Friday, July 29, 2011

Early Math Knowledge is Critical

I have always believed that the most important year of our educational experience is kindergarten. If children are allowed to develop a really good understanding of basic numeracy in kindergarten then they are set for life mathematically as long as this understanding is nurtured and developed through the rest of the grades.

A really neat article appeared this week in eSchool News describing the results of some interesting research at the University of Missouri.

The researchers, monitoring 177 elementary students, were able to confirm that those students who developed a really good understanding of basic numeracy skills in kindergarten developed their math skills much more efficiently in first grade. These basic skills include knowing the Arabic numerals used in our counting system, knowing what these numerals represent, being able to count with meaning and understanding some basic facts.

The key to mathematical success for students in kindergarten is the presentation of the material in a way that is meaningful for the students. For example, learning to count rationally is a complex activity in which students need to understand, for example, the ideas of one and one more and one to one correspondence . When students first learn to count, say five fingers, they name each finger as one, two, three and so on. They don't fully understand the cardinality of counting (e.g. "fiveness:) until they associate the word "five" with the group of five fingers. We subconsciously give children a clue to this when we count with them. The first four counting words, one, two, three and four have rising intonation. When we say "five" we use falling intonation. In other words the voice goes up four times and then down for the final number of the group signifying the end of that particular counting process.

This, and many other important pieces of pedagogical content knowledge, comprise the Teaching Elementary School Math and Science course I teach at St. Mike's.

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