Listening to math talk: A qualitative study of preschool children's math language during play
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The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore preschool children's use of math talk in their play. The research questions investigated how children used math talk and how the children communicated changes in their mathematical thinking. Piaget's theory of cognitive development and Vygotsky's social cognition theory were employed to establish the theoretical lens that framed this study. The ten participants in the study were enrolled at a non-profit child development center in North Texas. The children ranged in age from two years and nine months to three years and eleven months. As a participant observer, the researcher engaged in play with the children over an eight week period during the free center play time. The observations were recorded to capture the talk and the non-verbal interactions during the play. Provocations were applied to stimulate math talk through questions and comments in response to the children's talk and play. Field notes and photographs were also collected during the study. The data was analyzed through two cycles of coding and discourse analysis. The findings revealed six themes regarding the children's use of math talk: 1) reinforcement of classroom rules, 2) directing and protecting the play, 3) managing and accessing materials, 4) making comparisons, 5) descriptions and requests, and 6) declarations. Two themes were revealed regarding the communicated changes of the children's mathematical thinking: 1) sharing and applying knowledge and 2) restating ideas. The findings indicated children have multiple uses for math talk and the application of mathematical knowledge is evident their daily experiences. Implications for early education professionals and parents were discussed as well as future research recommendations.