Author Archives: Aileen Rizo

The Metamorphosis of Teachers

Perhaps you have heard it said that the greatest influence in a classroom is not the equipment, or the curriculum, but the teacher. My work in preschool makes me believe this even more. In a single observation session I’ve seen a teacher be the mentor, the comforter, the organizer, the encourager, the innovator, and the janitor. In awe, I observe these early childhood educators move throughout their classrooms with a beautiful balance of efficiency and love for their students. Every day I am onsite I ask myself, “How can I help these teachers?”

At the pre-service day in August this question began to be answered. In one of our sessions, teachers were asked to write a sentence about their feelings on mathematics. Of the 300 teachers present only about a dozen gave a positive response. This result supports the conclusion of a recent study on the emotional attitudes of preschool teachers toward mathematics. The reality that “…mathematics is one of the subjects that produces the most ambivalent emotional attitudes” is something I see over and over again (Anders & Rossbach, 2015, p. 310). Specific “research on primary school teachers suggest that math anxiety and math teaching anxiety are common phenomena in this population” (Anders & Rossbach, 2015, p. 310). Unfortunately, the research shows that this translates to the classroom and that the “negative attitudes toward mathematics correlate to avoidance of offering math-related learning opportunities” (Anders & Rossbach, 2015, p. 310).

At the AIMS Center we are trying to change this narrative. However, we realize that the math story of children can only change if the teacher’s stories change first. Instead of a mandate or imposing pressure to be compliant to a set of standards, the desire of those of us on the early math team is to create a true partnership – a partnership that fosters a mentoring relationship between the research associate and the teachers. As we bring the research we study to teachers in a way that is palatable and not intimidating, we strive to value each other’s voice and perspective with the goal of increasing the mathematical opportunities for children.

The following are photos from the activities teachers created surrounding the idea of counting collections. Through this idea of counting collections we encouraged teachers to be aware of the mathematical thinking of the children. For example, we ask them to consider questions like: how did the children organize the collection? What kind of correspondence errors did children make when counting? How long of a number sequence does a child have?

As you can see from the photos, every activity was original. The teachers were creative as they purposefully set for themselves the goal to engage their children in mathematics. As we visited classrooms to observe theses activities in action, our hearts rejoiced. It was in the conversations with teachers afterward, however, where we gained a more complete picture of the changes that were happening. Teachers began to share how they were surprised by the mathematical ability of certain children. They were encouraged by how engaged the children were in counting. For me, the most impactful change came from one teacher as she shared her own anxiety about mathematics. She said, “I can honestly say that working with you has made me see math in a different way, a positive way, and I know that is helping me to be a better math teacher.” Change is not easy, and true lasting change does not usually come in one great leap. As we continue to work at our site this year, seeing the change in teachers is inspirational.


The Potential of Curiosity

Defined as “a strong desire to know or learn something,” curiosity seems to be an important component of constructing new knowledge and, when joined with play, can create powerful learning experiences. Among the early math team, we are finding that it is often the simplest of materials that can elicit both of these characteristics. The… Continue Reading

Listening to Their Stories

As my other colleagues have mentioned, it was a privilege to present to over 300 preschool teachers last month. Even though we each prepared our individual sessions, it was truly a collaborative effort. My specific presentation was on the topic of mathematical play, but I was also encouraged to share a portion of my own… Continue Reading

Jelly Bean Math

As I watched my children play at the park one day this summer, my attention quickly focused on a small voice saying, “one, two, three, four, five…” I looked over and observed a game of hide-and-seek in progress. Even my youngest is self-­motivated to recite the number sequence more accurately when she is playing. This,… Continue Reading

Let the Math Shine Through

My youngest daughter is 2 ½ years old and she has yet to discover just how much her mother loves mathematics. The other day, as she worked on a puzzle of shapes, she held up one of the shapes and said, “diamond.” I wrinkled my nose as I corrected her with the correct term, “rhombus.”… Continue Reading

I Fell In Love With The Gears

In my learning of constructivism and the theories of Piaget, I often think of this quote: “No one but you can make your associations, and no one but you can isolate your sound-image and whatever you conceptualize in your experiential field.”  (Von Glaserfield, 1995)  This quote is from a chapter on language and meaning, but… Continue Reading

Changing the Story

What is your math story?  What comes to your mind when someone says the word math? Unfortunately in our society, math is unpopular.  In fact, if you look at the amount of likes and retweets of the screen capture here, it would seem that the feelings shared are mutual to many. When I was a… Continue Reading

The Forgotten Thirteen

Did you know that the number thirteen is a frequently skipped number in a young child’s early number sequence? According to Karen Fuson’s research in “Children’s Counting and Concepts of Number,” the numbers 13, 14 and 15 are the most consistently omitted numbers. As we work with children at our partner school sites, we are… Continue Reading

Mind the Black Box

Here at the AIMS Center, a central focus of our attention is the mathematical thinking of children. It should not be surprising that children do not think like adults. While as adults we agree in theory, our actions consistently seem to contradict this truth. The habitual act of laying our own mathematical thinking onto children… Continue Reading