Perceptions of mathematics in preschool: "-Now we have a way of talking about the mathematics that we can work with"

Abstract: The overarching question for this thesis is what is preschool mathematics? This question is examined using different points of views or different perspectives such as the children’s, the preschool teachers and the researchers. The foundation for this thesis is seven articles, two single author articles and five co-authored articles. The project described in this thesis developed out of my research interest and discussions in the research group of which I have been part.In the first article we use video recording to capture the typical situations that children are engaged in when they are at preschool. The videos were analysed in order to classify the mathematics in evidence according to Bishop’s six mathematical activities. This research activity raised the issue of whose perspective- the researcher, the preschool teacher or the children - was important when discussing what is preschool mathematics? The second article discusses the issue of whose perspective in more detail and introduces a methodological tool, the didaktic space to differentiate between the perspectives of the preschool teacher and children as identified by the researcher. The didaktic space makes it possible to simultaneously see the different perspectives separately but also together so the impact of the teacher and the children on the dynamic nature of the situation can be described. In the third article I investigate preschool teachers’ and child care staff’s (barnskötare) perception of mathematics in preschool using data from related professional development courses. The stories that the preschool teachers and childcare staff related as part of a final assignment in the courses were categorised using Bishop’s six mathematical activities. The result from this study shows that the perceptions of preschool teachers are not just on Counting, as is reported in earlier research, but on almost all of the six mathematical activities except for Playing. These results from the preschool teachers are then compared with the results from childcare staff. The childcare staff had more stories involving Counting but they also had more stories connected to Playing. This result led to the investigation discussed in the next article (article four) which was a theoretical discussion on Playing as a mathematical activity, with an empirical example used to highlight some of the issues. In this article, we compare different perspectives to identify the common features of mathematical play. The empirical example came from a video of children in a preschool class engaging in free play and allowed an identification of the mathematics which could be used by children when there is no adult present. In article five, I combine the discussions from the previous articles and focuses on why preschool teachers struggle to identify Playing as a mathematical activity in children’s interactions in preschools. The data come from a large professional development programme in which the preschool teachers read and discussed Playing as a mathematical activity. The results of the analysis suggest that the way that play is discussed as a basis for learning in the Swedish preschool curriculum could contribute to teachers having a professional blind spot in regard to Playing as a mathematical activity. Article six and seven provide insights into children’s perspectives about mathematics in preschools. The data used in these articles comes from the same project as the video used in article four recorded in a preschool class. The data from preschool class, described as the bridge between preschool and school in Swedish educational circles, allows the pedagogy used in preschools to be contrasted with that used in school. In article six we focus on the mathematical inclusion or exclusion that mathematical play provides when there is an adult present.In article seven we also focus on the mathematical inclusion or exclusion but now with comparing the independent play situation from article four with the teacher led situation in article six. The theoretical framework for article six and seven is Bernstein’s vertical and horizontal discourse. This change of theories was a response to the questions about how some children can become mathematically excluded which are issues of a socio-political nature.These different perceptions, children, teacher, researcher, and perspectives, descriptive, theoretical and socio-political, provide a deeper understanding of what preschool mathematics is, how it could be conceptualised and how it includes or excludes children from opportunities to learn. As a consequence of this extended investigation, it can be said in the words of one of the preschool teachers, “now we have a way of talking about the mathematics that we can work with”.

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