I have documented the partnership of the two Head Start Preschool programs and AIMS Center for Math and Science for the past year. On May 11, 2018, the AIMS Center hosted the final professional learning session for the school year with over 40 educators in attendance. It truly was a morning of celebration as we reflected on our year of learning and realized we created a legacy that will impact future generations.
When we hosted our first professional learning event in September 2017, we were navigating uncharted waters in jointly learning how young children come to know math and how teachers can guide learning through play. At the beginning of the year, the preschool staff did not know what to expect. They stepped up to teach math, even though many did not necessarily have a positive experience in math education when they were students. In fact, most recently, a staff member commented that she will be graduating in a few weeks. She had previously struggled with math as a student and waited to take the required math in her last semester of college. Her new goal as a classroom educator is to instill the joy of learning math in children that will have a lasting impact through their academic years.
Fast forward to the last professional learning event of the year. The room was abuzz with confident early learning teachers who have invested a year in going deep to learn about children’s construction of the number word sequence, counting, and spatial reasoning. We reflected on our journey through the monthly team-building activities that included building the tallest holiday tree out of plastic cups, building a triangle out of cups without talking and using just string and rubber bands, building structures and giving directions on how to build them, and using a large floor grid to learn spatial relationships and reasoning through walking and movement. All of these activities contributed to the development of teamwork, communication, and reflection.
We returned to our initial questions on how teachers felt as learners of mathematics, teachers of mathematics, and observers of children’s mathematics. As a learner of mathematics, the staff felt they had increased their knowledge of mathematics and enjoyed learning how to mathematize their classrooms. As a teacher of mathematics, the teachers felt confident to teach via learning through play and asking more intentional questions that would prompt the children to think about their activity, such as noticing shape, height, or colors or comparing and contrasting objects. As an observer of children’s mathematics, the teachers stated that they noticed that the children are now utilizing manipulatives in more engaged ways to count the number of blocks used, name the shapes, and express creativity in building their structures.
It has been a year of learning for the AIMS research associates and the Head Start staff at our partnership schools, but the knowledge gained will certainly stay with all of us for life, to positively impact the future by simply having children–and teachers–“do the math.”