"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, May 27, 2013

Early Childhood Education in Math and Science

Like other institutions of higher learning in the United States, Georgetown University has a child daycare - preschool program on campus. The challenge, of course, is availability of slots. Early childhood programs are in great demand that high quality day care centers are usually full and the waiting list is especially long. The high subscription for these services come from the fact that both parents are usually working. With the relatively small size of US families, daycare centers also provide a social setting for young children who may not have siblings. Good early childhood programs usually incorporate activities commonly regarded as interesting to young minds and hands like arts, crafts and music. These are certainly beyond mere baby-sitting. Incorporating math and science into these programs may appear challenging, but is certainly feasible.

Lillian Mongeau at EdSource notes in "Pasadena center at forefront of early math programs for young children" that while preschool programs in the US are still fnding ways to integrate early math and science in their programs, the Children's Center at Caltech, established forty years ago, has long managed to engage children as early as six months old in math and science activities. One important aspect in this program is that the integration is clear. Children are indeed introduced to math and science. Children and parents are made aware that they are seeing math and science at work. This is important as it gives both children and parents correct notions of what math and science really represent. These disciplines are as integrated in human lives as arts and music. Math and science are not confined to geeky individuals wearing white laboratory coats who seem to be doing things only they can understand. The early integration plus the awareness brings both math and science to the minds of young children and their parents as essential human endeavors. It is not something mystical or magical, but in fact ingrained in our humanity.

Having math and science in preschool education does not require expensive laboratories. The following is a photograph of the science laboratory inside the Children's Center at Caltech:

Above photo downloaded from Children's Center at Caltech
What it demands, however, are teachers who have had training in early math and science instruction. It requires teachers who in fact have a healthy and favorable impression of both math and science. Training of preschool or kindergarten teachers along these lines is necessary. Hence, the difficulty of finding available slots in these high quality preschool programs is not due to challenges in infrastructure or physical resources, but in the lack of personnel who are trained and qualified to teach young children math and science. In "Pasadena center at forefront of early math programs for young children", Lillian Mongeau writes:

...While basic mathematical ideas like counting and shapes are often part of preschool instruction, far more time is spent on literacy skills, researchers have found. A study of programs in North Carolina and Tennessee found that half-day preschools spent only five minutes a day on math, compared to nearly 20 minutes on reading. 
The idea at The Children’s Center is that the scientific method – ask a question, guess an answer, experiment, observe, conclude – provides the best basis for learning any topic, including math. The center’s director, Susan Wood, designed the curriculum with a focus on allowing young children to predict how something will work, test their idea and observe the result as a part of nearly every activity....
The following is a photo tour of the Children's Center at CalTech:



Lillian Mongeau correctly identifies what sets aside the program at Caltech from other preschool programs:
...Such open-ended questioning – encouraging students to puzzle through problems – is considered a best practice among early childhood experts, but the method is not always in evidence in California’s many preschool classrooms. Part of that may be that many teachers have less training and aren’t as well compensated as those Wood employs. She requires and provides ongoing professional training for her lead and assistant teachers and asks all her teachers, even assistant teachers, to hold or be working toward a child development permit, the state’s minimum requirement for lead teachers. She also pays them on a sliding scale based on experience and qualifications that ranges from just under $40,000 to nearly $50,000 annually. That’s more than twice what a Head Start teacher in the state can expect to make....
The teachers make the difference....






No comments:

Post a Comment