Promising Math

In October of 2017, the Collaborative hosted Promising Math, a conference meant to link the research, practice, and policy arms of early mathematics. We gathered a group of 80 people from across the nation, including experts in intervention and teaching, scholars in early mathematics, policymakers and government representatives, experts in dual language learning, adult educators and scholars in teacher preparation, and cognitive developmental scientists. This forum is meant to keep the conversation between these early math stakeholders going!

Please use this venue to communicate with others who have a vested interest in helping to shape early mathematics teaching and learning experiences. For example, you might:

  • Inform forum members of an upcoming conference
  • Ask whether anyone knows of a good preschool classroom observation tool for math
  • Let forum members know that you are looking for a good math coach in your area
  • Provide a link to an interesting early math-related article
  • Make others aware that you have a new post-doctoral position in your lab
  • Share a new math coaching model

Anyone can read the forum, but to post, you must “Join the collaborative” by providing your email and a little information about yourself, and indicate your preference to be part of the forum specifically. Collaborative staff members will manage the site, helping to provide connections as needed.

We hope you find this new resource useful as we all work together to transform the understanding, learning, and teaching of early mathematics from the ground up!

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What do you think?

  1. Divya

    1 month ago

    Sharing my reflection from this week as I started to talk about sets in my classroom. Any and all suggestions and questions are welcome. Thanks in advance.

    This week my students spent time thinking about Sets, they engaged in discussions, body sort and spoke about the sets they created their own.

    Thinking about Sets
    Before we introduced math centers, the students thought about what “Sets” mean and can they find sets of things in their environment.

    V: Set means a group of things.
    E: A set of groups.

    DTeacher: Those are some great words to define Sets. A set is any collection that is grouped together in some meaningful way for e.g. “my toys” are a set and R has her own set of toys.
    Can we think of some sets in our classroom or at home and share? Let’s look around.

    D: A set of toys.
    L: A set of Legos
    Z: A set of chairs
    Ve: A set of kids
    S: A set of teeth
    M: A Lego set
    H: A set of fish
    D: A set of crayons
    J: A set of books
    E: A set of magnet tiles.

    Body sort
    The students also engaged in a body sort. Using children’s whole body is always enjoyable. I told the students that today we will create sets with our bodies.
    DTeacher: If you have any red on your clothes go to the block area.
    – If you have no red, stay on the meeting rug.
    The learners with some red on them moved to the block area and the one’s with no red stayed on the rug. We called them “Red set” and “No Red Set.”

    We tried this with different colors and then gradually moved on to taking suggestions from the learners. They came up with stripes and no stripes, print and no print, yellow and no yellow and many more.

    My set, my rule!
    At math centers we had a table with a basket of colored wooden beads and lace to string them. I told the learners
    DTeacher: I have a set of beads here in this basket. But we can make different sets with this big set of beads.

    They naturally started sorting them into colors and shape sets. We had conversation about attributes like shape and color as they were working.

    DTeacher- After you are done you will tell us about your set and what rule did you use to create it.
    I modeled it once to where I created a set of cubes and spoke about my set. This is my set of cubes and my rule was, “I will only use cubes.”

    They shared:
    Vn: My set is orange. My rule is only orange.
    E: My set is with squares. My rule is only squares.
    M: This is a set of cylinders. My rule is: No squares allowed.
    D: This is a set of orange. My rule: Only use orange.
    Da: My set is about squares. My rule: No monsters allowed.
    J: My set is a set of blue. My rule: No noodles allowed.
    H: A set of yellow, which I like to call gold. My rule: No mixing up the colors.
    V: My set is of orange. My rule: No other colors allowed.
    S: My set is a slide set. My rule: Only slide blocks.
    L: A set of pipes. My rule: No colors.
    Z: My set is tubes. My rule: Only tubes.
    S: It’s a set of red. My rule: Only red.

    Children’s Learning: I think the learners had an opportunity to look at their environment through a “math lens.” They spoke about what they knew about sets, used their bodies to create sets and also engaged in sorting colored beads to make their own set and make their own rule as they created them. The term Mathematize has emerged to express the importance of helping children engage with mathematics that is all around us (Pearson, 2014) The learners had several opportunities this week to think, discuss, sort and make their own sets.

    My Learning: I’ve been thinking: I approached math as something that is a part of our everyday world and not an isolated area. I could see that when I changed my approach, it reflected in how children engaged with ease and confidence. It made math meaningful. I also felt uncomfortable lesson planning this week, as I knew how it would end. I had an aim, objective and result in mind, as I planned. I have never approached learning in the way I did this week. My ideas about constructivism were challenged. But the more experiences I get, the more organic it’ll become.

    Thanks for reading!

