How important are early math skills? More important than some might guess.

When compared to other domains such as reading and attention, math ability is the biggest predictor of later academic success in third and fifth grade. Researchers have found that children who are successful in early math literacy skill attainment are more likely to graduate from high school than children who have persistent problems in attaining these skills. Math achievement in adolescence is predictive of later labor market success — thus, early math matters.

The UIC College of Education’s Math at Home grant project is seeking to bolster early childhood mathematics education across the State of Illinois through the launch of Early Math Matters, a free online professional development series for Illinois teachers and caregivers of children ages 0-5. This eight-course online curriculum introduces teachers and caregivers to mathematical concepts such as math literacy, number sense, patterns, geometry, measurement, data collection and math processes and builds skills in communicating these concepts to early learners.

“We are surprised and pleased by the number of people who have taken the courses,” said Kathleen Sheridan, PhD, associate professor of educational psychology and director of the Math at Home project. “This type of online professional development appears to be accessible for providers and caregivers, and based on our course evaluations, the course participants are actually using the information they learned in the courses by implementing the concepts and ideas in their classrooms”

Math at Home, funded through a grant by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Foundation, is a free access online professional development center to help family home care providers, teachers and parents develop early math skills in children. The Early Math Matters courses are an extension of the Math at Home website and provides an opportunity for early childhood caregivers to earn the Illinois Gateways to Opportunity Registry training hours and CPDU’s. In less than a 2-month period, more than 500 educators have completed the first course, and more than 200 have completed all eight courses.

The eight courses lead teachers and caregivers through an immersive mathematics conceptual review, building skills in five major content areas for math. Courses focus on number sense and counting principles, patterns and sequencing, shapes and spaces, measuring, data collection and analysis, math processes and setting up math-rich environments.

Math at Home’s professional development opportunities are aimed at improving the percentage rate of Illinois schoolchildren proficient in math at grade level, currently about 33 percent. Illinois children trail their peers nationwide (about 35 percent) and peers worldwide, ranging from 58-65 percent proficiency in nations such as Switzerland, Japan and Korea.

Sheridan says early anecdotal evidence from course evaluations suggests teachers and caregivers are ramping up the use of mathematics vocabulary with children, from simple terms such as more than or less than ranging to more sophisticated math language, such as symmetry, addition and subtraction.

Sheridan says the Math at Home program is looking to expand beyond Illinois to offer teacher and caregiver online training across the country.

Learn more about the program at: mathathome.org

By Robert Schroeder
rschroe9@uic.edu