Research

Giving early childhood teachers the knowledge and tools for better math instruction is essential—but it’s not enough. It’s also important to evaluate teacher education efforts, improve them, and disseminate the lessons learned.

We’ve done exactly that. A study of our project shows that children in the classrooms of participating teachers made greater gains in math learning than those in nonparticipating classes—almost three months of additional mathematics learning within a single school year can be attributed to our intervention. We continue to evaluate the specific impact of our work with teachers.

Our team members are also actively researching various aspects of teacher learning, teacher knowledge, early mathematics teaching, and the development of children’s knowledge of math. This work is targeted to address knowledge gaps between research and practice; so our work commonly draws on the fields of mathematics education, developmental psychology, cognitive science, and early childhood.

Because there is a dearth of knowledgeable researchers in early mathematics education, the project maintains two research fellowships.  They are held by two Erikson Institute doctoral students in applied child development. The fellows are involved in data collection, analysis, and literature review on all topics; their training and experiences with the project represent a long-term contribution to the field of early mathematics education.

Brief project overviews and a list of recent publications and presentations are provided below.

Early Childhood Teacher Attitudes and Mathematics Teaching

Research clearly shows that teachers’ attitudes are relevant to what they actually implement in their classrooms.  However, this relationship has not been studied as it applies specifically to mathematics teaching among preschool teachers.  Given the negative associations many early childhood teachers reportedly have with mathematics in general, it is important to understand how these associations do or do not impact their teaching practices. This study, based on a sample of 346 preschool teachers working in the Chicago Public Schools, will describe interactions between teachers’ attitudes and the type and amount of mathematics they report teaching.

The Whole Teacher Approach

The Whole Teacher Approach is a theoretical framework for the provision of professional development.  Like the idea of the Whole Child, the Whole Teacher Approach contends the best way to educate teachers is through a holistic method that directly addresses not only teachers’ content knowledge, but also their attitudes about teaching and their teaching practices.  The project utilizes this framework in the design of its professional development offerings and conducts research on how these different aspects of teachers develop over time, within training, and without.

Chen, J. Q. & Chang, C (2006). Testing the whole teacher approach to professional development: A study of enhancing early childhood teachers’ technology proficiency. Early Childhood Research & Practice. 8(1), 1-18.

Chen, J. Q. & Chang, C (2006). A comprehensive approach to technology training for early childhood teachers. Early Education and Development. 17(3), 443-465.

Chen, J. Q. & Chang, C. (2006). Using computer in early childhood classrooms: Teachers’ attitudes, skills, and practices. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 4(2), 169-188.

McCray, J.S. (2009). The whole teacher approach: A new framework for professional development informs teacher training in mathematics. Presentation at the National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development Annual Meeting, Charlotte, NC.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) is that knowledge within a content area (such as mathematics) that is particularly suited to the tasks of teaching the subject matter.  It includes aspects such as knowing which metaphor to use to explain a new concept; being able to anticipate student misunderstandings; or having easy access to an example that will disprove a faulty idea.  As such, it is distinct from general content knowledge, while still specific to the content area.

Elementary math researchers have developed measures of PCK for elementary mathematics, but there is not an equivalent tool for foundational mathematics. In a dissertation study, EME project director Jennifer McCray piloted an interview to assess PCK for preschool mathematics, and found it predicted both teaching practices and child outcomes. In search of a more flexible measure, the project is now piloting an online survey of teachers’ PCK for foundational mathematics and examining its relationship to teacher practices and child outcomes.

McCray, J.S. (2008). McCray-PCKforPreschoolMathematics: Teacher Knowledge and Math-Related Language Contribute to Children’s Learning. Summary of unpublished doctoral dissertation, Erikson Institute, Chicago, Illinois.

McCray, J.S. & Chen, J. Q. (2012). Pedagogical Content Knowledge for Preschool Mathematics: Construct Validity of a New Teacher Interview, Journal of Research in
Childhood Education, 26:3, 291-307

Math-Related Language

Recent findings indicate significant relationships between the frequency with which teachers use math-related language and the amount of mathematics learning children in their classrooms accomplish.  The project has developed its own version of a math-related language coding system. With that tool, researchers are examining how math-related language is used within different instructional settings and whether differential use has differential effects on children’s learning.

It’s working

We’re making a difference in children’s math skills. Our research shows that children in the classrooms of teachers in the project learn more about math during the school year than children whose teachers did not participate.

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