Erikson Institute’s Early Mathematics Education Project hosted two symposia in April 2009 and April 2010. The gatherings featured invigorating presentations by renowed experts from around the globe and lively discussions involving all participants. The goals of the events were to:

  • gain insights from international experts on early mathematics education.
  • develop ideas to enhance early mathematics teaching in the U.S.
  • contribute perspectives to a policy brief with real implications for young children in Illinois.
  • initiate networking with other teachers, teacher educators, policymakers, researchers, and school administrators who care about early mathematics education.


The Building Blocks of Math: Lessons from Research
Doug Clements, Ph.D.,
What are the building blocks of mathematics? Clements discussed one effective approach that bases instruction on learning trajectories. To illustrate the approach, he reviewed several projects that produced and evaluated research-based mathematics curricula.

Curious Minds as a Starting Point for Reasoning and Problem Solving
Jan de Lange, Ph.D.,
The Netherlands
Young children often act as real researchers: they ask good questions, explore the world around them, show reasoning skills, and like to be challenged. How can we challenge them and find out what their often ‘hidden’ talents are? Professor de Lange explored ways to draw out children’s insights in math and sciences and find the connections between them.

Early Mathematics in Chicago and the Midwest: What Should We Be Recommending?
Jie-Qi Chen
, Ph.D., U.S.A.
Jennifer S. McCray
, Ph.D., U.S.A.
Chen and McCray put early mathematics into a more local context with an overview of systems of teacher preparation in Illinois. They presented findings about early math instruction based on their large-scale survey of Chicago Public School preschool teachers. They described their current project with working teachers, highlighting program elements that have led to significantly improved learning outcomes for preschool children.

The Development of Mathematical Concepts in Russian Early Childhood Education
Oksana Igrakova, Ph.D., Russia
Modern Russian math teaching has gone through much reform. Dr. Igrakova’s talk described how the action-centered paradigm of Russian education has led to a transition from a curriculum-centered approach to a learner-centered approach.

Early Mathematics Education in Finland: A Sociocultural Perspective
Kristiina Kumpulainen, Ph.D., Finland
This presentation took an up-close look at early math in both Finnish early childhood classrooms and teacher education classrooms, viewing them as cultural sites of learning that mediate learners’ changing relationship to mathematics. Dr. Kumpulainen discussed classroom interactions and how they create opportunities for mathematics learning and identity building. She highlighted recent challenges and developmental trends in Finnish early mathematics education.


Early Mathematics Education: Down to up, up to down, or down to down?
Liping Ma, Ph.D.
, United States
Professor Ma described three important trends in math education: leading children to the discipline (down to up), imposing advanced mathematical ideas on children (up to down), and letting children create their own “math” (down to down).

Young Children and Mathematics in the U.S.: Behind from the Start
Angela Giglio Andrews, M.Ed., U.S.A.

U.S. children are as capable of thinking mathematically as their international peers. However, many enter school with distinct disadvantages which put them at risk for failure in math even before they begin. Ms. Andrews’ presentation outlined these concerns and suggests direction for improving mathematics education for our youngest children.

Early Childhood Mathematics Teaching in Japan
Kiyomi Akita, Ph.D., Japan
Professor Akita described how Japanese culture has influenced the development of early mathematics education. Her presentation discussed current concerns among Japanese educators about ensuring connections from early childhood to primary-level mathematics learning.

Reconceptualizing Mathematics Learning:
Research Initiatives in Australia

Lyn English, Ph.D. , Australia
Joanne Mulligan, Ph.D.
, Australia

Professors English and Mulligan reviewed research emphasizes the surprising capabilities of young children to think mathematically—including combinatorial thinking, analogical reasoning, and modeling and problem solving. They presented a pattern and structure approach to early mathematics teaching, emphasizing its applicability to both teacher training and the education of children with learning difficulties.

Big Ideas in Early Mathematics
Ban Har Yeap, Ph.D.
, Singapore
Dr. Ban Har Yeap explained that early mathematics learning consists of three key components: visualization, connections, and communication. Drawing on the philosophy of mathematics teaching in Singapore, he argued that early mathematics is foundational to the later development of abstract thinking.

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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