This article appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Erikson on Children under the headline “Early math online.” More from this issue

Websites are a dime a dozen, right? But a new Erikson website has value beyond most: it can help young children learn what the quantity “dozen” means and that a dime can represent a circle.

The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute, formerly called the Early Mathematics Education Project, recently launched a new website at earlymath.erikson.edu.

“Our new name and new website illustrate Erikson’s ongoing commitment to supporting high-quality math education for young children — math education that is practical, rigorous, inclusive, culturally aware, and developmentally appropriate,” says Jennifer S. McCray, director of the Early Math Collaborative.

With the new website, the Collaborative is for the first time providing an online hub of early math resources for people beyond participants from its partner organizations, which range from public school districts to children’s museums.

But this is just the start. The Early Math Collaborative’s new book, Big Ideas of Early Mathematics: What Teachers of Young Children Need to Know (Pearson), was published in May. The book outlines a set of “Big Ideas” — central foundational math concepts developed by the Collaborative — and offers suggestions for how early childhood teachers can incorporate these concepts into their classrooms. Orders for the book are already coming in from community colleges, school districts, and teacher educators nationwide.

The Collaborative also was accepted into 100Kin10, a multi-sector partnership seeking to address the shortage of STEM teachers in the U.S. and ensure high-quality STEM learning for all students. The goal: to recruit, prepare, and retain 100,000 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers in 10 years. To become a 100Kin10 partner, organizations undergo a rigorous vetting process conducted by the University of Chicago that reviews the boldness and innovative nature of each organization’s commitment to STEM and its capacity to contribute to the 100Kin10 movement.

All this good news builds on a history of growth. Since its founding in 2007, the Collaborative has grown from facilitating a single professional development project with Chicago Public Schools to a robust and complex group of professional educators and researchers working throughout the U.S. to improve math instruction for young children.

“No other program in Chicago provides prekindergarten through third grade teachers with large-scale, high-quality, and cohesive mathematics professional development that is not tied to a specific curriculum,” says Jie-Qi Chen, professor and principal investigator of the Early Math Collaborative. “Our entire team is ready to share our work with a wider population in and beyond Chicago.”

A resource for all things early math

The new Early Math Collaborative website supports all of the effort’s activities. On the site, teachers, parents, and others interested in early math have access to the Collaborative’s wealth of early math ideas, techniques, and materials. Each resource is connected to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, which schools nationwide are weaving into their curriculum.

“Our web content, which is rooted in our deep understanding of children’s learning and foundational mathematics, engages viewers by posing thoughtful questions and encouraging discoveries,” says Chen. “The rich information is cohesively organized, interactive, and user friendly.”

Videos on the Early Math Collaborative site feature children explaining their mathematical thinking — such as why a hexagon with its flat sides can’t be a circle — and examples of how teaching staff can encourage such thinking through targeted questions and activities. Watch the video

One video shows a child laughing with joy when she creates six-pointed stars with triangles, hexagons, and diamonds. To reach this point, the teacher carefully supports the child’s exploration without giving her the answers and introduces mathematical language to the child. At the end, the teacher reinforces the math lesson: shapes can be combined and separated to make new shapes. Watch the video

Another video shows the moment when the class discovers the “growing pattern” — a regular increase in quantity over time — in The Napping House by Audrey Wood. After reading the book, the class charts how many characters appear on each page: one additional character per page. “It looks like stairs!” says one boy. Another chimes in, “It’s adding up. First there’s one, then there’s two, then there’s three. We’re adding one more to each [page].” The video shows how the teacher structures the activity and the conversation to lead to math discoveries. A description on the site explains that recognizing patterns like this is one of the foundations for algebraic thinking. Watch the video

The website also includes research and articles about best practices in early mathematics developed by Early Math Collaborative staff and others in the field.

Finding the right resource is made easy: for each video or article, there’s a brief description of its mathematical context and importance. Everything is categorized based on math concepts like counting and spatial relationships, grade level, and the six Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

Reinforcing in-person coaching

Participants in Early Math Collaborative projects use the new site to supplement their work with Collaborative coaches. After logging into the site, participants can access materials tailored to their professional development activities and any videos created as part of a one-on-one coaching process between the teacher and Early Math Collaborative staff.

“Between visits with Collaborative staff, teachers have immediate access to materials directly related to what they are working on with us, as well as a depth of other resources they can explore,” says McCray. “It reinforces our work with the teacher and deepens learning.”

Over time the Early Math Collaborative plans to add additional features and resources, including a forum for ongoing discussions around improving math education in the early years.

“We would love to hear your thoughts about the site and how we can continue to help teachers and others improve their practice in a subject we all care about: improving math education in the early years,” says McCray.

Email the Early Math Collaborative