Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Making Early Math Education Work for All Children: Prekindergarten Teachers Lay the Foundation for Later Success in Mathematics When They Attend to the Concepts That Young Children Can and Should Learn

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Making Early Math Education Work for All Children: Prekindergarten Teachers Lay the Foundation for Later Success in Mathematics When They Attend to the Concepts That Young Children Can and Should Learn

Article excerpt

Young children are learners. They learn in different situations about different things. They learn from parents and from other children. They learn by interacting with things. They learn by helping others. Now many of them are learning much in preschools and in kindergarten. What should they be learning, and how should they be learning these things?

A recent National Research Council report, Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity (Cross, Woods, & Schweingruber, 2009), identified math concepts that young children can and should learn. The report looked at four age groups: 2and 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds (prekindergarten), kindergarten, and 1st grade (see Chapters 5 and 6, which you can view online at www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12519&page=R1).

The report recommended that math experiences in early childhood settings concentrate on the identified foundational and achievable content goals in:

* Number, which includes whole number, relations, and operations (arithmetic); and

* Geometry, spatial relations, and measurement, with more math learning time devoted to number than to other topics.

These goals, along with possible teaching approaches, are summarized for teachers in two additional books, one focusing on prekindergarten (NCTM, 2010a) and the other on kindergarten (NCTM, 2010b). These books are published by the main professional organization of math educators and researchers, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and they also are endorsed by the main early childhood organization, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Children enter kindergarten with a huge range of numerical knowledge and skills. Closing the income and race/ethnicity gaps in preK and kindergarten is crucial for improving math learning in this country, particularly because math knowledge at these ages predicts school achievement in math and in other topics, such as reading. Indeed, early math knowledge is one of the strongest predictors of math grades in high school, high school graduation, and college entry. Especially important are children's competence with quantity and number, as well as geometric and spatial reasoning. This is why the second part of the NRC report title is Paths Toward Excellence and Equity.

The NRC report summary of research and its recommendations for learning goals was used in developing the Common Core State Standards for kindergarten through 2nd grade. The Common Core State Standards for kindergarten include some goals that are preK goals in the NRC report because the preK goals in various states are limited and variable, and it's crucial that children are prepared to meet these goals. The huge gap in math understanding in preK and kindergarten children summarized in the NRC report makes it crucially important that preK classrooms do all they can to prepare children for kindergarten to decrease the gaps in learning. A summary of the involvement of early childhood professionals in the Common Core State Standards appears at www.achievethecore.org.

Many children don't learn the count words in their home language or how to count things accurately or the meanings of and words for written number symbols. They must see and hear and try these for months and years as they gradually extend their count word list, increase their counting accuracy, and learn more concepts about number. How can preschools and kindergartens support all of this extensive learning? The Common Core State Standards do not specify methods of teaching. But the NRC report does identify effective teaching-learning practices.

Destructive false dichotomies

Unfortunately, most of us learned math without much understanding. Our experience can limit our vision to rote teaching and learning, such as telling or showing, with little thinking by children. An alternative that is proposed especially in early childhood is that the child discovers concepts herself through interacting with objects or in play. …

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