Supporting Playful Learning in Elementary Mathematics Classrooms

Previous research has shown that play is an important vehicle for exploration, understanding, and learning because play involves many of the same features as sophisticated disciplinary engagement in mathematics. Despite work documenting the value of play broadly, little research has directly addressed how play could be supported or the value of doing so in mathematics classrooms. The purpose of this project is to investigate play in early elementary math education through a four-year longitudinal study that documents teacher learning and connects teacher practice with in-depth qualitative analyses of children over multiple years.

Full Description: 

Previous research has shown that play is an important vehicle for exploration, understanding, and learning because play involves many of the same features as sophisticated disciplinary engagement in mathematics. Despite work documenting the value of play broadly, little research has directly addressed how play could be supported or the value of doing so in mathematics classrooms. The purpose of this project is to investigate play in early elementary math education through a four-year longitudinal study that documents teacher learning and connects teacher practice with in-depth qualitative analyses of children over multiple years. The researchers will partner with kindergarten teachers for three consecutive years. Teachers will experience professional development where they will engage in play as learners and learn how to design tasks that incorporate play. Subsequently, the teachers will implement strategies in their kindergarten classrooms. The teachers will implement this model for three years, and each year the project will add new kindergarten teachers.

The longitudinal design will also support looking at play in relation to grade level. Teachers will participate in summer professional development as well as grade-specific video clubs where teachers will observe and annotate videos of their practice. Similarly, this project will explore children’s experiences over time by following a cohort of children in classrooms that integrate play for three consecutive years, and in relation to teachers’ experience by contrasting kindergarteners over consecutive years. In so doing, this project will develop three in-depth accounts using qualitative methods: 1) How kindergarten teachers learn to integrate play into their instruction and how their teaching changes over time; 2) How the task of integrating play changes with respect to different grades and different content; and 3) How the relationship that children develop with mathematics might be transformed by experiencing playful mathematics learning over their early elementary careers. In this exploratory analysis, the researchers will employ qualitative methods, including video, video club, and in-class observations and teacher interviews and analytic methods including emergent coding, and coding schemes from research on high-quality mathematics teaching.  The data collected through this project will offer insight into children’s trajectories of participation across the first three years of elementary school and shed light on how children’s relationship with the discipline of mathematics could be transformed.

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