Handle with Care: Integrating Caring Content in Mathematics and Science Methods Classes

By Lake, Vickie E.; Jones, Ithel et al. | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Handle with Care: Integrating Caring Content in Mathematics and Science Methods Classes


Lake, Vickie E., Jones, Ithel, Dagli, Ummuhan, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


Abstract. It is a well-known theory and practice among early childhood educators that building early relationships with the children is crucial to their development. However, there is irony in the fact that many teacher education programs that propose to model "best practices" do not model relationship building with their preservice teachers. This study examines two methods courses that integrated the ethic of care within their science and mathematics pedagogy as an avenue to operationalize the "relational zone." Two cohorts of 24 and 20 female preservice early childhood teachers participated in the study. The students were enrolled in science and mathematics classes that emphasized integration and an ethic of care. Integration included joint syllabi, discussions, joint assignments, and co-teaching by both teacher educators. Caring practices were modeled and practiced within the courses. The participants responded to 10 prompts by writing journal entries. Qualitative analysis of the students' journals revealed that they understood and practiced caring content in the context of science and mathematics teaching. The findings are discussed in terms of modeling relationship building with preservice teachers.

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In recent years there have been widespread calls for the integration of science and mathematics instruction as an avenue to increase children's performance in these content areas (Berlin, 1994; Berlin & White, 1994; Lederman & Niess, 1998). In early childhood education, the concept of curricular integration is practically ubiquitous. It is a common practice in early childhood education to establish caring relationships with the children, then teach an integrated curriculum. When examining early childhood curriculum textbooks (Gestwicki, 1999; Jalongo & Isenberg, 2000; Trister Dodge, Jablon, & Bickart, 1994), the first few chapters typically focus on building relationships and getting to know the children. Then, in subsequent chapters, the authors discuss the subject content (such as mathematics and science). Early childhood educators understand that building caring relationships with children is crucial to their emotional and intellectual development. Arguably, it is this relationship focus that is often missing from early childhood preservice teacher education programs and college courses in general (Thayer-Bacon & Bacon, 1996). Preservice teacher education programs should integrate relationship building strategies with their preservice teachers as well as impart curriculum content. The authors believe that it is the responsibility of teacher educators to model trusting and caring relationships, in order to help preservice teachers enter into trusting and caring relationships with the children they teach.

It is often claimed that the model of a typical professor is one who dispenses wisdom through a lecture format, leaving the responsibility of making sense of what is said with the student (Thayer-Bacon & Bacon, 1996). Recently, however, the emphasis and research on caring relationships at the university level has become much more prominent (Goldstein & Lake, 2000, 2003; Greene, 1990; Lake, 2003; McLaughlin, 1991; Noddings, 1996; Thayer-Bacon & Bacon, 1996). Like Dewey (1916) and Montessori (1966), contemporary researchers are calling for learning environments that "strive for active, engaged learning that arises out of real questions and concerns students have, learning that takes place in a setting that treats the student as a whole person, not just a mind" (Thayer-Bacon & Bacon, 1996, p. 54). The word most often used throughout the literature to describe this new type of educator is "caring."

Generally, when educators write about caring, their understanding of the term is rooted in the work of Noddings (1984). Throughout her book Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, Noddings moves the reader away from the education system's traditional, male perspective of viewing morality, which is based on principles and propositions, and toward a woman's perspective of viewing morality--one that is "based on human caring and the memory of caring and being cared for" (p. …

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