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Mathematics and Transition to School: International Perspectives

Bob Perry, Amy MacDonald, and Ann Gervasoni, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Early Mathematics Learning and Development
[Reviewed by
Peter T. Olszewski
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In the edited book Mathematics and Transition to School, Bob Perry, Amy MacDonald, and Ann Gervasoni present various international viewpoints on two important aspects of every child’s life: learning mathematics and starting primary or elementary school. The editors argue that there is insufficient attention given in this area of research; through this book, 34 diverse perspectives are brought to the forefront. The book is the first of a series of Springer books on Early Mathematics Learning and Development. As mentioned in the Preface, “The Early Mathematics Learning and Development series provides a platform for international educators and researchers to bring together various perspectives on what needs reforming and how such reforms might best be implemented.” There are papers addressing opportunities in the home, mathematical intervention programs for early childhood educators, ways in which educators might identify the nature of young children’s mathematical strengths, and ways in which partnerships may be formed between schools and parents.

Chapter 1 is by the three editors, who talk about the early years of brain development and the growing international interest on how children learn mathematics in the early stages of life. This chapter sets the stage as to what to expect the book to be: a collection of perspectives from various countries, spanning from the United States to China, with authors describing how their students transition to school and learn mathematics.

There are 19 chapters divided into three major parts:

I. The Mathematics Young Children Bring to the First Year of School,

II. Partnerships that Support Children’s Mathematics during the Transition to School: Perceptions, Barriers, and Opportunities, and

III. Informal and Formal Mathematics and the Transition to School.

Below are some of the chapters I found to be eye-opening. Other readers may well have different lists!

  • Chapter 6: Let’s Count: Early Childhood Educators and Families Working in Partnership to Support Young Children’s Transition in Mathematics Education, by Amy MacDonald, outlines a program designed by The Smith Family, researchers from Charles Sturt University, and the Australian Catholic University. The goal was to help parents help their children learn and understand mathematics. The results of Let’s Count are very positive and encouraging to read. The positive responses from parents on pages 94–99 prove this program is effective in Australia and could be easily implemented elsewhere.
  • Chapter 12: The Culture of the Mathematics Classroom During the First School Years in Finland and Sweden, by Kirsti Hemmi and Andreas Ryve, presents a comparative study on teacher education and classroom practices for the first school grades in the two countries. Each country has very different viewpoints in terms of “mathematics classroom cultures.” In Finland, children are asked to check their mistakes and are motivated to learn in small portions so as to gain the larger picture of the concepts. In Sweden, viewing real-life situations is commonplace in the classroom. Some Swedish teachers, however, are bothered by the use of real-life examples for fear of not being able to relate mathematical concepts to the applications. What was also interesting to learn about the prospective teachers in Sweden was the desire to have “concrete methods for teaching.” I was very impressed to read about how Finnish teachers prepare their lessons with a goal to always make their students make connections to applications, while the Swedish are more spontaneously doing the same thing.
  • Chapter 13: A New Zealand Perspective: Mathematical Progressions from Early Childhood to School Through a Child Centred Curriculum, by Shiree Lee and Gregor Lomas, discusses the approach used in early childhood and with infants to teach mathematics through the use of play. The chapter talks about two problems that New Zealand early childhood teachers face: providing a play-based mathematics curriculum that builds on children’s interests and aligning that with the formal learning requirements of the New Zealand Curriculum Framework. This is a very interesting chapter for all mathematics education curriculum instructors, as there always seems to be a shift in curriculums. This has been even more common in the last five years, as we are all trying to have the best curricula for our 21st century students.
  • Chapter 15: Preschool Mathematics Learning and School Transition in Hong Kong, by Sharon Sui Ngan Ng and Jin Sun, discusses the Chinese number naming system and the overall cultural reasons why Chinese students perform better than their Western peers. As Ng points out on page 244, some teachers use commercial learning packages to teach their students. Teachers’ choice of mathematical concepts depends heavily, however, on the perceived expectations of the parents. In short, Chinese cultural aspirations towards academic success play an important role in accounting for why Hong Kong preschool children excel in learning numbers and operation concepts.
  • Chapter 17: Mathematical Conversations that Challenge Children’s Thinking, by Jill Cheeseman, points out that working with peers is an important skill in exchanging ideas and making connections. The prime example presented in this chapter is a conversation among a group of Cheeseman’s students. Isabella’s work with other classmates work is outlined on pages 284–287. Isabella is challenged to explain her work, which not only helps her classmates to learn the material, but also helps her calculate solutions mentally and extend her skills through more complex problems. These skills must be emphasized in the classroom to help our students communicate their ideas in precise mathematical language.

This book offers a great selection of viewpoints on how early childhood students enter into school and the various techniques used to teach and learn mathematics. It shows how each country implements these practices into their curriculum.

I believe we can all learn from these different perspectives. I often think we don’t have enough conversations with other instructors from different cultures. This book motivated me to look further into different pedagogical practices from around the globe. In addition, I also believe these ideas can be extended to older students, especially to be used for review after the summer months of break from schooling, or for transitioning to the next grade level. I see this book being read and appreciated by a wide variety of teachers and administrators.

Peter Olszewski is a Mathematics Lecturer at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, an editor for Larson Texts, Inc. in Erie, PA, and is the 362nd Pennsylvania Alpha Beta Chapter Advisor of Pi Mu Epsilon. He can be reached at Outside of teaching and textbook editing, he enjoys playing golf, playing guitar, reading, gardening, traveling, and painting landscapes.