Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

Eastern Researchers Observe Urban Preschool, Publish Study on Math Talk

Published on August 23, 2016

Eastern Researchers Observe Urban Preschool, Publish Study on Math Talk

The use of basic mathematics in the preschool setting has been linked to academic success later in life, according to Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, professor of early childhood education at Eastern Connecticut State University. One strategy to support young children’s math knowledge is ‘math talk’; a practice in which teachers engage children in interesting discussions related to mathematics.

Early this summer, a team of Eastern researchers led by Trawick-Smith published an article about the effects of data-driven meetings during naptime on the math talk of preschool teachers. Accompanied by four of his former students — Heather Oski ’15, Kimberly DePaolis ’15, Kristen Krause ’15 and Alyssa Zebrowski ’15 — the article, “Naptime data meetings to increase the math talk of early care and education providers,” was published in the Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education.

“In this study, I trained teachers serving low-income children to use more and varied math talk during the preschool day,” said Trawick-Smith. “Then I guided four undergraduate students as they traveled to Hartford once per week to code teachers’ math talk in the classroom.”

For 16 weeks, the Eastern students visited a community-based early childcare center in a low-income Hartford neighborhood. For one three-hour session per week, they observed and recorded all instances of math talk during group time, center time and outdoor play.

“Math talk includes asking questions like, ‘which domino has more?’ ‘How many cubes tall is this?’ ‘How many of those little cups would fill up the big cup?’” explained DePaolis. “The challenge is getting the children to think mathematically while authentically engaging them in play.”

The participants of the study were four head teachers, eight assistants and the 66 children they cared for in four classrooms at the community-based center. Separated by two weeks of observation, eight data meetings were conducted by Trawick-Smith during naptime — the most available time of the day for the care providers.

The project began with an initial assessment of the children’s math skills. Six months after the observations and meetings, the children’s math skills were reassessed. “These informal, naptime meetings led to increases in providers’ math talk,” said Trawick-Smith. “These increases were highly associated with growth in math learning: children who were exposed to more math talk showed greater math learning from pre-test to post-test.”

“We also found that assistants and helpers do a lot of these math talk interactions,” said DePaolis, “as head teachers are often busy assessing or preparing or meeting with students one-on-one. However, in this setting, assistants don’t receive much professional development. But their role in the classroom is so underrated; they do a lot of the heavy lifting.”

“These findings emphasize the need for professional development that is responsive to the needs of a wide variety of educators,” said Oski, “especially those in lower-income areas.” Trawick-Smith added, “Brief meetings with providers during naptime, which can be facilitated by a director, curriculum coordinator or coach, and driven by data, can enhance specific teacher behaviors.”

This same group of researchers has worked together on other projects, most notably on Eastern’s annual TIMPANI study — Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination.

“Working on projects such as these has given me a chance to participate in meaningful research that affects the way teachers do their job,” said Oski, who is now a lead preschool teacher at Eastern’s Child and Family Development Resource Center. “Working with a team and figuring out the logistics of conducting research has helped me to become a better problem solver and opened my eyes to the importance of research.”

DaPaolis is now a third-grade teacher in Newington. “These undergraduate experiences are invaluable. So much of teacher training is theory and pedagogy and reading. Having a relationship with a professor who involves you in research gives you a different perspective. Research has helped me understand why.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: Early Childhood