Reconceptualizing Early Mathematics Learning (Advances in Mathematics Education)

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It is important that early childhood educators have a good grounding in these curriculum documents; especially the EYLF's principles, practices and learning outcomes, yet Skipper and Neal argue that early childhood educators 'lack the preparation, knowledge, and experience to apply the principles and standards appropriately in pre-school environments' p.

Educators therefore face substantial challenges in knowing what mathematics to teach children, and how to teach it, before formal schooling begins. In this paper, preschool refers to before formal schooling and Foundation Year to the first year of formal schooling. This paper reports on a project that investigated early childhood education and care ECEC educators' perceptions of teaching mathematics to children from birth to five years of age.

In particular, their views on teaching mathematics, the type of mathematics they consider relevant to teach this age group, and the factors that may influence or inhibit their teaching of mathematics. It aimed to determine whether a professional development intervention on the teaching and learning of mathematics could have a positive impact on the amount and type of mathematics taught in the educators' ECEC centres.

The research questions were:.

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Do educators' perceptions of mathematics change after they have engaged in mathematics professional development opportunities? In what ways, if at all, do the type and frequency of mathematics instruction change after educators have engaged in mathematics professional development opportunities? This paper will provide data that contributes to our understanding of how investment in learning for children before starting school is important for later mathematics outcomes. The final section of this paper considers the challenge of equity from a more optimistic point of view.

It is based on recent advances in our understandings of how children learn and a reconceptualization of developmentally appropriate practices in the early childhood curriculum. Contemporary theory on child development highlights the relational processes by which children and adults alike acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes deemed normative and desirable within particular socio-cultural contexts.

Summarized most often as a theory of social constructivism, this perspective regards learning as both a social and cognitive process dependent upon interpersonal exchanges and upon optimally challenging tasks to complete and ideas to contemplate Berk and Winsler Even very young children learn what is important, tolerated, and expected as they observe and participate in early educational experiences.

Thus, gender-role stereotypes, ethnic identity, and self-image as a learner are among those understandings that develop during the period of early childhood New a. However, research also suggests that young children have the cognitive capacity to understand the difference between what people can do and what they usually do Meece Such studies are essential to supporting teacher efforts to promote more equitable learning opportunities for all children, regardless of gender or ethnic identity.

These theoretical premises have significant implications for the role of early schooling in the formation of skills and knowledge—as well as attitudes and dispositions—regarding math, science, and technology. That children see the personal relevance of what they are learning, and receive appropriate social support, is critical to their formation of mathematical concepts Ball and Wilson and to their development of interest in science Jeffe and computers Char and Forman Indeed, when children work together on a computer, their social exchanges promote not only their learning of technological skills Clements , but they can also facilitate their use of the computer to acquire advanced understandings of literacy, mathematics, and science Wright and Shade The benefits of social negotiations among students as they take place within collaborative learning have been demonstrated in research on the teaching and learning of science Fosnot and mathematics Saxe and Gearhart Such studies support theoretical understandings of learning as both an individual and a social process Shapiro They also support new interpretations of the domains of mathematics and science themselves, where knowledge is negotiated through social exchanges within particular socio-cultural contexts Forman Research informed by social constructivism also supports the role of peers and teachers in facilitating instruction in mathematics, science, and technology.

For example, we now know that children with emotional or behavioral disabilities can learn about cause and effect in their joint science activities with more capable children. Children with cognitive impairments benefit from experiences that require active thinking and reasoning about problems including scientific and mathematics problems that matter to them. Students with physical or sensory impairments are highly motivated to use all of their available senses in order to better observe natural phenomena Mastropieri and Scruggs This body of research supports the notion that children of all abilities take clues from the physical and social environment regarding what is important to learn and how it might be learned Mallory and New b.

These advances in our understanding of how children learn have significant implications for the role of the early childhood educator in the early childhood curriculum. The theoretical concept of guided participation has blurred the distinction between teacher-directed and child-sensitive pedagogy. Recent descriptors of the early childhood curriculum include integrated with respect to developmental goals , emergent with respect to the source of content or theme , and negotiated as opposed to either teacher- or child-initiated.

Each of these interpretations of developmentally appropriate curriculum includes the belief that children are considerably more likely to achieve goals that adults set for them when the content of new knowledge is personally meaningful, is contextually relevant, and builds upon, rather than replaces, existing competencies New a. Teachers in Reggio Emilia, Italy, have done much to help clarify these points Edwards et al.