    • Jeanine Brownell

      1 month ago

      You don’t mention the age of your students, but their comments reflect the powerful thinking of young children. This exchange gets at the heart of what is profoundly mathematical about sorting–defining relationships:
      V: Set means a group of things.
      E: A set of groups.
      When we sort a collection of objects into groups by their attributes, each object is related to other members of its group AND that group has a relationships to the other groups–“a set of groups.” This is the foundation of thinking about unitizing. Unitizing requires that children use numbers not only to count objects but also groups–and to count them simultaneously.
      Keep giving your students lots of opportunities to continue exploring sets and sorting!

      • Divya

        1 month ago

        Thanks Jeanine for sharing your understanding. It makes learning richer when you hear what others have to say about a classroom experience.

      • Divya

        1 month ago

        Sorry, They’re TK (Transitional Kindergarten) age, so turned 5 or turning 5 soon.

  2. Lauren Solarski

    4 months ago

    Resource to Share: NAEYC recently welcomed an Early Math interest forum to its growing roster of communities.

    Please encourage teachers who are NAEYC members to join the The Early Math Interest Forum (EMIF) which promotes high-quality mathematics learning opportunities for children birth through age 8. EMIF will provide opportunities for early childhood educators to network with others about investigating big ideas in early mathematics content and connections to later math. Moderators include Lisa Ginet of the Early Math Collaborative along with Jessica Young and Kristen Reed of Education Development Center.

    Log in using your NAEYC Member ID and Password

    2. Find the ‘Account” section and click ‘Interests’ (near the bottom of list at right)

    3. On the Interests page, click the box next to Early Math Interest Forum
    Please note: It takes around 30 minutes for changes to apply in Hello.

  3. Jennifer McCray, Ph.D. Principal Investigator

    Jennifer McCray

    5 months ago

    I would like to hear some responses from both those who study early math education and those who study the education of dual language learners to a recently published article in Child Development by Douglas Sperry and colleagues.

    In “Reexamining the Verbal Environments of Children from Different Socioeconomic Backgrounds,” the authors provide an important critique of the “30 million word gap;” that is, Hart and Risley’s much-cited finding ( that poorer children hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their better-off counterparts by age three. They suggest that not only is the characterization of the size of the “gap” greatly exaggerated, but also that the idea of this large “word gap” has become one more way of marginalizing a whole community of children and families. They suggest that we be critical of this way of characterizing difference, that it is a deficit approach that may prevent us from capitalizing on the rich founts of knowledge that do exist in every community, regardless of how much language children hear in their home environment.

    Meanwhile, there is growing interest among early math educators in trying to leverage home environments as a way to increase math achievement for all children, but with an emphasis on those homes that might not be providing as much math-related input. This emphasis is bolstered by robust findings about how children’s math learning can be predicted (on average) by how much the adults in their lives—at both school and home—talk about math-related ideas (

    My question is, how do my fellow educators and researchers who care about the math learning of young dual language learners feel about the implications of this “word gap” discussion? The idea of the “gap” has helped to clarify thinking about the importance of working with families, and not just teachers, which is certainly useful. Given Sperry, et al.’s concerns, is it important we avoid referring to Hart & Risley’s “gap” when we are trying to motivate interest in family math work? If so, what is a better approach to helping people understand the important of “math talk: in the home?

    • Placeholder


      4 months ago

      I think a better way to label it is not a gap, but a difference. A gap implies a deficiency, which may not always be so. I have students at IC that are perfectly able to use mathematical language to express themselves in their home language. Getting students to use their classroom language is what English Language Learning is all about.

    • Mary Hynes-Berry

      5 months ago

      Jennifer, the questions you raise are significant and complex—as I am well aware from being a second-language learner, teaching language development at the Master’s level, and especially from directing our Math All Around Me program for 0-3 caregivers. In the first place, whether one is a first- or second-language learner, rich or poor, all young children are language learners.

      Furthermore, a very robust body of research that says early language learning depends on positive interactive communication. This point is so significant that Sperry’s study spurred linguistic development researchers including Roberta Golinkoff, Erika Hoff, and Kathy Hirsch-Pasek to issue a rebuttal in a Brookings Institute blog They point out that even the Sperry team acknowledges that all children learn best from conversations and interactions with important others, that build on the child’s interest.

      They also point to a study by Amy Pace which shows that a child’s language competency in kindergarten predicts later language, math, reading, and social abilities up to 5th grade and is the best early indicator of success. In fact, Pace points to studies that link future math performance to the amount of math talk heard in earliest childhood—the point is that it’s conversations that count most for building mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills. Those conversations can and do go on across all demographics

      Personally, I am concerned about the deficits of researchers and policy makers who are blind to communication cues that are culturally based and include much more than verbalizations (such as actions, gestures, and body language). Perhaps it is important that we broaden our conception of what constitutes math-related communication as well as math achievement. I’d love to hear more from others about the issues Jennifer raises.