Posted by: Dave Moursund
Tagged in: STEM Education
We all accept the importance of children learning to read. By the end of the third grade we expect children to read well enough that reading can be an important aid to learning new content from the curriculum. By about the seventh grade we expect children to read well enough that reading can be a major aid to learning across the curriculum. By that grade level a history teacher might expect students to read and learn from their history textbook while a science teacher might expect students to read and learn from their science textbook.
I was somewhat surprised to encounter the following two articles about math as an important component of early childhood education. The articles indicate that a preschool student’s understanding of math is a very good predictor of success in school—possibly even better than early reading skills.
Stipek, D., Schoenfeld, A., & Gomby, D. (3/28/2012). Math matters, even for little kids. Education Week. Retrieved 4/15/2012 from http://www.schoolleadership20.com/profiles/blogs/math-matters-even-for-little-kids.
Duncan, G., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology. Retrieved 4/15/2012 from http://www.policyforchildren.org/pdf/School_Readiness_Study.pdf.
Quoting from the first of the two articles:
Everyone knows that children who are not reading at grade level by 3rd grade are fated to struggle academically throughout school. Concerns about early literacy skills are justified because reading skills at kindergarten entry predict later academic achievement.
But guess what predicts later academic success better than early reading? Early math skills. In "School Readiness and Later Achievement," a widely cited 2007 study [listed above] of large longitudinal data sets, University of California, Irvine, education professor Greg Duncan and his colleagues found that in a comparison of math, literacy, and social-emotional skills at kindergarten entry, "early math concepts, such as knowledge of numbers and ordinality, were the most powerful predictors of later learning." A large-scale Canadian study from 2010 echoes those findings: Math skills at school entry predicted math skills and even reading skills in 3rd and 2nd grade, respectively, better than reading skills at school entry. Although the mechanisms underlying such associations are not yet understood, the importance of early mathematics, and thus of access to it for all students, is clear.
I grew up in a “math rich” environment. Of course I encountered the usual number names and counting that all children encounter. However, I also encountered math thinking, math problem solving, and math understanding ideas at a deeper level. This was not a conscious effort on the part of my parents. It is just that both were well educated in math, and math was an ordinary, on-going aspect of their lives and everyday conversations.
Here are two more paragraphs quoted from Stipek, et al.:
The most commonly encountered activities in preschool are among the least effective for teaching children math. Learning to count by rote teaches children number words and their order, but it does not teach them number sense, any more than singing the letters L-M-N-O-P in the alphabet song teaches phonemic awareness. Knowing that "four" follows "three" is of minimal value if a child doesn't know what "four" means. Paper-and-pencil tasks, e.g., drawing a line from the numeral 4 to a picture of four apples; coloring in an outline of the numeral 4, are fine for practice, but they don't teach children a sense of number. [Bold added for emphasis.]
The goal of math instruction is to help children develop, discuss, and use efficient, accurate, and generalizable methods to solve mathematical problems. To achieve this goal, young children need problems to solve and latitude to construct their own strategies. Teaching math effectively requires a focus on children's understanding of the core foundational concepts in mathematics. Such teaching can take place in the context of puzzles and games. Children using a shape sorter, for instance, learn the properties of geometric objects (e.g., three-sided or round figures don't fit in four-sided holes), not simply their names. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Challenging games such as Monopoly played an important role in my early childhood. To learn more about games in math education, see:
Moursund, D., & Albrecht, R. (2011). Using math games and word problems to increase math maturity. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/211-using-math-games-and-word-problems-to-increase-the-math-maturity-of-k-8-students.html. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/210-using-math-games-and-word-problems-to-increase-the-math-maturity-of-k-8-students.html.
What You Can Do
Begin with the assumption that all students can learn math. The rate of learning will vary considerably depending on both nature (innate gifts/talents) and nurture. The appropriate balance between rote memory and learning for understanding varies from student to student.
Keep in mind that learning oral communication is a similar type of challenge. Learning oral communication occurs best in an environment of using the words to make utterances that make sense—that effectively communicate. Immediate feedback on effectiveness of communication is a key to learning language. Think about this in terms of how you help children learn math. Create math learning environments that require understanding and in which some combination of the learner, the teacher, the book, peers, and so on provide immediate feedback.
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you:
Dyscalculia and learning math. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/dyscalculia-and-learning-math.html.
Moursund, D., & Albrecht, R. (2011). Using math games and word problems to increase the math maturity of K-8 students. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. (210 pages.) Available at http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/210-using-math-games-and-word-problems-to-increase-the-math-maturity-of-k-8-students.html.
Moursund, D. (March 2012). Good math lesson planning and implementation. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/230-good-math-lesson-plans.html and the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/229-good-math-lesson-plans.html.
Moursund, D. (July 2012). Using brain/mind science and computers to improve elementary school math education. Download Microsoft Word version from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/232-using-brainmind-science-and-computers-to-improve-elementary-school-math-education.html. Download PDF version from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/239-using-brainmind-science-and-computers-to-improve-elementary-school-math-education.html.
Stop teaching calculation, start teaching math. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/stop-teaching-calculating-start-teaching-math.html.
Timed math testing contributes to math anxiety. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/timed-math-testing-contributes-to-math-anxiety.html.