Young children are instinctive and capable mathematical thinkers
Young minds, Big maths began as a collaboration between Houghton Community Nursery School (a state maintained nursery school near Sunderland) and the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Durham University. Staff at the nursery reached out to the mathematicians to help them to broaden and deepen their approach to maths. The project is research-based, but also focussed on providing high quality professional development for early years staff. Starting September 2022 there are now 10 more local early years settings involved in the project.
Each half term, staff from the EY settings meet with mathematicians to discuss the ideas the children have been exploring and the sorts of activities that have been taking place. The mathematicians suggest links that can be made to mathematics, or ways to extend mathematical explorations or make mathematical links between topics. The project is child-led, with the content of the meetings between EY staff and academics determined by the children’s interests and chosen directions. The EY educators use the meeting to inform their planning and interactions with the children as explorations continue. The success of the project depends heavily on the skill of the EY staff in bringing mathematical ideas to the children in their setting in an engaging way, appropriate to each child. As the project grows, staff at Houghton Community Nursery School are able to support new EY staff as they seek to implement mathematical ideas from the meetings in their own settings.
This enables the children to explore deep mathematical ideas thoroughly in a child-led way that is engaging and accessible, by focussing on their mathematical thinking that is already taking place. Using frameworks such as the van Hiele levels of geometric thinking we can highlight elements of the children’s discussions or explorations, for example, considering the necessary and sufficient properties of a particular shape.
An ongoing exploration of circles led children to explore ideas such as:
Two separate themes of angles and ramps merged into a broad area of investigation:
Sophy Darwin, Sam Fearn, Rachel Oughton, Norbert Peyerimhoff, Adam Townsend (Department of Mathematical Sciences, Durham University)David Bolden, Dan Wheadon (School of Education, Durham University)
Sarah Dixon-Jones, Kathryn Nichols, Mrita Mistry (Houghton Community Nursery School)
Ann Dowker (University of Oxford)
Sue Gifford (University of Roehampton)
Catherine Gripton (University of Nottingham)
Helen Williams (Independent Educational Consultant)
Rachel Oughton, Kathryn Nichols, David S Bolden, Sarah Dixon-Jones, Sam Fearn, Sophia Darwin, Mrita Mistry, Norbert Peyerimhoff & Adam Townsend (2022) Developing ‘deep mathematical thinking’ in geometry with 3- and 4-year-olds: a collaborative study between early years teachers and university-based mathematicians, Mathematical Thinking and Learning, DOI: 10.1080/10986065.2022.2119497
We are in the process of applying for funding to expand Young Minds, Big Maths to other universities and nearby EY settings, and to investigate the effectiveness of this method of CPD on children and staff.