Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Take-Home Numeracy Kits for Preschool Children

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Take-Home Numeracy Kits for Preschool Children

Article excerpt


Situated learning is a complex concept. Here in this paper I offer a version of it that represents a snippet of what it means. In so doing, I am describing a philosophical and pedagogical transformation that was, in its initial impact for me, immediate and dramatic, and is now an intrinsic, essential and sustaining force in my identity as educator--of young learners and older learners--and as a person who thrives in being a member of an educating community. I discovered the concept of situated learning when I was struggling to find a theoretical framework for explaining what was happening in informal learning contexts with respect to the mathematical meanings experienced by children during play.

Situated learning is a term conceived by Lave and Wenger (1991). It is based on the notion of legitimate peripheral participation whereby legitimacy, or a sense of belonging, and full participation evolve as a consequence of engagement in the activities of a community. That is, knowledge about numeracy and other literate or formal meanings evolves for learners as a consequence of being an active participant in an educating community (Chaiklin & Lave, 1993; Resnick, Levine & Teasley, 1991). Lave and Wenger's exquisitely articulated treatise drew on studies of apprenticeship practices in order to examine:

* the relations between learning and pedagogy;

* the place of learning in practice;

* the importance of access to the learning potential of given settings;

* the uses of language in the learning-in-practice; and

* the way in which knowledge takes on value for the learner in the fashioning of identities of full participation (pp. 42-43).

Negotiation of meaning is another key element of situated learning. In an educating community, all contributions to the meaning-making are significant regardless of the knowledge base or authority of the contributors. Pedagogical practices aim to be flexible as contributions are interpreted and ways to guide and negotiate participation are determined. However, few educators of young children would argue that the business of negotiating mathematical meanings is a delicate and complex one, as mathematics is a domain of knowledge in which we learn number facts, about operations on numbers, and there are only right or wrong answers. In formal mathematics education contexts, specificity and accuracy are cultural codes embedded in its practices. For early childhood educators, negotiability is connected to the notion of responsiveness that has emanated largely from age-appropriate pedagogies (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997) and is understood to require specific pedagogical strategies and knowledge (Dockett & Fleer, 1999; MacNaughton & Davis, 2001). In this paper, the notion of responsiveness is being extended to consider the possibility that it could also emanate from culturally-situated phenomena such as co-participation, engagement, and the negotiation of meanings. It aims to demonstrate how resources specifically designed for the generation of formal mathematical meanings permitted mutual negotiation, co-participation and engagement--that is, responsive interpersonal relations.

Numeracy focuses in formal education settings have been expanding and strengthening in recent years. Part of the interest and energy being thereby generated derives from pedagogies that attempt to make mathematics more accessible for learners through focuses on its real-world and creative relevance. These pedagogies have been constructed from the perception that being numerate involves using mathematical understanding in fluid, confident and meaningful ways--'to meet the general demands of life at home, in paid work, and for participation in community and civic life' (Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers' Policy on Numeracy Education in Schools, 1998, p. 17). Early childhood education writings and policies highlight the links between contexts that are rich in perceptual and social experience and the development of problem-solving and creative thinking skills (National Childcare Accreditation Council, 2001). …

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