March 2022 Spotlight, Pooja Gupta Sidney, Ph.D.

This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Pooja Gupta Sidney ( as our member in the spotlight. Dr. Sidney is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky.

  1. Can you write a couple sentences on some aspect of your career development: feel free to pick one or any other related question among these: a) what drew you to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? b) who was an important mentor to you in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field? c) any particular advice or tips to someone starting out in the field who is doing work in your area? 

My research focuses on mathematical concept learning across development, but I am most interested in children’s learning in school. What drew me to this was my observations of the large variability in math learning across children. I’m so interested in why that variability occurs and whether we can bring all children to a higher level of understanding. More recently, I’ve been interested in how math attitudes, anxiety, and beliefs affect learning. Although I haven’t focused on Asian American children in my work (yet), I am increasingly interested in the “model minority” myth, especially as it pertains to mathematics, and how it might shape Asian-identified children’s sense of belonging in math.

  • A short paragraph describing a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes you excited about it.  Feel free to describe its importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other [understudied?] populations; d) practice or policy relevance.

Much of my work focuses on the role of analogy and diagrams in mathematics learning. In a recent publication (Sidney, 2020), I reported on a study in which children were learning about an especially hard fraction concept by relying on an analogy to easier whole number problems. Many studies have shown that direct instruction, or explicitly telling children what you want them to know, is necessary for challenging concepts. However, recent research also shows us that explicitly reasoning about an analogy taxes working memory. In this study, I demonstrated the effectiveness of what I call an “implicit analogy”, in which teachers activate students’ relevant prior knowledge through a “warm-up” activity without drawing students’ explicit attention to the analogy. This type of instruction resulted in greater learning than the “explicit analogy” instruction or “no analogy” instruction with extra practice. We focus so much on direct instruction in the classroom, and rightly so, but I think it’s exciting to think about other ways in which the structure of instruction indirectly or implicitly supports learning.

  • If you have any thoughts about your experiences with the Asian Caucus, that would be great!  These can be just for the Caucus leadership to know, and/or a message to the Caucus community. 

I’m just really thankful for this group. When I was an undergraduate student trying to decide what I was interested in pursuing, I was personally interested in the experiences of other first generation Asian Americans. But, I didn’t know about any relevant research and became discouraged about going down that path. I am thrilled to see all the fantastic work that members of the Caucus are doing and I know it is inspiring future generations of researchers!

  • A weblink you prefer to share?

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