Education & Teaching Question

 help me learn.

Lecture Notes

Welcome to Lesson 4. By now, no doubt you’re becoming more comfortable with learning centers. This lesson discusses some other kinds of centers: manipulative, sensory, science, and math centers.

To create an effective manipulative center, it needs to be placed in a quiet, well-lit area with attractive, enticing, diverse materials and quality tools. As a teacher, you can facilitate the manipulative center by introducing manipulative materials and providing encouragement, recognition, challenges, and modeling.

Adding a manipulative center to your classroom can help children learn skills such as how to properly hold their pencils. All it may take is some modeling and encouragement from someone who isn’t “Mom” and a little time enjoying the manipulative center at school.

Sensory centers can be a lot of fun. They should contain water or a media table. Besides water, you can use materials such as sand, dust, or a combination of these things. You can also find many interesting materials in your own kitchen. Rice, beans, cornstarch, and pasta are inexpensive materials that can teach children many concepts. You can also use tools such as can openers, spoons, and sifters. These items help with fine motor skills that children use every day. Don’t be afraid to get creative, even if it means things will get a little messy.

Science centers focus on inquiry and encourage the infamous “what if” statement. Years ago, children were discouraged from asking “what if” questions in class. It’s unfortunate some teachers still don’t allow such inquiry. Science centers should also focus on action and hands-on activities. Teachers can facilitate the centers by determining activities and concepts to be taught. Science centers can be especially fun if they include a sink-and-float center, a bubble center, a magnet center, or even a center focusing on smell. Try to think back to what you were interested in as a child. What fascinated you? Just take it from there.

Math centers are also very important. Children need to develop math skills such as problem solving, reasoning, connecting, and representing. Appropriate math materials allow for active manipulation, have a purpose, and are open-ended or self-correcting. An example of a simple but educational activity in a math center would be to explore classification. The teacher could bring in paperclips, pens, pencils, magnets, and other similar items that can be classified. Students can then classify the objects in as many different ways as possible during an allocated period of time.

Douglas Clements, a University of Denver professor and one of the creators of Building Blocks, said many preschool teachers aren’t comfortable with numbers because they went through the U.S. education system, which “is just not very good about teaching math and making it fascinating.” Susan Neuman, a professor of early literacy at New York University, said her classroom visits to other preschool programs in the city’s high-poverty areas found that some teachers stumble when they read aloud to children or try to explain concepts.

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For more than a year, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign for free preschool has focused to a great extent on expanding enrollment at an unprecedented clip.

On Tuesday, his team will push a new agenda for 4-year-olds: Math.

Department of Education officials said they plan to spend $6 million in the coming fiscal year to roll out “Building Blocks,” a math curriculum that has had good results in Boston and other cities. It uses puzzles, games, art projects and songs to help children learn more about numbers, shapes and patterns.

Some studies suggest early math skills are a strong predictor of success in school and later in life. But researchers have found that beyond the most basic counting games, preschools across the country tend to ignore math.

Josh Wallack, a deputy chancellor, said he hoped about 13,500 children in 750 district and community-based classrooms in the city–almost one-fifth of them–would be using Building Blocks in the fall, and the vast majority would be doing so in three years.

Preschools that adopt the curriculum voluntarily will be given its books, related games and seven days of training, plus coaching during the year. Department staff members will prescribe Building Blocks for centers they see as struggling. Programs with strong approaches of their own, such as Montessori schools, won’t have to switch.

The education department also will promote extra units on literacy and science, and brand the whole package as “NYC Pre-K Explore.”

Officials hope it will become a national model. “It’s going to be a big step forward in our efforts to create a high-quality” system, Mr. Wallack said.

Douglas Clements, a University of Denver professor and one of the creators of Building Blocks, said many preschool teachers aren’t comfortable with numbers because they went through the U.S. education system, which “is just not very good about teaching math and making it fascinating.”

P.S. 93 in the Bronx has three of the 87 preschool classrooms in the city that have used Building Blocks as part of an independent study on its impact. School officials said most of its children are poor, arrive knowing little of the alphabet, and might come able to count to five, if at all.

On Monday morning, teacher Gabriela Yildirim had one boy tap each classmate on the head with a magic wand as he counted all 14 of them.

“Let’s see if there are more girls or boys today,” she said. After students tallied up each group, the teacher created a visual cue by stacking eight blue blocks representing the boys next to a tower of six red ones for the girls.

“There are more boys,” one girl exclaimed. “Six is less than eight.”

Next, Ms. Yildirim held up a moose puppet named Mr. Mix-up and challenged him to look at several shapes to find one with two parallel lines. After the moose fumbled by picking a triangle, several children were bursting to give the right answer.

“A trapezoid!” they exclaimed.

Ms. Yildirim said the children’s number sense and vocabulary had surged since September. “I would have never thought these little pre-K children would be talking about parallel lines,” she said.

While some of the games, such as shopping for toy dinosaurs or playing Chutes and Ladders, might seem familiar, creators of the curriculum say the difference lies in how teachers use the activities and related computer tasks to decipher how much students understand and what they need to advance.

When children answer questions, teachers are supposed to probe them to think more deeply by asking “How do you know?”

One 2011 study found that children who were taught with Building Blocks in three other cities made extra strides by the end of preschool, compared with peers who weren’t. But the study found little difference between the two groups by the end of first grade; its authors said that was likely because kindergarten and first-grade curricula and teachers didn’t build upon those early gains.

One author of that study, Dale Farran, senior associate director of the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University, said New York City was putting a lot of effort into coaching and follow-up in kindergarten. “You may have a stronger implementation,” she said.

Education department officials said they are working to make sure curriculum is aligned in early grades.

Some early education experts say the impact of Building Blocks will depend largely on teachers’ skills, and their quality varies widely. Susan Neuman, a professor of early literacy at New York University, said her classroom visits to other preschool programs in the city’s high-poverty areas found that some teachers stumble when they read aloud to children or try to explain concepts.

In one instance, she said, a teacher kept saying triangles have “three sizes” instead of “three sides.”

“Some of what’s going on is fantastic,” Ms. Neuman said. “In other places, it’s like pulling teeth…Some of the teachers need a lot of help and support.”

MDRC, a research group, is leading a randomized controlled trial of Building Blocks in the city’s 87 pilot classrooms to see how effective it is.

Gordon Berlin, president of MDRC, said in most cases the implementation was good or very good. He expects an analysis of its effectiveness to be finished next year.

“The city has undertaken an historic effort to increase the number of slots,” he said. “Now the right next step is to focus on quality.”

Write to Leslie Brody at leslie.brody@wsj.com

Credit: By Leslie Brody

Word count: 909(c) 2015 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Reproduced with permission of copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.ive, sensory, math, and science centers are sure to expand the learning of little minds.

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