Academic journal article Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom

Children with Down Syndrome Learning Mathematics: Can They Do It? Yes They Can! Jo Brady, Barbara Clarke, Ann Gervasoni Discuss Some Teaching Approaches That Can Be Used to Assist Children with Down Syndrome to Learn Mathematics

Academic journal article Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom

Children with Down Syndrome Learning Mathematics: Can They Do It? Yes They Can! Jo Brady, Barbara Clarke, Ann Gervasoni Discuss Some Teaching Approaches That Can Be Used to Assist Children with Down Syndrome to Learn Mathematics

Article excerpt

Background

The mathematical development of children with Down syndrome (DS) is largely uncharted territory and yet the experience of parents and teachers reminds us that children with DS can and do learn mathematics. In the 1970s, few children with DS had access to schooling and authorities in the field (Restak, 1975, cited in Rynders & Horrobin, 1990) were still arguing whether education was possible! Three decades later, the specific area of mathematics education for DS children remains an emerging field. In 2008, many children with DS in Australia attend their local school and are included in classrooms with their age peers. At present, little research information is available to guide teachers to provide the best opportunities for the children to learn mathematics. Some suggestions are provided in the resource list at the end of this article.

Down syndrome is one of the most common congenital chromosomal variations present in all populations, occurring approximately once in 700 Australian births (Selikowitz, 1997). Down syndrome results almost universally in intellectual impairment, although the extent of the disability varies. People with Down syndrome have been part of many research studies and a great deal is known about how they learn (Buckley & Bird, 2002; Wishart, 2002), their physical development (Bruni, 2006; Winders, 1997) and their acquisition of language (Buckley, 2000). However, very little is known about their acquisition of mathematical concepts.

Against this background of limited DS research, there is a stark contrast with the burgeoning interest in the mathematical development of children in general early childhood settings in Australia. A number of Australian states have undertaken major projects to assess and provide early intervention in mathematics (some states focussing on Number) such as the Early Numeracy Project (Victoria), Count Me In Too (New South Wales), Year 2 Net (Queensland) and First Steps (Western Australia). Through these projects, a considerable amount of data on the mathematical development of Australian children has been obtained (Bobis et al., 2005).

A brief description of the study

The research project used task-based interviews to gather data on the mathematical development of children with Down syndrome, modifying the Early Numeracy Interview (Clarke et al., 2002) and the Early Mathematics Understandings instrument (Gervasoni, 2004). Although these instruments are already demonstrably effective, modification, trial and development was necessary because, to our knowledge, neither had been used with children with Down syndrome.

Twelve children, ranging in age from 6 to 12 years, were recruited for participation in this study. The children were interviewed twice in the year, around July and November. The interview involved asking children to perform tasks with objects. For example, we put a collection of plastic teddy counters on the table and asked the participant to put all the yellow teddies together and then to count them. The equipment was put in a variety of interesting boxes and containers to encourage curiosity about the tasks. We videotaped the interviews and parents were invited to observe and make notes for discussion later. Figure 1 shows an interview in progress

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Interviewing the children

In making decisions about the staging of the interviews, we were mindful of research that demonstrated the diminished performance of children when they were interviewed in clinical settings by researchers they did not know (Brown & Semple, 1970). Therefore, children were interviewed in a familiar setting in the presence of a parent. On one occasion, a teacher observed as well and, in another, a teacher aide was present.

Time was spent at the start of the interview chatting to the parent and the child. This allowed the interviewer the opportunity to become accustomed to the style of communication of the child. …

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