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Episode 27: Advocating for Early Math with Carolyn Pfister and Lisa Grant

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

Desiree Harrison 0:00

Looking for some professional learning opportunities this summer? One focused on children ages 0 to 8 years is happening on June 25, 2021 - The Early Math Symposium. Tickets are absolutely free and there is a great lineup of speakers and breakout sessions. Listen to this episode for details about the symposium and all the Early Math Project has to offer.

Desiree Harrison 0:59

Today's guests are part of the Early Math Project where the mission is growing math minds...changing math mindsets. So, welcome to the podcast.

Picture of Carolyn Pfister
Carolyn Pfister

Carolyn Pfister 1:12

Thank you! I'm Carolyn Pfister. I currently work for the California state board of education and I'm involved in the California Early Math Project. I can to this work after having been an elementary teacher and an elementary principal for a number of years. And have been very excited to have the opportunity to work on this endeavor.

Picture of Lisa Grant with trees in background
Lisa Grant

Lisa Grant 1:35

And I'm Lisa Grant. I currently work for the Fresno county superintendent of schools - that's here in California. I used to work for the California department of education and that's where I met Carolyn and got involved with the Early Math Project. And in a previous life I was a secondary math teacher and a math coach.

Desiree Harrison 1:55

Alright. Thank you for those introductions. And so, I have been connected to you through Twitter, where I follow you, I follow the Early Math Project. I love this mission of changing math mindsets. And your website is so incredibly inviting and I just want to get that message out there to educators and parents that this Early Math Project is here, and tell us a little bit about the history of how this Early Math Project came to be, and the vision that the Early Math Project has.

Carolyn Pfister 2:30

I want to first of all say thank you for having us on and it's nice to do this. You're a great friendly face to have a first with a podcast. So thank you.

Well, the Early Math Project really formally became an effort in 2015. It grew out of really call from the National Governor's Association to raise awareness about the importance of early math and to build a group of supporters in the state that would really champion early math. It was a little different because a group of different governmental agencies got together and they all allowed team members to join. We went back and we did some training and we developed a kind of an action plan for California. And out of that grew the idea that we were going to support family and educators, that we would develop free materials that would be readily accessible. We would use common materials; we would never charge a fee for anything.

That we would work tirelessly to reduce math anxiety because we know sadly that it's a reality that some of us have had few math experiences and we don't want that to influence children. And that we would continue to try and build this network of support from California.

Desiree Harrison 3:55

So, I heard you talk about champion and that reminds me're advocating for early math which often times gets overlooked, so I really appreciate that effort. And on top of that, being free, it increases access and it's something that's especially needed now with social media- there's always been some type of math debate I feel - but I think that even more people are becoming involved so these efforts are that much more important. Thank you.

So, thinking about all of these resources that you all are developing, how can parents and educators use them?

Carolyn Pfister 4:36

Well, the Early Math Project has a variety of resources. Many of them are based on actually favorite children's literature stories. And we've done that pretty intentionally because we know that families are often very comfortable with supporting their children's reading efforts. And they take real ownership in helping their little ones learn to read. We also know that some of those same families aren't quite so comfortable in the area of mathematics. So, we've taken an area of comfort, we've created materials like literature reviews, and activities, that are based upon those stories, and the way those work is, for example, if you have a literature it, after you've read the book, it gives you a whole group of suggestions that you can pull out the mathematical content of the story, even if they're not really overt- the mathematical content isn't really overt - you can still fill that out. And, then they're some ideas that are given for conversations that you might have with the child, and questioning strategies that you might use, and opportunities for them to explain their thinking-which is so important. And there are ideas for building the child's mathematical vocabulary, word that a parent of family might not necessarily think to emphasize in reading the story, so it just, kind of, brings those to the forefront. And I think the nice thing about the review is it gives ways to integrate math into the everyday routine- it's not something extra that needs to be done. It can be built into what's happening already. It shows how to make a trip to the park a mathematical activity, or you know, brushing teeth and effort to tell time - there are just ways that-. It supports the family and it helps build their confidence.

Shows them how they can do it easily.

Desiree Harrison 6:27

Yes! Those everyday routines - I think that sometimes we don't even realize how many connections we can make, so intentionally, and explicitly pointing those out is really helpful. And one thing in particular is this, "I'm Ready" Video series, and that's what came to mind when you were talking about the everyday routines and making connections.

So, can you talk a little bit about how that video series - what it is- how that got started and how this video series helps build positive identities for children and competence for parents.

Lisa Grant 7:02

Sure! We just love the "I'm Ready" Videos. It all started when Les Mayfield, who is a Hollywood director, called up the state board of education - is that right Carolyn?

Carolyn Pfister 7:13

Actually, he called the governor's office. And he said he wanted to be involved with helping with math efforts in the state.

Lisa Grant 7:22

He was serving on his local school board, and he had a connection with their math coach. And this is an elementary school - and they created a series of videos that he wasn't quite satisfied with and so he thought, "Well, I'm going to put my Hollywood experience to bare here and create some really fun and funny videos."

They're hilarious! And they're all about 90 seconds long. They're short. They're very informative and they do talk about everyday opportunities for parents to include math in their children's routines.

Desiree Harrison 7:57

They are short, which I really appreciate, especially if - you were talking about reducing math anxiety- if they're parents who have that anxiety, then this isn't going to last very long. And they are extremely engaging. They're extremely clear too, clear in content. but actually the actual video quality, and now that makes sense why that's so crisp and clean. And, it's just fabulous.

Parents and educators just need to watch these because everybody and learn something from this, no matter how much you dig into mathematics content, there's something new that you can learn from that video series. And there's several collections too, right, because you have the different age groups. Because you all focus from 0 t0 8 years, so you chunk that out nicely, to not overwhelm everyone. Because, you know, just living life can sometimes be overwhelming, and trying to be there for your child or students, so it's really nice to have those small bites.

Carolyn Pfister 9:05

Something I hope that people are going to do with those - I was thinking about how I would use those when I was teaching, and I would have loved to have sent just a real short clip home weekly with parents. And say, "Watch this!"

And then see how it unfolds and what you do. How does it change your interactions and where do you go with that? And then share it with your whole learning community. I think there are funs ways that people could use them. I think that people could build whole units around them - it's like, "Let's see what we can do with sorting and patterning and we'll use this video to kick it off."

Desiree Harrison 9:40

Yeah, that is a great suggestion, because then it's coming to the parents and you're inviting them into the learning- just another way to do it. Yeah, I love that idea.

Carolyn Pfister 9:51

Something else that we have on that website, and we're putting more on it, in relation to the upcoming symposium, but there's quite a bit on hosting family math events, or family STEM events. And, if it's not published already, it will be in the next couple of days, there

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