Camilla Björklund

Symposia: Possible - Desirable - Plausible. Different contexts and different perspectives in research on preschool mathematics

The initiative regards the organisation of the symposium "Possible - Desirable - Plausible. Different contexts and different perspectives in research on preschool mathematics " in Gothenburg, April 16, 2015. The symposium is a reaction against the lack of research forums focusing on the teaching and learning of mathematics in preschool. Invited keynote speakers are Professor Clements and Professor Sarama, University of Denver, USA; Professor Meaney, Malmö University, Sweden/University of Bergen, Norway; and försteamanuensis Lie Reikerås, University of Stavanger, Norway. The aim is partly to make visible different perspectives dominating the scientific field and, partly to initiate new collaborations between Swedish and international researchers. To accomplish this, sessions for dialogues will be held where theories, perspectives, cultures, practices and traditions are to be discussion. The symposium is aimed at researchers, teacher educators, graduate students and others working with research and development of mathematics teaching and learning in preschool. The intention with the mixed target group is to create dialogues and open to new perspectives, international networks and collaboration. Finally, the symposium will result in a special issue in a peer-reviewed Nordic Mathematics education journal.

The symposium stems from a reaction to the lack of arenas for discussions about mathematics learning and teaching in preschool. The aim of the symposium was partly to highlight the research and perspectives dominating the scientific field of knowledge and partly to initiate collaboration between national and international researchers. Further, we aimed towards creating opportunities and conditions for active dialogues where theories, perspectives, cultures, practices and traditions are highlighted and made object for discussion. The aim with the symposium was in summary to bring together national and international researchers and educators in order to discuss what is considered possible, desirable and plausible when it comes to mathematics education with preschool children. Three invited head-speakers represented different perspectives in research and different cultures of early mathematics learning and teaching. In this way, different ways of organizing for mathematics learning was emphasized, where culture, knowledge perspectives and child perspectives made the framework for what and how children are provided with opportunities to learn.

The different research traditions and theoretical perspectives that the participants represented share consensus about children's general interest in and abilities to become involved in mathematical activities, but in particular that resources spent on the youngest children in their early ages have effects in the long run. On the other hand, there are different opinions how these resources should be organized and shaped to be most efficient. The differences in national preconditions and goals, in addition to the different research approaches and theoretical frameworks, emphasizes the multiple conceptions about what is possible, desirable and plausible in preschool mathematics education. These differences were verbalized, conceptualized, compared and discussed during the symposium, which contributed to shared experiences, collective learning and initiated new questions at issue and possible future collaboration.

The symposium was held in April 16, 2015 in collaboration between Hanna Palmér (Linnaeus University) and Camilla Björklund (University of Gothenburg). The ambition was to gather those who actively do research, teach and work with younger children's mathematics learning in pedagogical practices. The symposium was directed towards an international audience and attracted 42 participants, including the invited speakers, mainly from Sweden and Norway. The symposium was held during a whole day (9 am to 5 pm and dinner buffé), where the three main lectures were followed by small-group discussions that deepened the themes that the lectures highlighted and could be related to the participants' own practice and experiences. This facilitated the purpose to conceptualize the theoretical perspectives and cultural conditions for children's mathematics learning.

The main speakers presented both smaller studies and large-scale projects with longitudinal designs from Sweden, Norway and USA, studies that have raised international interest and could through the symposium be discussed both methodologically, theoretically and pedagogically. Associate Professor Elin Lie Reikerås (University of Stavanger) presented parts of the Stavanger-project, a screening project of toddlers' mathematical competence in Norwegian kindergarten, where 1000 children are followed from age 2½ until they are ten years old, focusing on language, mathematics, physical development and social competence. Professor Douglas Clements and Professor Julie Sarama (University of Denver) presented the large-scale project Building Blocks, an intervention program for mathematical development among preschool children and in particular socioeconomically vulnerable children. They commit several government funded development and research projects and have participated in the National Research Council's Committee on Early Mathematics, which has had impact also on Swedish mathematics education and teacher education for preschool practice. The third speaker, Professor Tamsin Meaney (Bergen University College) highlighted in contrast to the other quantitative studies a selection from a smaller qualitative study that emphasized the children's perspectives and daily life events to a higher extent. Meaney's perspective especially bring for how children may be involved in mathematics, at home and in preschool, and how teachers may use children's play as the departuring point for mathematics learning. All three lectures contributed to constructive dialogues in the small groups where researchers, teacher educators, mathematics developers from the municipalities and preschool teachers participated on equal terms. These meetings were one of the main goals and were successful, according to the participants' verbal evaluation.

The different and similar experiences and pedagogical knowledge gained from the symposium has been collected and published for the scientific and teacher community in a special issue in the journal NOMAD - Nordisk Matematik Didaktik (Nordic mathematics didactics in December 2016. Articles written by the symposium participants focusing on the younger children's mathematics education in preschool were published after peer-review in accordance with the journal's standards. The aim of NOMAD is to contribute to the development of Nordic mathematics teacher education and mathematics education on all school levels and further to stimulate, support and educate Nordic researchers and students with an interest for mathematics didactics and related fields of knowledge. Up until today there are limited numbers of articles published in NOMAD focusing on early mathematics education or younger children's mathematics learning, whereas the special issue will be important for making current research on early mathematics public. The special issue aims to strengthen this field of knowledge and publication about didactic issues about young children and in particular mathematics in preschool - a neglected knowledge area within mathematics education research. The articles reflect the content and aim of the symposium, what is considered possible, desirable and plausible when it comes to early mathematics education and young children's mathematics learning.

The participants of the symposium appreciated the content of the program and the organization, which was confirmed by requests for annual symposia. An initiative to start a Nordic network for mathematics didactics in preschool has been raised by Norwegian and Swedish researchers, which may very well be interpreted as a positive assessment of the symposium's aim to initiate new international collaboration.


Articles published in a Special Issue in Nordic Studies in Mathematics Education, Volume 21, No 4, December 2016, written by the symposium's participants:

Tamsin Meaney: Locating learning of toddlers in the individual/society and mind/body divides.

Julie Sarama, Douglas H. Clements, Christopher B. Wolfe and Mary Elaine Spitler:
Professional development in early mathematics: effects of an intervention based on learning trajectories on teachers’ practices.

Elin Reikerås: Central skills in toddlers’ and pre-schoolers’ mathematical development, observed in play and everyday activities.

Per-Einar Sæbbe and Reidar Mosvold: Initiating a conceptualization of the professional work of teaching mathematics in kindergarten in terms of discourse.

Jorryt van Bommel and Hanna Palmér: Young children exploring probability – with focus on their documentations.

Camilla Björklund and Wolmet Barendregt: Teachers’ pedagogical mathematical awareness in diverse child-age-groups.

Trude Fosse: What characterises mathematical conversations in a Norwegian kindergarten?

Ola Helenius, Maria L. Johansson, Troels Lange, Tamsin Meaney and Anna Wernberg: Measuring temperature within the didaktic space of preschool.

Hanna Palmér and Camilla Björklund: Different perspectives on possible – desirable – plausible mathematics learning in preschool.