Self-Regulation and Cognitive Control: Why Executive Functions Matter for Early STEM Education

Presenter: Susan Carey
Many skills, such as those that underlie reading readiness and mastery of counting, play an important role in success in school.  However, there is also a suite of very general cognitive processes—the executive functions—that undergo massive development through preschool, elementary, and even late adolescence.  In this session, the presenter will characterize the executive functions, give examples in both early arithmetic and early science, and discuss the importance and implications of this work for the preschool and early elementary curriculum.

Susan Carey, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University
Susan Carey was employed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1972 to 1996 and New York University from 1996 to 2001 before joining the faculty at Harvard University in 2001, where she is chair of the psychology department. Currently, Carey is working on the role of executive function in conceptual change. Executive functions (working memory, cognitive control) likely play many roles in successful learning, as they include the capacities for sustained attention and maintenance of goal-directed activities. Her work involves characterizing the components of executive function, charting their development during the preschool and early elementary years, and exploring their role in the acquisition of STEM concepts. Carey’s research concerns the psychological processes that underlie conceptual change. She has carried out case studies of the processes through which children construct their first concepts of integers, as well as case studies of conceptual changes within biology and physics that are targets of elementary school education. Carey is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Education. She received both her BA and PhD from Harvard University.