Expanded conceptions of developmentally appropriate practice have responded to the need to acknowledge the diversity of practices that may be appropriate for diverse populations of young children Mallory and New a. Current thinking also emphasizes the importance of connecting curriculum content with the larger context in which children live. These experiences can also create occasions for children to think critically, make predictions, and solve problems. The challenge in promoting competence in the skills and knowledge deemed critical by the larger culture is to consider the usefulness of such knowledge from the perspective of children and their families who are culturally or linguistically diverse.

Children whose family lives are outside the mainstream ought to be encouraged to explore and express their own specialized knowledge Phillips They must also be viewed as entitled to have access to opportunities and resources otherwise unavailable Delpit For children attempting to bridge two worlds, the role of the teacher is to embrace both realities and to model the acceptance of competence in its diverse forms and origins.

Discussions of equity in mathematics, science, and technology are typically limited to consideration of the fairness of access and opportunities to participate in activities related to those domains. However, the recent reconceptualization of the early childhood curriculum also utilizes mathematics, science, and technology to address attitudes and practices associated with issues of equity.

Science, for example, provides a wonderful opportunity to utilize cooperation and problem-solving skills as small groups of children test their capacities to generate and test hypotheses. As children engage in scientific processes of observation, hypothesis generating, and hypothesis testing, they can be challenged to confront their own understandings with those of their peers.

Children struggling to utilize mathematics concepts to make classroom decisions can also be encouraged to consider the extent to which numerical advantage translates into fair play. For example, what does it mean to divide, to share, to be fair. When is the voting process not democratic? Under what conditions does a to-7 outcome silence a minority voice that should be heard?

In Reggio Emilia, Italy, an athletic project on the long jump ultimately inspired children to debate the nature of gender competencies, the mathematical interpretation of a handicap, and a friendly means of taking into account different competencies when comparing distances achieved by boys and girls of different ages and abilities. Far too often, teachers presume that children have neither the interest nor the ability to respond to socially complex issues. Recent interpretations of the social foundations of cognition emphasize the critical role of the classroom in promoting vigorous and respectful engagement around topics of social and intellectual significance Tharp and Gallimore They can begin to view these topics as a means of improving their own thinking and their relationships to each other.

This reconceptualization of the early childhood curriculum—and the teaching of mathematics, science, and technology—is based not only on new understandings of how children learn, but on what they need to learn for life in a pluralistic, democratic society. And just as it is increasingly vital that children acquire conceptual understandings in mathematics, science, and technology, so too is it essential that children begin to comprehend the role that such knowledge plays in a contemporary democratic society.

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Perhaps this confidence in the knowledge base of the profession was prematurely optimistic, given the changes in our understandings since that time. Today, however, it does seem that we know a great deal about what we ought to be doing better. Early childhood educators have the opportunity to make an immediate difference in at least a portion of the life several hours a day of many young children. Successful early childhood programs have also demonstrated their potential to make a difference in the continuing lives of the children and their families.

Families of young children must be involved in deciding upon and incorporating educational goals in mathematics, science, and technology into the early childhood curriculum. It will require a change in attitude regarding the collective responsibility for the education of young children in an inequitable society. The bigger question of equity in educational resources and opportunities remains a dilemma. Simply acknowledging, as a society, that the problem continues to exist may be one of the greatest challenges.

Recent analyses of school reform efforts reveal the difficulties in eliminating tracking and other forms of segregation when elite groups of parents insist on maintaining such special distinctions as gifted programs for their children. This paper began by acknowledging the period of early childhood as ripe for development and vulnerable to neglect. The societal context of inequities in the classroom suggests that the goal of achieving more equitable and effective means for teaching children particular subject matter i.

Reconceptualizing Early Mathematics Learning | Lyn English | Springer

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Reconceptualizing Early Mathematics Learning

Preschool education in America: The culture of young children from the colonial era to the present. New Haven: Yale University Press. Berk, L. Bredekamp, S. Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8.

Supporting Early Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood Settings

D evelopmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Char and Forman, G. Interactive technology and the young child: A look to the future. In Young children: Active learners in a technological age , eds. Classification: C52 C62 F92 F Awareness of pattern and structure in early mathematical development. Classification: C32 E ME a. Classification: C31 C32 F21 F Case studies on mathematics assessment practices in Australian and Chinese primary schools.

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