EECERA – Using powerful mathematical ideas

I have just been to a very interesting presentation at the EECERA conference. The presentation was held by Bob Perry from Australia, and he talked about “Using powerful mathematical ideas and developmental outcomes to enhance young children’s mathematical learning: An Australian experience”. The project he described had started off as a development study with 7 pre-school teachers in 3 pre-schools in South Australia. The project was so successful, it has now expanded to 350 pre-schools (all pre-schools in the state)! The aim of the project was not to change the teachers’ practice, but rather getting the teachers reflect on their practice and change the way they think about mathematics. (And thereby, they would also change their practice…)

An important practical technique in the project was the use of so-called “learning stories”, which I personally found very fascinating! These learning stories have three important elements:

  1. Descriptions of what the child/children had done
  2. Evaluation of what the child/children had done
  3. Reflections concerning: What next?

Another important concept was related to what Perry referred to as “powerful mathematical ideas”. These might be mathematisation, connections, argumentation, etc.

Here is the abstract of Perry’s presentation:

Young children can be powerful mathematical learners. This paper reports work done with preschool educators in South Australia in which powerful ideas in mathematics were identified, linked to the Developmental Learning Outcomes in the mandated South Australian curriculum, and celebrated and extended through narrative assessment.. It emphasises the processes involved in building the educators’ confidence and competence in the observation, development, implementation and assessment of meaningful mathematical learning for young children and suggests ways in which this approach can improve the mathematics education of these children without weakening the strongly held traditional principles of sound early childhood practice.
The key construct in this project is a numeracy matrix—a 56-cell table linking the powerful mathematical ideas with the Developmental Learning Outcomes through pedagogical inquiry questions. These questions are designed to ask preschool educators about their practice and how it relates to their children’s mathematics learning. Using this matrix, preschool and first year of school educators have devised and begun to trial a detailed assessment process through which they can access children’s powerful mathematical ideas, show progress as these ideas grow, and answer planning questions for each child as to what would be the most appropriate next instructional step.
The value of the paper is that it illustrates how work undertaken at the preschool level can inform similar work undertaken in the first year of school and it provides educators at both levels with an innovative way for considering the mathematics education of young children in both preschool and school.

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