Series: About the Collaborative

Collaborative Emphasizes the Early Years at National Math Conferences

Along with being a part of the early education community, it is always important to emphasize the Early Math Collaborative’s place in the math education community. Math conferences are a pivotal way of demonstrating this. Members of the Collaborative not only attended, but presented at the 2015 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Research Conference and Annual Meeting & Exposition.

In their presentation “High Impact Strategies for Early Mathematics: A Lesson Observation Tool,” Bilge Cerezci, Jeanine Brownell, and Erin Reid explained the HIS-EM teacher assessment tool. HIS-EM is used to examine the math teaching of PreK-3 teachers. It breaks down their teaching into nine categories, which are used to determine overall effectiveness. Some of the categories deal with the math content directly, such as whether or not the topics and strategies presented are developmentally appropriate for students. Others look at the teaching in a more general sense—was the lesson well-planned, and were students actively engaged in the lesson?

HIS-EM is intended to be used for program evaluation and teacher professional development. Research shows that teachers are the single most important determinant of what children learn (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005). However, cross-cultural and U.S. studies point to a lack of quality teaching in early mathematics (Hill, Rowan, & Ball, 2005 [pdf]; Ma, 1999). Having a means to quantify and pinpoint individual aspects of teaching is an important first step in making improvements in these areas.

Mary Hynes-Berry and Rebeca Itzkowich described the importance of relating math to real-life problems in their presentation “Bringing Practice Standards to Life: Every Operation Tells a Story.” All too often, math is taught through rote memorization, focusing on speed rather than conceptualization. This can lead to confusion and apathy when confronted with math concepts in later grades.

Instead, Hynes-Berry and Itzkowich argue, math concepts should be embedded in contexts that children can relate to. Connecting math problems to a favorite storybook, for instance, gives students a common point of reference from which they can base their math thinking. This can be especially helpful for English Language Learners, as visual cues and familiar story elements can assist them in pinpointing the important content in a particular problem.

Hynes-Berry and Itzkowich gave a few examples of this type of teaching in action. One example came from a classroom working with Big Shoulders. After reading Audrey Wood’s The Napping House, a book which utilizes the concept of growing patterns, these first grade students wanted to make their own books. Their teacher prompted them to write stories using the same growing pattern structure of The Napping House based around their experiences grocery shopping with their families. Students were able to practice these important ideas about pattern and counting in a way that was relevant to them personally.