Early Math—Living in a Mathematical World

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about a newly-released guide from the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences entitled Teaching Math to Young Children.  They provide 5 recommendations for teaching math to young children.  The first recommendations are to “teach number and operations using a developmental progression”, “teach geometry, patterns, measurement, and data analysis using a developmental progression,” and to “use progress monitoring to ensure that math instruction builds on what each child knows.”  This week, we will talk about the fourth recommendation, to “teach children to view and describe their world mathematically.” 

Through the first recommendations, we understand the numbers, operations, and concepts children need to understand to help them explore and explain their world and how to make sure that each student is acquiring these concepts.  We then work on making sure that they can apply these concepts to real life…kind of like the geometry student who wants to know “when will I ever need this”. 

The recommended strategies for viewing and describing the world mathematically include:

  • Teaching children to solve math problems informally.We don’t start with an equation like 3+2=5, we start with “If you have 3 blocks and get 2 more, how many do you have all together now?”
  • Teach children formal math vocabulary.Now that they have the basic math concepts, we can start explaining that “subtract” means the same thing as “take away”, describing who is “first” in line, or which stack of blocks has “more” or “less” than another.
  • Open-ended questions.This is an area where early childhood teachers excel!Questions with set answers can assess a child’s knowledge, but not encourage deeper thinking.Use questions that start with “how could we find out”, “how else could we”, or something else along those lines.
  • Talk about math in everyday situations.Encourage children to help out with everyday tasks that involve math concepts.“How many cups do we need for snack time for everybody to have a drink?”“How did you know that?”

For more information and suggestions on implementing these recommendations, check out the guide at:  http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/early_math_pg_111313.pdf#page=18

Misty