Collaborative Math program expanding in Chicago

27 Head Start centers will now receive training to improve early math instruction

Thanks to three years of productive work with Head Start programs throughout Chicago, the Early Math Collaborative’s program to provide quality early math experiences to children—called Collaborative Math—is expanding its reach in the city under a new partnership with the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS).

The agreement expands the Collaborative Math program—which helps prepare site directors, teachers, and teacher assistants to provide effective, intentional early math instruction—to expand to 14 new Head Start centers in addition to continuing at 13 of the centers previously served, doubling the program’s impact and reaching new neighborhoods.

Collaborative Math began in 2015 as a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation that allowed the Early Math Collaborative to partner with DFSS on improving children’s early mathematics learning in Head Start classrooms. That grant is sunsetting soon, but DFSS wants Collaborative Math to continue.

Sue Reynolds, director of the Children’s Services Division of the DFSS, said it “was a natural fit to extend the partnership.”

“The feedback that I have always heard from staff who have participated in schools and community based organizations over the years is simply ‘It really works!’ “ Reynolds said.

Educators not only receive content knowledge in math but also are helped to improve their attitudes and practice surrounding it.

“I think the work the Erikson staff does in the beginning of the process to address all of the educators’ feelings and biases about math in their own identity formation as a learner breaks down some of the potential barriers to learning for children,” Reynolds said. “Usually when someone has participated in the Collaborative Math process they want more, and they are always recommending it for professional learning for their friends in the field.”

The expanded program launched in March with leadership academies for Head Start site directors, said Jeanine Brownell, assistant director of programming for the Early Math Collaborative. In the fall, the program will extend to immerse teachers in Collaborative Math, and if the response from site directors is an indication, the program will be well-received among teaching staff.

“In this Collaborative Math program, you’re going to become aware of what is developmentally appropriate to children obtaining mathematical concepts and skills,” said Delphine Whittlesey, site director at Winthrop Children’s Center. “You’re also going to be able to give skills and strategies to support teachers in their daily interactions with children. You’ll learn how to enhance their physical environment to stimulate inquiry and interest in practical, everyday experiences that already occur in your classroom.”

“It is a way to teach math in a way that kids can understand, and kids can keep it and use it everyday,” said Miriam Williamson, education coordinator at Onward House in Chicago. “You’re not frustrating your kids; they learn the fun way.”