Ask a Scientist: What's the Best Type of Math to Teach in Kindergarten? | Education Week's blog - Early Years
|Photo: Lillian Mongeau |
|Photo: Mimi Engel|
The answer is "yes." Engel's research found that children who learn things like simple addition and subtraction do better in math later than children who learn things like counting to 10. Many children, Engel points out, can already count to 10 when they reach kindergarten, which eliminates the need to teach it. Most kindergartners, she posits, are developmentally ready to get beyond counting and dive into the next level of mathematics learning.
"We shouldn't underestimate their capacity to learn mathematics content," Engle said. "We shouldn't assume that a kindergartener isn't ready to learn some basic addition and subtraction or assume that that might not be an exciting and intriguing task for those children."
Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, appears below.
Tell me a little bit about how you got interested in researching early math.
My interest in early math actually came from work I was involved about a decade ago [with Greg Duncan of the University of California, Irvine, and others], that showed that the correlation between math learning across the kindergarten year and students' later school-related outcomes was very high. So early math is very predictive of not just how you do in math later on in schooling, but how you do in reading and other important outcomes.
Tell me more about your most recent work looking at what kids actually learn in kindergarten math.
The National Center for Education Statistics compiles these wonderful longitudinal datasets that are available for researchers, for policymakers, for people in general to use to answer questions about education. Building on this interest that I and my coauthors had developed in early math, we used those data about kids who were in kindergarten in 1998-99—that school year—to look at what mathematics content children are exposed to in kindergarten, and what their across-kindergarten learning gains were.
What we saw is kids were getting a lot of exposure to very basic mathematics content that evidence suggested in the very same dataset that they already knew when they started kindergarten.
They were getting less exposure to advanced content, and what we mean by that for kindergarten is content such single-digit addition and subtraction. And we show that time teachers report spending on the very basic content such as numbers one through 10 or basic shapes is negatively associated with learning in kindergarten, whereas time on more advanced content is positively associated with learning across kindergarten.
This most recent publication replicates the original study and shows that this pattern is again true using data from kids who were more recently in kindergarten, in 2010-11. Teachers are reporting that they're spending some more time on more advanced math content [than they were in 1998-99]. But the majority of time is still spent on the more basic mathematic content. And we can again show that time on basic content is associated with less learning in mathematics in kindergarten.
Source: Education Week's blog - Early Years