Spark Math Enthusiasm

How critical is teacher enthusiasm when it comes to children’s learning? Many of us know the monotone sound image of Charlie Brown’s teacher, “wot-wot, wot-wot, wot-wot.” Not very enthusiastic. Unsurprisingly, I believe that children are more apt to learn when the teacher is enthusiastic, especially about math. During a recent interview we asked teachers, “What is the role of the early learning teacher in promoting mathematics?” Here are just a few answers provided:

    “To make math exciting.”

    “To give students opportunities to explore math concepts.”

    “To have them count all the time.”

    “To do math in everything.”

    “To have them learn their shapes and count to 20.”

On Friday, September 8, the AIMS Center for Math & Science Education hosted more than 30 preschool staff from a local program. It was a morning of adults learning math through play in a safe environment. It was a morning where they were the students and we were the facilitators. What else was done to encourage learning math?

    *    They were given many opportunities to utilize their math skills.

    *    They were in small groups of 4 per table.

    *    Interaction was encouraged so there were numerous conversations occurring simultaneously and the noise level was at the actively engaged sound level.

    *    There was a variety of abilities demonstrated when it came to the use of technology.

    *    They each learned at their own pace, and all ultimately reached the same educational destination involving technology and a new online tool.

    *    Some were a bit anxious in the beginning but quickly realized that they were encouraged to take risks through exploration. They also had the support of the research associates and peers as their facilitators of learning.

    *    After two hours, the teachers had constructed their own learning regarding early mathematical learning, tangrams, and a new online collaboration tool.

    *    The teachers felt empowered to increase their knowledge and gained a sense of pride when mastered.

One of our goals in our partnership with preschool teachers is to think together about young children’s thinking. This is a paradigm shift that moves the focus from the teacher/parent perspective to understanding the child’s thinking. Our “ask” will require an intentional change in classroom practices. As the pre-k staff complete the DRDP assessments within the next few weeks, they will note the child’s knowledge regarding number sense to count 10 objects, reciting the number word sequence to 20, and demonstrating understanding that the number name of the last object counted is the total number of objects. The teachers will also assess children in classification by having them sort objects by a determined attribute and review measurable properties such as length, weight, and quantity. In addition, shapes discerned by unique attributes and simple to complex patterning will also be assessed.

The staff will practice being more reflective and noticing more about how children learn new math concepts. The children will be asked, “How did you know?” We hope that we hear many comments that reveal the child’s cognitive learning and understand how they formulated their response.

As teachers, we need to spark our love of math so our enthusiasm spills into the classroom. I once heard that 40% of the jobs for our kindergarten students graduating in 2029 have not yet been developed. Let’s teach the way many of us like to learn–through exploration and exchanging ideas–sparking the excitement to provide math opportunities where early learning teachers/parents just “do the math” through play with children.

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