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Teaching Math to Young Students: What the Research Says
posted by: Ruthie | November 15, 2013, 06:33 PM   

The report itself is massive at about 150 pages in length and is content rich, which may appeal to early childhood teachers who, at times, feel like second class citizens.  This report is for them specifically and focuses on students between the ages of three and six, in preschool and kindergarten.

The heart of the report is a series of practices that have been shown, with significant research behind them, to improve student achievement in math.  The recommendations are as follows:

  1.  Have your math instruction build on the individual knowledge of each child by using introductory activities combined with observations in order to determine what skills they already know and what skill they should be working on next.
  2. Teach children to view their world mathematically by having them use formal math vocabulary and math knowledge in everyday situations.
  3. Along with a dedicated math time, integrate math instruction throughout the school day by embedding math in classroom routines and activities, playing games that reinforce math concepts, and creating a math-rich environment.

Along with these straightforward recommendations, the report also encourages teaching certain topics in a particular order.  Specifically in the following areas:

  1.  Number operations
    a. First, recognizing the total of small amounts of objects that don’t need to be counted (1 – 3 items)
    b. Then counting objects in order, correcting for common counting mistakes
    c. then comparing different collections of objects using words such as ‘more’ or ‘fewer’
    d. Followed by using number words to label and compare collections
    e. And only then starting to solve basic problems.
  2. Geometry, patterns, and data analysis
    a. Begin with recognizing and comparing shapes and their relationship to each other (for example, two squares can make a rectangle when placed side by side)
    b. Then finding and creating patterns like boy-girl-boy-girl or natural patterns like the days of the week or the repetitive nature of the calendar
    c. Then making formal and informal measurements using words like long or longer and shorter or taller.
    d. Finally, help children learn and organize their information and teach them to represent it graphically.
The strength of the research behind these findings is mixed, but the strongest research is for the recommended progression of teaching number operations.

Along with describing each of the recommendations, the report also provides examples, tips for overcoming stumbling blocks, and lesson suggestions.  You can find the entire report on the What Works Clearinghouse website.

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