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.
Chris is joined in the studio by Eric Crantz who is a Math Coach for the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools. They discuss his role as a coach, the teachers he supports, and his connection to AIMS. Eric has, as part of his assignment, 20% load dedicated to working with the researchers here at the… Continue Reading
For four years, I taught science every morning from 8:20AM – 9:10AM. I had a third and fourth grade combination that period because the third-grade teacher and I had swapped a couple of subjects. She took my Art class and I took her Science class. I thought that was a pretty good deal. I put… Continue Reading
Today I want to reflect a little about my struggles with grades, students’ conceptual understanding, and students’ disposition towards math. In my last post, I talked about how I used a bulletin board with an ocean scene and fish number stories to engage my students in meaningful experiences around addition. Students were connecting the addition… Continue Reading
***This is part 3 of a series. Click the links to go back and read part 1 and part 2.*** In last week’s post, David Pearce described a modification of the Towers Task in which the students are asked to build two sets of towers and combine them. For example, the student may be asked… Continue Reading
In early September AIMS had the honor of hosting a breakfast for the teachers we are working with this year. It was a time to come together, form friendships, share our goals for the year, and, of course, engage in some mathematics. As an ice-breaker we had the teachers engage in an activity called “Chalk… Continue Reading
Scott Nielsen joined the AIMS research division in June 2017 and joins Chris in the studio this week. They talk about what his work is like, how he got to the place in his career that he finds himself now. He relates an important shift in his thinking about how students interact with mathematics in… Continue Reading
I spent some time with my family this past weekend. When we get together we often talk about books we are currently reading, a common topic of conversation amongst friends and family, and even in my posts on this blog. For example, I recently discussed the importance of reading and how common it is for… Continue Reading
Stef was born out of the desire to put Steffe in every classroom. After several conversations with Dr. Leslie Steffe (the originator of much of the research we study at AIMS and longtime researcher at the University of Georgia), the AIMS Research Associates brainstormed ways to encourage children to see the math in their world.… Continue Reading
This post continues the Constructing Units team’s discussion about developing composite units with the goal of building children’s multiplicative reasoning. You can read part one here. In the Towers Task, the teacher uses the child’s understanding of composites as a starting point, and then provides modifications to the original task which encourage opportunities for the… Continue Reading