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Report of the Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics - The National Academies
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Report of the Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics - The National Academies


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  • Sponsors: Office of Head Start and Office of Planning Research and Evaluation in the DHHS gave bulk of funding Co-sponsors: National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Public release was July 2, 2009.
  • This report can also serve as a guide/basis for alternate versions to be developed for audiences with differing backgrounds and needs.
  • Report represents consensus of multi-disciplinary committee which met 4 times, including 2 public data gathering sessions, over the course of approximately 1 year All served pro-bono Draft manuscript was reviewed by a group of experts, also volunteers, with similar types of expertise listed in the acknowledgements on page viii
  • High quality instruction and competence in mathematics during early childhood prepares children for success in school mathematics. For complete listing of recommendations see Summary pages 2 – 3.
  • Children learn math through everyday experience starting in the home and larger environment during the first year of life and this continues through the preschool years. Early mathematics knowledge is important for future success; early mathematics learning linked to later success in mathematics and reading.
  • The frame for understanding the foundational areas of mathematics during early childhood requires us to define a key term-- mathematics teaching-learning paths. We lay out a sequence of milestones for children ages 2 to 7 in the core mathematical areas for early childhood mathematics. Next we turn to the core areas.
  • The math described in this report is not currently what is taking place in most early childhood classrooms. In the domain of number, for example, children need the opportunity to learn how objects related to the number word list. This means going beyond memorizing the number word list. In both content areas sufficient time should be devoted to instruction to allow children to become proficient. In addition to the content areas the specific mathematical processes must be integrated in order to allow children to make connections between mathematical ideas and deepen their mathematical reasoning. When children mathematize their world they are applying mathematical processes. Mathematize : Focus on the mathematics aspects of an everyday situation, learning to represent and elaborate the quantitative and spatial aspects to create a mathematical model of the situation, and using that model to solve problems Math talk is a process goal; it promotes children’s mathematical learning. Examples of general processes: representing, problem solving, reasoning, connecting, and communicating. Examples of specific processes: Unitizing, decomposing and composing, and relating and ordering.
  • State standards provide guidance regarding appropriate content for EC settings. Now turning to what happens in the classroom.
  • Children who experience focused mathematics activities in which mathematics teaching is the major goal have higher gains in mathematics and report enjoying mathematics more than those who do not.
  • The committee doesn’t endorse any specific model or curriculum, but rather lays out research-based principles. Critical piece of high quality curricula and instruction is use of intentional teaching – holding a clear learning target as a goal and adapting teaching to the content and type of learning experience for the individual child along with use of formative assessment to determine where child’s development is in relation to goal. Important to make clear that intentional teaching is *not* direct instruction. Math talk provides opportunities for all children to talk about their mathematical thinking & concepts and produce and improve their use of mathematical and ordinary language. Examples of varied instructional approaches: individual, small-group, and whole group activities.
  • The teaching workforce (instructional and non-instructional roles) are critical part of the early childhood delivery system.
  • EC teachers Less supportive of mathematics largely based on the notion that abstract thinking, such as math was at odds with EC development and learning. Research has disproven this notion– young children can do math & are interested in it. Mathematics, literacy, and social-emotional development do not have to compete and they can actually occur together and reinforce one another. This is not an either/or situation. Mathematics also provides children the opportunity to be successful in their mathematics learning and teaches them to how to reflect on & deal with challenges/failure.
  • In-service education refers to formal education and training that one may receive while responsible for a group of children. Given the diversity in the workforce training and educational background, in-service is how many EC teachers receive their education and training.
  • Pre-service preparation refers to the formal education and training one receives prior to having formal responsibility for a group of children. There are few formal opportunities (associates or bachelor's) for EC teachers to learn about early childhood mathematics. Specifically, the courses and curriculum are not available.
  • Moving to mathematics learning in contexts outside of centers and preschools.
  • Parents and caregivers serve as children’s first teachers and they can play a key role in shaping children’s early mathematics learning. They can encourage play with blocks and other manipulatives, viewing educational programs while talking with children about what they are seeing. Math talk, beginning as early as infancy, has been shown to be particularly effective way for adults to support mathematical learning.
  • Family education and support programs should include information that provides guidance to families about how to support their children’s mathematics learning. Professionals that work with families should have knowledge of early childhood mathematics to help parents support their children’s mathematics learning. This includes using resources that can support mathematics learning through use of media and technology.
  • Transcript

    • 1. STEM Summit 2010: Early Childhood Through Higher Education February 19, 2010 Report of the Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics
    • 2. Context for the Study
      • Broad push for improvement in mathematics education.
      • Increased focus on importance of the preschool period.
      • Relative to other subjects there has been less emphasis on mathematics during the early childhood years.
