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Educators from around the world gathered at Erikson Institute recently for Meaning-making in Early Math Education, the second-annual summer institute organized by Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative and an opportunity to gain in-depth, hands-on professional development in foundational math concepts.

Throughout the four-day event, more than 100 teachers and school administrators attended sessions that focused on the collaborative’s “Big Ideas,” concepts for incorporating early math into the classrooms. The goal of the sessions — like all of the collaborative’s professional development work — was to help educators gain more knowledge about foundational math, become more confident in teaching math, and incorporate concepts into their classroom teaching.

Many of the sessions were interactive, giving educators insight into how children learn math concepts, such as sorting and spatial relationships, at a young age. Hands-on activities included using blocks to build a bridge that crosses a model of the Chicago River and “finding the math” in children’s books that aren’t directly about math.

“This activity has really made me more aware of the child’s perspective,” said Cinthya Quintana, a preschool teacher at James Otis World Language Academy, one of the Chicago Public Schools, who worked with a group of other teachers to build a bridge out of blocks. “We tend to just ask children to play with blocks without giving thought to how they interact with them and what they learn through playing with them.”

Participants came as far as China, England, and Hawaii, and many said they were empowered by what they learned from the Early Math Collaborative.

“I used to be one of those teachers who was scared of math — I didn’t know how to teach it and I didn’t feel like I had any encouragement to incorporate math concepts into my classroom,” said Jo-Anne McDonough, who teaches with KCAA Preschools of Hawai’i and took professional development courses through Erikson before attending the Early Math institute. “But since I’ve started learning early math concepts and using them with my students, teaching has become much more intentional, and I’ve seen a real improvement in children’s math skills.”