Series: About the Collaborative

Looking at 10 Years of Collaboration

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