Faculty of Education

Faculty of Education
Faculty of Education

Canadian Researchers, Educators, and Policy Makers Convene for a Revolutionary Conference in Early Mathematics Learning

March 26, 2021

By: Communications Team

The very first Canadian Early Mathematics Education (CEME) Conference took place this month, March 1-4, bringing together researchers, educators, and policymakers from across the country. Along with nation-wide representation in attendance, presenters joined the conference from five different Canadian Universities alongside Queen’s, including Carleton University, Simon Fraser University, the University of Calgary, the University of Toronto, and the University of Western Ontario. By bringing together individuals from many different sectors to share ideas and resources about early mathematics education this conference became the first of its kind, creating new opportunities for educators and raising awareness about the need for more research in this growing field.

The conference was hosted by Queen’s Faculty of Education professors Drs. Lynda Colgan and Sandy Youmans and the Early Math Community of Practice, culminating from four dedicated years of research in early mathematics education. The Early Math Community of Practice is an arm of the Mathematics Knowledge Network, funded by the Ministry of Education in response to the Renewed Math Strategy. This conference was made possible by funding from both the Math Knowledge Network as well as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Connection Grant.

Drs. Colgan and Youmans' research indicated elementary school teachers were eager to learn about current and developing strategies to improve mathematics learning for their students. Researchers have also recognized that the early years are a critically important time in mathematics learning, meaning that incorporating improved strategies into mathematics teaching early on may have tangible benefits for children as they advance into higher grades. With these findings in mind, the CEME Conference set out to increase the understanding of current research in this area across the Canadian education community. Drs. Colgan and Youmans also hope this conference will advocate for more specialization options geared towards teaching mathematics to students in the early years of school.

Hosted free of charge and in a virtual format, the CEME Conference was immensely accessible and brought together a diverse group of individuals. Teachers, early childhood educators, school district leaders, university faculty, and officers from the Ministry of Education were among the participants who were able to view the presentations, join in Q&As, and chat with other conference-goers. The conference was also unique in bringing together researchers that often work in separate sectors, including cognitive scientists, developmental psychologists, early childhood specialists, mathematics educators, and visionary designers of new technologies.

The response has been nothing short of incredible. Attendees were quick to point out that the CEME Conference was unique in offering practical strategies for educators while also providing a strong theoretical framework across a wide array of mathematics education topics. Dr. Nathalie Sinclair, Canada Research Chair in Tangible Mathematics as well as Associate Dean (Research and International) and Professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, highlighted this as one of the shining points of the conference. “There was a lot of integrated research in the presentations, but it was presented in a way that was relevant to practitioners,” she explains, “striking that middle ground is fantastic.”

Dr. Sinclair, a Queen’s alumni, was a presenter at this year’s conference, where she outlined the innovative touchscreen technologies she and her colleagues have been developing to extend the mathematical reach of learners, like the incredible free app available on iOS devices called TouchCounts. You can learn more about it by visiting the TouchCounts website. Her presentation also included some of the research behind this innovation, which indicates that fingers, hands, and gestures play an important role in mathematical learning. Drawing on her research in schools, she offered both specific tasks to implement in the classroom as well as information to reorient teachers on what kinds of things are especially important in math learning based on contemporary research.

Fellow presenter, PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto, and Queen’s alumni, Hanna Wickstrom echoed similar sentiments about the conference. Ms. Wickstrom spoke about the research she and her colleagues conduct at the Play Learning Lab, directed by Dr. Angela Pyle, who also happens to be a Queen’s alumni. You can access their practical research and resources on the Play Learning Lab website. Ms. Wickstrom notes the importance of including classroom educators in research. “The work that we do in the Play Learning Lab is all field-based research, working directly with classroom teachers, ECE’s, and students,” she details, “it is because of the partnerships we form with educators that we are able to tackle research in such an exciting and interesting way.”

Ms. Wickstrom says that her research is heavily influenced by her time as a classroom teacher, so she deeply understands the importance of outlining practical applications for educators. Much of her presentation focussed on contemporary views of play and included takeaways like how to implement guided play to support math learning in the classroom. Research findings from Ms. Wickstrom and her colleagues highlight guided play as a great example of experimental research leading to practical outcomes. “Guided play is the sweet spot for mathematics learning,” she explains, “this is where children learn the most math and, importantly, retain the most math knowledge.”

The feedback from conference attendees demonstrates just how much of an impact the CEME Conference has already begun to have. Many of those who joined the conference highlighted the comprehensive nature of the presentations and the applicable information provided as reasons why the four-day event left a lasting impression. Perhaps the sentiment of conference-goers can be best summarized in one response, “I am excited about math again!

A special thank you to conference hosts Drs. Colgan and Youmans and to all conference presenters who made this first-ever conference come to life. Another special thank you goes out to Jason Miller, Ben Milligan, and Sean van der Merwe at the Smith School of Business, and Holly Shephard, Jeff Leach, and Joanna Michalski from the Faculty of Education’s IT Support Services Office for creating a seamless virtual experience for conference organizers, presenters, and attendees.