Thursday, April 19, 2012

Early Math, Foundational Math

Guest blog by Professor Jie-Qi Chen, Ph.D. Erikson Institute

Education Week featured an excellent piece by distinguished scholars Deborah Stipek, Alan Schoenfeld, and Deanna Gomby about the importance of early math in school readiness and life achievement, and actions we can take to advance this agenda. As someone close to the matter, I couldn’t agree more strongly: early math instruction matters.

Early math matters because it sets the foundation for later learning. Number sense, for example, a concept mentioned in the article, connects quantities to counting and is one of the building blocks for learning arithmetic in the primary grades. To help children develop foundational mathematics concepts in children, teachers must first understand them well themselves.

Early math matters because it fosters positive attitudes toward mathematics learning. In addition to developing math skills, enjoyable early math experiences increase children’s interest in math and create a pleasant emotional response to math activities. Just like a love for reading, a love for math can develop early in life and can propel math imagination and exploration throughout life. Of critical importance in fostering such passion and love for math in young children is their teachers’ positive attitudes toward math.

Early math matters because learning math is so dependent on school-based experiences. Compared to reading, children have much less exposure to early math outside of school. Most parents read to their children often. The same practice does not hold with math. So, school-based instruction may play a larger role in most children’s mathematical experience than it does in their reading experience.

Chicago has made a concerted effort to address the issue of early math education in classrooms. Collaborating with the McCormick Foundation, Erikson Institute’s Early Math Project has had a noticeable impact on improving early childhood teachers’ mathematical competence and child outcomes. Early math that is foundational can build understanding and promote lifelong learning.

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