This project centred on supporting learners within nursery to transfer ‘mathematical skills to play and classroom activities’ (Welsh Government, 2015a, p.29). When observed within my setting, nursery learners tended to gravitate towards forms of play that were not conducive to improving their skills in Mathematical Development (MD). There was however a common thread to their habits within play; the majority of learners when given the choice gravitated towards block play activities. The intervention therefore sought to answer the following research questions:
- How can the block play area be best utilised in order to engage learners so that they are intrinsically motivated to use the area independently and collaboratively with peers?
- How can the block play area support children’s understanding of early counting principles?
- How can the block play area support the development of mathematical language both in relation to number and non-numerical topics such as shape?
The four mathematical skills focused upon within the block play activities were:
- Learners can count reliably to five objects
- Learners can recognise numbers 0 to 5 and relate a number 0 to 5 to a respective quantity (cardinal principle)
- Learners can use and build with 3D shapes within play based activities
- Learners can use everyday and mathematical language to talk about their own ideas and choices
(Welsh Government, 2015a)
The intervention itself spanned three weeks, with three sessions per week and was delivered to the whole nursery cohort. However for the purposes of data collection to ensure it was a realistic task yet reflective of the cohort as a whole, a sample group of three boys and three girls of mixed ability was selected. It is important to note that throughout, the names of the learners within the sample group have been removed to ensure participant anonymity. They have however been replaced with alternatives to retain the sense that these learners are individuals with thoughts and feelings, rather than simply sources of data. Data was collected via a mixed methods approach encompassing observations, mosaic approach, semi-structured interviews with the learners and associated staff and reflections in my journals. The mosaic approach was employed as a multi-method approach designed to improve the process of gaining the perspectives of young children. It is a way of listening that acknowledges ‘children and adults as co-constructors of meaning. It is an integrated approach which combines the visual and the verbal’ (Clark and Moss, 2001, p.1).
The findings showed that by beginning the lesson planning process with the learners’ interests at its core and then incorporating the numerical and language skills around them (rather than the other way around) improvement in engagement levels was vast. Learners displayed an intrinsic motivation to complete their mathematical tasks independent of adult guidance. Furthermore they engaged in collaborative play and more proficient learners took on the role of ‘teacher’ with their peers. The learners’ enthusiasm in their creations resulted in more discussion using everyday and mathematical language with their peers. The same impact on their use of language was noted within their collaborative play. Furthermore, learners’ ability to apply early counting principles outlined by Gelman and Gallistel (1978) including the one-one principle, the stable order principle and the cardinal principle all showed improvement.
In conclusion, the skills based curriculum within which we teach provides an opportunity to develop lessons and activities centred on what and how learners want to learn. Using content and context based around learners’ interests as a vehicle for skill acquisition proved to be a powerful tool. Findings from my intervention formed part of a presentation delivered to the whole staff concerned with sharing good practice for wider adoption in other year groups.