Teaching math in preschool

Preschool teachers are introducing math concepts, reports the Wall Street Journal.  The Early Mathematics Education Project at Erikson Institute is training preschool and kindergarten teachers at high-poverty Chicago schools.

At Lovett Elementary School, where the preschool teacher adopted the new methods, math instruction is omnipresent, if not always apparent. It’s there where 4-year-old Jasmine Wilson arranges four Popsicle sticks into a zigzag pattern under the number “4.” It shows up when Cedric Carter mimics the teacher’s syncopated clapping pattern. And it appears when students join a growing line of characters from “The Gingerbread Man” to chase Anasia Simmons around the room.

The children don’t realize it, but they are learning fundamental math concepts such as connecting numerals to quantity, building patterns, and the idea that adding something, or someone, creates a larger number.

Students of Erikson-trained teachers average three to five months more progress in math than students whose teachers were on the waiting list to get into the program, the institute reports. Children who started far behind in math made the most progress.

Jie-Qi Chen, an Erikson professor who helped develop the project, said proper math instruction helps students develop reasoning and logical thinking skills—cognitive building blocks that prepare them to learn any subject. But she said early math gains in preschool can “wash out” if teachers in elementary grades don’t know how to teach it. And unlike reading, she said, which requires little explicit instruction after a certain level, “math cannot be fully grasped without assistance from a well-trained teacher.”

On any given day, 21 percent of Chicago preschool and kindergarten teachers teach math, while 96 percent teach language arts, a 2007 Erikson study found.

Many early-education teachers are “math phobic,” said Jeanine Brownell, assistant director of programming for Early Mathematics.