The following is an excerpt from an NAEYC online author Q&A event with Juanita Copley on the book The Young Child and Mathematics. The Q&A took place Aptil 25-29, 2011. To view more highlights from 2011 online Q&As, click here.
I am a university lecturer teaching pre-school teachers how to include math in their programs. Any suggestions for those who start the unit with an "I was never any good at math in school and just hate it now" attitude?
When I first started teaching at the university level, it was my job to teach the math methods to all pre-service teachers. Initially, I was so discouraged when the majority of my students told me how much they dreaded teaching mathematics! After a few years, I loved the challenge of introducing them to the way mathematics should be taught, and I delighted in the idea that some of the class experiences could open their eyes to the excitement of teaching mathematics. Over the past 20 years, I have been able to talk to hundreds of practicing early childhood teachers. It has been my privilege to introduce them to the importance of mathematics and ideas. A recent National Research Council report found that typically early childhood classrooms “are emotionally positive and intellectually passive” and that mathematics was definitely not one of their favorite subjects.
In my work with teachers at both the pre- and in-service levels, I have found that you can’t make someone “love” math, nor can you make them teach mathematics well. Instead, teachers need positive experiences with mathematics—both personally and with their students—and they need information before they truly feel comfortable teaching mathematics. I used many methods to help teachers gain experiences. At the pre-service level, teachers experienced teaching small groups of children using easy-to-implement games and activities that were designed by me or another faculty member. At the end of the day, we debriefed all lessons and their observations were particularly exciting. In many cases they learned some mathematics. In all cases, they gained experiences teaching mathematics.
I have found that both in-service and pre-service teachers need information in the following areas: 1) mathematics content—in many cases, they have had poor instruction in mathematics and often don’t really understand the mathematics behind the procedures they have learned, 2) child development or learning paths for young children in mathematics, 3) connection of the content to their standards or guidelines, 4) ideas for use in centers, small group instruction, project ideas, circle time, read alouds, and routines, and 5) instructional strategies for use in mathematics classes (e.g., questioning strategies, use of manipulatives, in-class assessment opportunities, management of mathematics classes). I teach weeklong seminars involving all of these areas, and they seem to be effective. In addition, I use real examples of teaching episodes with debriefing opportunities. (You can see some of these on the DVD enclosed in the book.) These are useful in my coaching seminars. This past year I adopted a pre-kindergarten school with six classes. On my days at the school, I teach different lessons in all six classes all around a mathematics topic. Then, we meet for an hour at the end of the day to debrief the lessons. This has been so exciting! The teachers have learned a lot, I have had a chance to experiment with new ideas and activities, and the children are enjoying math!