Series: About the Collaborative

Looking at 10 Years of Collaboration

Looking at 10 Years of Collaboration 636x363

The Collaborative has reached the milestone of ten years at work in early math education. There were just five of us in the beginning, and Jie-Qi Chen, founder and principal investigator for eight years, remarked, “What I feel most proud of is that the five of us are all still here.”

So the five of us—Jeanine Brownell, Jie-Qi Chen, Mary Hynes-Berry, Rebeca Itzkowich, and Jennifer McCray—sat down to reflect back on a decade of collaboration.

Rebeca: Jie-Qi called me, and I was scared to death because I thought I didn’t know anything about math. She said we’d learn it together.

Jie-Qi: At Erikson, we needed to grow our own understanding about math as early childhood experts. Early math is just too critical to not have the expertise here.

Jeanine: We really did learn it together, didn’t we? I still have binders and binders of research articles that we read and discussed every week. That foundation of scholarship really sets our work apart, I think.

Mary Hynes-Berry and Jeanine Brownell leading one of the first professional development sessions, circa 2007.

Mary Hynes-Berry and Jeanine Brownell leading one of the first professional development sessions, circa 2007.

Jie-Qi: That, and working with Chicago Public School (CPS) pre-k and kindergarten teachers right from the start. We worked to define the Big Ideas with them, describing in clear ways what teachers of young children really need to know.

Jennifer: We delivered the PD at Malcolm X rather than Erikson, so the day before the event, Jeanine would pull up her car outside the old Wabash location for loading. Sometimes we were able to use the special chair lift at the front of the building to get our multiple carts of materials down the stairs. Otherwise, it was bump, bump, bump. At Malcolm X, the elevator inside the building was so small we almost could not ride in it with our cart of materials.

We are storytellers. We are a community of learners. Collaboration is in our DNA.
Jeanine: That was my first time working with adult learners. I would get so nervous in those early years. I was only used to leading a group of 6 year-olds! But the teachers we worked with amazed me with their eagerness to engage with math. I remember one activity where we had all the teachers using blocks to build chicken coops to particular specifications for Rosie the Hen. I looked around and realized that that room at Malcolm X was filled with the same energy, wonder, and creativity as my first grade classroom!

Mary: What I remember from the very first and still enjoy today is the way we as a team had so much fun coming up with the adult learning activities. We wanted them to be engaging for the participants but we also did a huge amount of playing with how we could be sure they were going to be effective in getting everyone to dig deeper into the Big Ideas. I remember that one of the very first stories we used was Goldilocks. After some experience we realized that both teachers and children kind of got stuck on sorting by big, medium, small without thinking too much about the Big Idea that all measurement is comparison and always relative. That’s how we arrived at the wonderful research lesson in our book about using [Goldilocks] to stimulate thinking about direct comparison and finding something that is “just right” for the length of my handspan.

Katie Morgan participating in an early learning lab. Katie later went on to become a coach for the Collaborative.

Katie Morgan was the first coach that was hired, pictured here at an early learning lab. She was a former CPS teacher.

Rebeca: We’ve learned a lot about coaching these ten years. We better understand how profound these ideas are and how hard it can be to impact practice. We’ve discovered many things including the importance of planning with teachers so that they can anticipate children’s thinking and feel prepared to address common misconceptions.

Jie-Qi: A lot has changed, but what remains constant? A deep understanding of whatever we are teaching. We strive for a balance between theory and practice—always talk about the WHY, what’s the big idea behind this?—and always pay attention to child development. We are storytellers. We are a community of learners. Collaboration is in our DNA.

What are your memories of learning with us? If you have a story to tell, or just want to give a shout out, please comment below. Here’s to the next 10 years together!

[Click to see larger view.] early math infographic 17-12-08 1200width-2

Source: Erikson Institute • Copyright: Erikson Institute • Content ID: Not specified

More in the About the Collaborative series


Creative Math Projects Engage Young Learners

The New York Times examines one of the creative math projects developed by the Early Math Collaborative. The article follows a teacher taking part in our in-person math coaching.

What do you think?

  1. Comment icon

    Allen Rosales

    December 12, 2017 at 10:45pm

    I was blessed to be a part of The Early Math Collaborative during its initial stages as a coach for my organization. The sessions were inspirational as the team of Erikson educators provided an exceptional learning experience for me and the teachers that I coached. I remember saying to myself, “What a great opportunity to engage in an ongoing, in-depth and sustained professional development cohort!” The video-coaching experiences challenged us to think critically about implementing and integrating math in all the activities, transitions and routines that the children experienced on a daily basis in the classroom. Our centers and classrooms transformed into Micro-math Cultures where math was the spot light and all of the teaching staff became proficient at implementing math language and inquiry with the students. I am very grateful for the work that the Early Math Collaborative Team has implemented with so many educators across the field and hope that this important project continue for another 10 years so that math education continues to transform the hearts and minds of the children we serve and cherish.

  2. Comment icon


    December 18, 2017 at 7:35pm

    Hello, Team! Happy 10 Years! Learning alongside you and the teachers was a gift. It really stretched me beyond my safe space of literacy teaching and learning. Not a day goes by that early math experiences don’t enter my mind as I now work with young children in the classroom and at home.

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