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Ginsburg, Kagan Call for Math Instruction for Very Young

Contrary to conventional wisdom of many educators and parents, very young children can learn math. That was the message at a panel at Teachers College on Tuesday, when TC faculty members Herbert Ginsburg and Sharon Lynn Kagan discussed the results of a 2009 National Academy of Sciences study to which they had contributed. A video of the panel discussion is online at .

The study showed that children in preschool think about numbers, are able to grasp mathematical concepts, frequently “mathematize” (think of real-world problems in explicitly mathematical terms) and, under the right conditions, solve mathematical problems.

Ginsburg, the Jacob H. Schiff Foundations Professor of Psychology and Education; and Kagan, Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood Policy, were joined at the event by Taniesha A. Woods, a senior research associate at the National Center for Children in Poverty at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia. Woods co-edited the report, released last July through the Center for Education’s Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, with Christopher T. Cross and Heidi Schweingruber.

The event at TC was moderated by Thomas James, Provost and Dean of Teachers College. Ginsburg showed a video in which he asks a four-year-old girl to form a search party of bears to go look for Goldilocks. The girl is able to add two bears to three already on the table, and count all five of them. “This is not a child who would be uninterested in mathematical learning,” Ginsburg said after the clip.

Kagan talked about the limited training and education – especially in math – of preschool teachers and caregivers, noting that most early childhood educators tend to emphasize physical and emotional development over intellectual development. “Some do believe that when you teach math to very young children, you are violating canons of what has been constituted as developmentally appropriate practice,” she said

Kagan said education schools need to step up math instruction for pre-service teachers, and that “all states should develop or revise their early childhood learning standards to reflect” research-based mathematics instructional and developmental principles. 
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