Simple preschool games boost math scores | Charles Bleiker | TEDxFIU


Translator: Mirjana Čutura
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Tonight, I’m going to talk
about early childhood math. Normally, when I say that,
I can clear a room in about two seconds. (Laughter) So, hopefully, you’ll still be around
when I’m finished with my talk. I’m an early-childhood educator. That’s not something you hear
coming out of the mouth of too many men. This is not something that I dreamed
of becoming when I was a kid. If you can imagine some boys
hanging out on a playground: “Hey, Tom. What do you want
to become when you grow up?” “Firefighter.” “Steve, how about you?” “Astronaut.” “Chuck?” “Preschool teacher.” (Laughter) One fateful day, I was 22 years old, a senior in college,
short of money as always, and I was doing some odd jobs for a woman
who owned a childcare center. She happened to be short
a teacher that day, and she needed to go make
snack for the kids, and snack’s very important to little kids. (Laughter) So, she asked, “Chuck,
can you watch the kids?” So, I find myself standing
in the middle of a room, surrounded by these strange creatures. (Laughter) And I’m terrified because I haven’t been
around young kids before. And some of them were even bold enough
to come up and speak to me. (Laughter) Argh. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak toddler. (Laughter) It’s a real language, by the way. “I’ll go see what’s taking
your teacher so long.” Well, I survived my day,
and I actually had fun. And I did enough that the owner asked me
if I wanted to come work for her. The standards back then were so low. (Laughter) I wouldn’t have hired myself. (Laughter) I started in the toddler room. I read “Goodnight Moon” a bazillion times. (Laughter) I sang “The Wheels on the Bus” (Laughter) and (Singing) “Five Little Monkeys
Jumping on the Bed” badly. I watched as they struggled
with language, friendship, and standing on one leg. These little humans amazed me. They could experience
the depths of sadness – usually when their moms left,
and they were crying all around me – or the heights of joy just chasing
each other around the playground in only a few short minutes. It’s like they could live several lives
in the span of a single day. But what really amazed me
about these children was how they thought. Now, young children are smart. We all know that. Maybe too smart. Have you ever seen a parent
in Toys “R” Us, running around frantically, looking for the last Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtle action figure or the Princess Elsa figurine? (Laughter) Or they’re booking the Disney cruise
for the “family” vacation? (Laughter) So, we all know who’s in charge. (Laughter) And it ain’t us. (Laughter) I’ve always felt that we do not take full advantage
of young children’s intelligence. We talk down to them. We do too much for them. And we give them challenges
that are too easily solved. I had a parent come to me. She said, “Can you believe little Jimmy just pushed that chair
over to the counter, and he hopped up there
and ate all those cookies?” And I go, “Sounds like
little Jimmy to me.” (Laughter) “And while he was out there, why didn’t you ask him
to reprogram that microwave clock?” In my career as an academic
and a researcher, I’ve always looked for ways
to better educate young children, especially at-risk children. And for poor children, the news is bad. Forty percent will not graduate
from high school. Of those that do, only a third
will go on to college. And of those that go on to college, only about a half will ever end up
with a college degree. And at each step of the way,
math is the likely culprit. But math failure
doesn’t begin in high school. It begins in preschool. If you don’t understand number, you’re not going to be able
to do simple operations. Can’t do simple operations? Forget about fractions. Can’t do fractions? Algebra’s just out of your league. It’s as if these children
show up at the airport all excited about a big trip, but some of them don’t have tickets,
so they don’t get by the check-in counter. Those that have tickets, they get
in that long, windy security line. But some of them have aerosol cans
or big bottles of shampoo, so they don’t get through security. The ones that do
line up to board the plane, but at the last minute, an official comes up and tells them
the flight is overbooked. For most of these children,
they will never fly. My graduate students and I
set out to remove some of these barriers, these math barriers. Think of us as kind of like
math travel agents. The curriculum we developed, NumberWays, consists of 15 games taught for 15 minutes about once a week for several months. Why 15? Because 15 was a number
that gave noticeable results, and it was also something that we felt
was doable for parents and teachers. The games teach four
essential components of number. Here’s our number compass. It helps kids know where they’re going. We teach them about number naming,
about number equating, about number writing,
and about number sequence. Now, this curriculum
has been implemented and tested for the last two years at a VPK Center in Little Havana here in Miami. The kids are Hispanic. First language is likely to be Spanish. And they’re from
high-poverty neighborhoods. These are children
that we felt could most benefit from a high-quality,
early-math curriculum. These children are also our future. Let’s meet some of them. This is Danny. Danny thinks he’s helping
these little frogs find their way home to their mother. But what he’s really doing
is he’s learning how to count to 30. This is Alejandro. Alejandro thinks that he’s making
a necklace out of beads. But what he’s really doing is he’s learning how to represent
number in multiple forms. This is Sofia. (Video) Man: One, two, three. Yay! Charles Bleiker: Sofia thinks
that she’s saving Kitty from the evil Mr. Bear. (Laughter) But what she’s really doing
is she’s learning to count forwards and backwards. For such a modest intervention – 15 sessions, 15 games, 15 minutes each – the results have been
nothing less than amazing. The children who played the games
scored, on average, 50 percent greater than a matched controlled group
that had everything else except for that – we estimate six months
of early math games. That’s huge. Why does this work? Well, we think it works for four reasons. One: it focuses on the essential
components of number, that is taught through games – the most powerful and natural way
that young children learn. It allows for targeted feedback. We know what the kids need to work on. And it involves repetitions. They learn these concepts
over and over again until they become automatic. Now, we developed NumberWays to be easy enough that parents
and teachers and grandparents and big brothers and sisters
could use it anywhere. It costs little or nothing – with objects from around the house
or purchased from the local dollar store. And by playing number games
with young children, they get big gains in math readiness. Math in the 21st century is, in many ways, the new literacy. And number is its alphabet. For Danny, Alejandro, Sofia,
and many more like them, the passport to their future
will be stamped in numbers. If they can master math,
forget about boarding a plane. They can pilot their own
rocket ship to the Moon. Now, I discovered an interesting thing when I started studying
early childhood math – that early math scores predict
not only later achievement in math, but also in lots of other areas as well. When you teach children math, what you’re really doing
is you’re teaching them how to think. Thank you. (Applause)

8 thoughts on “Simple preschool games boost math scores | Charles Bleiker | TEDxFIU”

  1. I am reposting this TEDx talk because of a request for more information about the origins of the NumberWays project. Please share with others. Thanks.

  2. Honestly, you should see what Montessori, Reggia Emilia and Waldorf are doing. What you show us has been done way better ever since these and other schools have been around for somany years.

  3. Excellent presentation Dr. Bleiker! The power of play is well articulated as the arena in which children's semiotic functioning flourishes to construct mathematical knowledge.

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