    • 3. Committee Members
      • Christopher T. Cross ( Chair ), Cross & Joftus, LLC
      • Oscar A. Barbarin , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
      • Sybilla Beckmann , University of Georgia
      • Sue Bredekamp , Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition
      • Douglas H. Clements , The State University of New York at Buffalo
      • Karen C. Fuson , Northwestern University
      • Yolanda Garcia , WestEd
      • Herbert P. Ginsburg , Teachers College, Columbia University
      • Nancy C. Jordan , University of Delaware
      • Sharon Lynn Kagan , Teachers College, Columbia University
      • Susan C. Levine , University of Chicago
      • Kevin Miller , University of Michigan
      • Robert Pianta , University of Virginia
    • 4. Overarching Recommendation
      • When given the appropriate learning opportunities, young children can become competent in mathematics.
      • Recommendation:
      • A coordinated national early childhood mathematics initiative should be put in place to improve mathematics teaching and learning for all children ages 3 to 6.
    • 5. How to implement this initiative?
      • This report provides guidance for implementing this initiative.
        • Provides a description of the appropriate mathematics content for young children.
        • Provides guidance for standards, curriculum, and instruction.
    • 6. Background: Young Children Do Mathematics
      • Prior to kindergarten many children acquire considerable mathematics knowledge, which is related to mathematics learning for years thereafter, even high school.
      • Many early childhood programs do not extend children’s mathematical knowledge.
      • Young children from low-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds are especially vulnerable in that they show lower mathematics knowledge than their peers from higher SES backgrounds.
    • 7. Foundational and Achievable Mathematics for Young Children
    • 8. Mathematics for Young Children: The Teaching-Learning Paths
      • Many early childhood programs face the challenge of trying to figure out what the most important mathematics content is for young children’s learning.
      • Young children’s mathematics knowledge develops along mathematics teaching-learning paths .
        • These paths refer to significant steps in learning a particular topic with each new step building on the earlier steps. The source of teaching-learning paths are subject matter being taught and what is achievable/understandable for children at a certain age given their prior knowledge.
    • 9. Mathematics for Young Children
      • Recommendation
      • Mathematics experiences in early childhood settings should concentrate on (1) number (which includes whole number, operations, and relations) and (2) geometry, spatial relations, and measurement, with more mathematics learning time devoted to number than to the other topics. The mathematical process goals should be integrated in these content areas. Children should understand the concepts and learn the skills exemplified in the teaching-learning paths.
    • 10. Standards, Curricula, and Instruction
    • 11. State Standards
      • Current standards, do not on average, include much mathematics.
      • The mathematics that is included in standards varies widely across the states.
      • Recommendation
      • States should develop or revise their early childhood learning standards or guidelines to reflect the teaching-learning paths described in this report.
    • 12. Curricula and Instruction
      • Most early childhood programs spend little time on focused mathematics where the primary goal is to teach mathematics with meaningful connections to children’s interest and prior knowledge.
      • Most of the time spent on mathematics is of low instructional quality.
      • Recommendation
      • All early childhood programs should provide high-quality mathematics curricula and instruction as described in this report.
    • 13. High Quality Curricula and Instruction
      • Planned and sequenced
      • Uses a variety of instructional approaches
      • Incorporates intentional teaching
      • Formative assessment
      • Includes integrated mathematics activities
      • Provides a positive learning environment
      • Opportunities to reflect on and discuss experiences, and use math talk
    • 14. High Quality Curricula and Instruction Cont’d
      • Recommendation
      • Curriculum developers and publishers should base their materials on the principles and teaching-learning paths described in this report.
    • 15. The Early Childhood Workforce
    • 16. The Early Childhood Workforce
      • These individuals are central to supporting the intellectual/academic, social, emotional, and physical development of young children.
      • There is significant variation in their educational background and training.
      • They are generally less supportive of mathematics in the classroom than literacy or social-emotional development.
    • 17. The Early Childhood Workforce: In-Service Education
      • Recommendation
      • An essential component of improving children’s mathematics education requires the provision of professional development to early childhood in-service teachers that helps them (a) understand the necessary mathematics, the crucial teaching-learning paths, and principles of intentional teaching and (b) learn how to implement a curriculum.
    • 18. The Early Childhood Workforce: Pre-service Preparation
      • Recommendation
      • Coursework and practicum requirements for early childhood education should be changed to reflect an increased emphasis on mathematics as described in the report. These changes should also be made and enforced by early childhood organizations that oversee credentialing, accreditation, and recognition of teacher professional development programs.
    • 19. Beyond the Formal Education System
    • 20. Beyond the Formal Educational System
      • About 40% of children do not attend early childhood centers or preschools.
      • All families and communities play a vital role in children’s development and learning.
      • Family education and support programs can provide parents and communities with tools to extend children’s mathematics learning.
    • 21. Beyond the Formal Educational System Cont’d
      • Recommendations:
      • Early childhood education partnerships should be formed between family and community programs so that they are equipped to work together in promoting young children’s mathematics learning.
      • There is a need for increased informal mathematics programming, curricular resources, software, and other media that can be used to support young children’s mathematics learning in such settings as homes, community centers, libraries, and museums.
    • 22. Report available online
      • At: