While most teachers use the summer months as a break, we at the AIMS Center have been busy preparing for the new school year. I work with two teams who are studying the line of research began by Dr. Leslie Steffe. Dr. Steffe follows in the footsteps of Piaget in that he is interested in how children learn mathematics. We used our summer months to read (even) more of the research and to prepare ourselves to interview school children early in the fall semester.
Last year we were honored to host two researchers who worked with Dr. Steffe during their doctoral studies and have continued with the research. Catherine (Katy) Ulrich and Anderson (Andy) Norton, both from Virginia Tech, visited us to engage in conversations about their research and to discuss how we plan to share their findings with local teachers. I am very excited that Dr. Steffe is planning to visit us in October!
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what’s happening in a child’s mind, but Dr. Steffe and others have studied numerous children’s mathematical activity and have identified actions that give us clues as to what a child might be understanding. This is what is so exciting about his work – that he focuses on children’s mathematics, not the mathematics for children. What does that mean? He is interested in knowing how the children are constructing their understanding, what tools they have available to them and what they are ready to encounter. This is much different than simply looking to a list of prescribed topics that need to be taught on a given day to a classroom full of kids.
I am really excited about the time we spend with children. So far, our work with children has been to help us understand the research more deeply. We capture our interviews on video so that we can reflect on what has happened. We watch the children as well as ourselves. We watch for the ways in which children use materials around them, their motor and verbal skills, and indications of their deeper reflection. By next year we hope to begin using this collection of videos to help classroom teachers see and understand more about how children are constructing their knowledge of number. What is it that a teacher needs to know about a child’s thinking before he or she can really make a difference?