Purdue University Graduate School
Making Math Real - Early Childhood Teachers' Experiences Learning and Teaching 2021.8.3.pdf (2.01 MB)


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posted on 2021-08-04, 14:53 authored by Sue Ellen RichardsonSue Ellen Richardson

Early childhood teachers pursuing associate degrees often repeated the college algebra course, demanding, “Why do we have to take this? We don’t teach algebra!” Expectations for their training were not well-aligned with their mathematics preparation or teaching work. I have taught the mathematics courses and young children and have worked for an early childhood practice, policy, and research agency. I wanted to learn about these teachers’ experiences as mathematics learners and teachers, with a goal to share the complex nature of their work with teacher educators and other stakeholders to identify better avenues for their mathematics training. I explored the questions: (1) What role, if any, do mathematical learning experiences play in early childhood teachers’ mathematics teaching practice? (2) In what ways do their voices contribute to the professional dialogue regarding teaching mathematics with young children?

Dewey’s (1938/1998) experience construct provided lenses to examine early childhood teachers’ experiences learning and teaching mathematics. Continuity, interaction, social control, freedom, purpose, and subject matter provided insights and situated teachers’ experiences within a disparate patchwork of settings and policies. Two family childcare providers participated in this narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly) through an interview on their experiences learning and teaching mathematics and three classroom observations. After analyzing data for Dewey’s (1938/1998) experience constructs, I used narrative analysis (Polkinghorne, 1995) and teaching images (Clandinin, 1985) to write an emplotted narrative for each teacher, Josie and Patsy.

Josie told a turning point story (Drake, 2006) of making mathematics “real,” influencing her mathematics teaching practice as she integrated “real” mathematics into everyday activities. Patsy’s appreciation for mathematics and building was seen in her story of a child explaining he used the wide blocks for his base, elaborating, “He's telling me HOW he's building.” While Josie and Patsy had few opportunities to learn about teaching mathematics with young children, they were eager to learn. I propose a training for early childhood teachers, iteratively working as a group to investigate a personal mathematics teaching puzzle or celebration, building on their mathematical personal practical knowledge. Adding my own story to those of the teachers, like Josie’s and Patsy’s, of our work together, will add to my understanding and development of my practice as a curriculum maker (Clandinin & Connelly, 1992), as early childhood teachers’ voices contribute to the professional dialogue about teaching mathematics with young children.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Curriculum and Instruction

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Laura Bofferding

Additional Committee Member 2

Signe Kastberg

Additional Committee Member 3

Jake Burdick

Additional Committee Member 4

Elizabeth Schlesinger-Devlin