For the past 6 years, I have been involved in one way or another in the Math at Home Project; initially as the primary blogger, later as the designer and one of the authors of the professional development series …. and most recently as the coordinator of the Guest Bloggers. Each of these roles has been wonderful, exciting, challenging and frustrating in its own way. And so, my time at Math at Home has come to its end. I thought to myself, “What better way to wrap it up, then to end where I started, by blogging?”
So, for the month of June, I will be the guest blogger.
Since the blog debuted on July 1, 2012 there have been 795 posts and over 100,000 readers. Those are really impressive numbers even when you factor in that we are a small, very-focused, niche blog. The writers have written about so many aspects of young children and math: teaching young children math, supporting math competencies in the adults who work with children, math learning standards, STEM and STEAM, the list goes on and on. It is clear from the data we collect about the Math at Home site, and from conferences where we speak about the site, that there are people all over the country who regularly use and count on the resources provided.
Using Video Observations of Children at Play
This month I wanted to look at ways to support teachers of young children using video clips of children at play. Even though at first glance, it may not look like the children are focusing on math-related activities, or that their engagement might lead to experiences in early math exploration, but they do. This idea came about when I recently attended a statewide meeting where one of the speakers presented a new way of supporting student teachers – through virtual interactions with young children (the children are avatars.) It got me thinking about how successful I have been using real video clips of real children to look deeply at play and to consider ways to support it.
I am still very much dedicated to the notion that young children learn through their play and that play should make up the vast majority of a child’s day in school, whether in an Infant/Toddler program, a preschool or during the early grades. I believe that his gift of childhood must be protected at all costs. One way we can do this is to look at play with educators’ eyes, a focus on development, and through the lens of “play is still (and will always be) the most appropriate way for young children to make sense of the world around them.” The battle between “learning” and “play” is not real. Learning and play are one and the same, and it is up to us to educate parents, other teachers, administrators, and funders that young children who are allowed to play freely will be well prepared for school and life.
In the AAS program at Harold Washington College, students practice the skill of “observation of young children” followed by interpretation and reflection in all ten of their early childhood courses. These are skills that take years to hone and are usually complicated to complete simply because their observations take place in the real world, with no two students looking at the same thing at the same time. Fortunately for me, I have been the field instructor in the student teaching practicum for many years, and I have been able to videotape children at play throughout that time. I now have a library of over 200 videos of children at various ages and stages of development, in diverse and interesting settings, and engaging with a variety of other children, adults, and materials. I use these videos as a teaching resource so that we can observe children at play together and through a series of prompts and questions, students can work on these skills in a controlled setting.
In August, 2017 the Governor of Illinois finally signed a bill that makes it illegal to expel a young child from school or child care. Data from 2005, showed that three times as many Illinoisan preschoolers are expelled than their K-12 counterparts and of those expelled, African-American boys are most likely to receive this ultimate punishment.¹
Personal bias is real and should be addressed as such in teacher education programs and through professional development opportunities. One way to begin mitigating the negative affects of personal bias is by encouraging teachers to confront their own biases as well as their own “triggers.” Once they become aware of their own issues, they are better able to recognize them and adjust themselves accordingly. Last semester, one of my students told me that she has an issue with children who say, “No.” She was in a toddler classroom, so this was an exceptionally difficult trigger for her to overcome. After we discussed this, she realized that she was raised in a home where it was unacceptable for children to challenge the adults in any way. Her experiences, over many, many years, were a very powerful instructor. She believed that children who say, “No” are bad children.
After revealing personal biases, we work on objectivity. This takes practice and does not happen overnight. Teachers need copious opportunities to simply observe. They also need opportunities to write down what they “see” in accurate and factual ways, free from subjectivity and opinion. This is a lifelong process. Even people who do this well can slip up once in a while or slide backward over time.
Over the next three weeks, I am going to post some videos of children at play so we can practice observing and looking for opportunities to support children’s early math skills. But, first things first….
What do you see? Be as factual and objective as possible.