Series: About the Collaborative

Collaborative Research Suggests Math Is Found in Preschool Play

Collaborative Research Suggests Math Is Found in Preschool Play

On August 25th-27th, 2014, Collaborative Director Jennifer McCray presented in Jyväskylä, Finland on children’s play and the math that is involved in preschool playtime. While many conflicting ideas exist about how to improve math teaching in preschool, recent research suggests that providing plenty of time to play, with a teacher observing and interjecting pointed questions and ideas, may be most effective.

As a part of McCray’s recent study, “Preschool Teachers’ Ability to ‘See’ Mathematics in Children’s Play Predicts Learning,” she and her team created a quantitative scale to rate teachers’ abilities to extract math learning opportunities from preschool play. The measure, called the Preschool Mathematics Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PM-PCK) Teacher Interview, assesses teachers’ ability to develop the math ideas that preschoolers regularly encounter.

The study asked if teachers who scored higher on the PM-PCK produced greater math learning outcomes in their students over the course of a single school year. The students of the interviewed teachers were assessed once in the fall and once in the spring using the Test of Early Mathematics Ability, 3rd Edition (TEMA-3).

Interview scores were found to reflect the children’s gains in knowledge; that is, the higher the teacher’s performance in the interview, the more their students learned during the year. These findings go along with the notion that play can be a powerful learning tool if a teacher is able to oversee, ask questions, and provide support when needed. Furthermore, they suggest that more extensive teacher training would likely result in students who are better prepared to move on to increasingly advanced math in kindergarten and beyond.

McCray presented this at the EARLI SIG5 Conference on Learning and Development in Early Childhood alongside Dr. Yvonne Anders of the Freie University in Berlin, Germany. EARLI is a biennial conference that centers on research relating to the education of children up to eight years old. The theme of this particular conference was Challenges for the Future in Early Childhood Education.