesses behavioral, self-regulatory skills, which predict the academic growth and readiness of young children as they prepare to move from pre-K to kindergarten.

Co-principal investigators on the project include Cameron’s longtime collaborator, Megan McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith, Healthy Children and Families Professor at Oregon State University, and Tammy Kwan, co-founder and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox.

The assessment, now translated into almost 30 languages and used around the world, is a strong predictor of math and literacy skills and learning over time.

Transforming HTKS into a digital game could allow for broader use of this powerful tool that will be adapted with support from a $385,000 award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said Cameron. HTKS, she said, is one of the most economical and accessible ways of measuring the foundational and cognitive skills that are critical to success in school and life.

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