Campus News

Professor studies link between formal, informal math learning

Can the way children learn mathematics at home and in their communities help elementary school teachers be more effective in teaching them in the classroom?

Education professor Amy Noelle Parks thinks so and is working on an ethnographic study of a group of children in Taliaferro County’s public schools as they move from pre-school to first grade to find out how.

Parks, an assistant professor in the College of Education’s department of elementary and social studies ­education, is now completing the pilot year of the five-year project, funded by a $521,972 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Taliaferro County’s public schools were chosen because they provide the opportunity to learn more about mathematical learning in rural contexts, which are seldom studied in mathematics education research, said Parks. The majority of student participants will be African-American children from low-income families.

“This research is important because poor and minority children have often not been included in studies of young children’s mathematical learning,” said Parks. “As a result, our understandings often do not reflect their ways of knowing. If we develop a better understanding of this, it is likely that teachers can draw on this knowledge to do a better job of teaching math in the primary grades.”

In addition to examining the ways in which the children’s thinking and participation in mathematics change as they move into increasingly formal classroom settings, the study explores their thinking in formal interviews with researchers and in home and community settings with their parents.

The study will follow 20 students over three years.