Jacqueline Jones, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s senior advisor on early learning, visited Erikson on Thursday to learn about the Early Mathematics Education Project. The project received a $5 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant last year from the Department of Education.

From left: Jacqueline Jones, senior advisor on early learning; Jennifer McCray, Early Math Project director; and Sara Slaughter, director of McCormick Foundation’s Education Program

During her visit, Jones observed a training session for math project coaches and joined a roundtable discussion to learn about the project and the coaches’ experiences bringing early mathematics to Chicago Public Schools teachers.

At the end of the visit, Jones remarked, “We are really pleased with what we’ve seen today and are excited to see where this work goes.”

Read news coverage of the visit in Catalyst Chicago »

An emphasis on process

During Jones’s visit, Erikson’s early math coaches stressed the importance of developing teachers who know how to recognize foundational mathematical thinking and incorporate it into their classrooms. A solid early introduction to mathematics can help a child succeed in school later on.

“We’ve found that in preschool, there was no math; it just wasn’t there,” said Patricia Garner, ’04, an Erikson alumna and fifth year coach for the math project. “During the project’s five years, teachers have said ‘This is just what I needed.’ It’s really a transformative professional development activity.”

Senior instructor Donna Johnson (left) explains how the project supports teachers’ development.

Donna Johnson, one of the project’s senior instructors, emphasized that a major component of the project is getting teachers away from rote memorization and computation.

“The right answer doesn’t always matter,” said Johnson. “It’s the thinking and problem solving behind it. And we’re not looking for perfect lessons from the teachers. This is about improving practice.”

Coaches also wanted Jones to understand the project’s focus on empowering teachers to learn how to assess and improve their own lessons and how to support one another.

Senior instructor Rebeca Itzkowich said, “If we’re doing a good job, we’re putting ourselves out of a job.”

Erikson research suggests the project is succeeding. Children whose teachers were in the early math project learned more math per school year than other children.

Get more coverage of DOE’s visit to the Math Project in Education Week and Catalyst Chicago.