DUTTA stands for ”Studies for developing the teaching of toddlers’ number sense and emerging arithmetic skills”. In this project we investigate the development of number sense and emerging arithmetic skills among the youngest children in preschool (toddlers 1-3-years old). We also develop teaching activities based on theoretical principles to evaluate and analyse how these facilitate the toddlers’ learning of numbers’ meaning and use. The project is conducted in close collaboration between researchers and preschool teachers in Sweden.
Fundamental for mathematics education is how children understand the meaning of numbers and basic arithmetic principles, along with how to facilitate their learning in a meaningful pedagogical practice. This is an educational challenge that specifically concerns toddlers (1-3-yearolds), whose numerical competencies are rarely stimulated in a goal-oriented way, even though research has shown that early interventions and experiences have impact in the long run. We do have knowledge of number sense and emerging arithmetic skills that are expressed by young children, but we also know that not every child develops these skills without guidance. That is, we still lack deeper knowledge of how to facilitate learning av development of number sense and arithmetic skills in the early years, based on empirical research and theory about learning. Particularly, we need deeper insights into how educational interventions can be orchestrated to promote sustainable learning that is meaningful to the children.
The project is carried out in three Swedish preschools, involving 27 toddlers whose learning and development of number sense and arithmetic skills are followed during three semesters. The primary aim of the project is to develop theoretically solid preschool didactics that promotes mathematics learning as to be meaningful. This includes an interest in the participating children’s learning in a longitudinal perspective as well as teaching practice conducted in preschool settings. The toddlers learning is documented through play-based dialogues and observations of interaction in play and games in the teaching activities they take part in. The development of activities is done in close collaboration between preschool teachers and researchers.
Studies in preschools
In the DUTTA project we have developed an instrument characterized as play-based dialogues where children are invited to take part in games and play with a mathematical content. The purpose is to generate data for analysis of children’s number knowledge and ways of experiencing numerical tasks. The games and plays are familiar to the toddlers and included in a story about a cat who is having a party. And when you have a party, you invite friends and share cookies, sort and organize items and play hide-and-seek. Together with the preschool teacher the child is involved in interaction where they express their understanding both in words and actions. These dialogues take place several times during the project, which gives us the opportunity to follow children’s development over a prolonged period of time. In our research, the focus is not on whether children know how to solve a task or not, it is rather how the children experience the task and numbers’ meaning, and how their ways of experiencing numbers change over time.
Designed teaching activities
An important part of the DUTTA project is to develop and evaluate preschool activities’ potential for mathematics teaching with the youngest children. Researchers and preschool teachers plan, conduct, evaluate and re-design activities that are based on common games and play observed to be of interest to the participating preschool children. For example: book reading, singing, motoric play and different kind of games with props. We develop these activities in accordance with variation theory principles, to offer the children best possible opportunities to ’see’ the meaning of numbers and how to make use of numbers in meaningful settings. The re-designed activities are tested several times and evaluated during a longer period. For research purposes we particularly focus on the interaction appearing in these activities and what seems to facilitate the learning of numbers based on children’s responses.
Variation theory is the theoretical framework for interpreting children’s ways of experiencing numbers and arithmetic and for designing and identifying powerful teaching activities. This project will thereby contribute to deeper knowledge about children’s developing number sense and arithmetic skills. This will furthermore contribute to the development of theoretically solid and on empirical research based preschool didactics.
Participants in the project are preschool teachers from three preschools and two researchers: professor Hanna Palmér, Linneaus university and professor Camilla Björklund, University of Gothenburg