ICT, young children and mathematics learning

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Although there are not requirements for what children should learn in early childhood centres, such as preschools and kindergartens, many countries have instigated curriculums which required that the centres and teachers have a responsibility to provide learning opportunities based on play, including mathematical ones (see for example, Skolverket, 2010). Therefore, if information communication technology (ICT) is to be used to support learning then it must be through play and this means finding out from children what playful learning with ICT could be. Prensky (2006) advised parents about not buying “educational” computer games for their children–“a far better strategy in my view, is to take the games your kids already play, and look inside them for what is educational” (p. 184).

Almost all research, which has looked at how ICT supported mathematical learning, has been from the perspective of investigating what young children learnt from engaging with specifically-designed educational software in preschool settings (see for example Highfield & Mulligan, 2007). After reviewing the literature on children using ICT, Sarama and Clements (2009) suggested that the affordances of computers made them more advantageous for developing mathematical thinking than physical objects because, “compared with their physical counterparts, computer representations may be more manageable, flexible, extensible, and ‘clean’ (i.e., free of potentially distracting features)” (p. 147).

An emphasis on school mathematics in these specially designed programs is problematic in situations where learning is supposed to occur through play. This is because play has certain features, as summarised by Docket and Perry (2010):

The process of play is characterised by a non-literal ‘what if’ approach to thinking, where multiple end points or outcomes are possible. In other words, play generates situations where there is no one ‘right’ answer. … Essential characteristics of play then, include the exercise of choice, non-literal approaches, multiple possible outcomes and acknowledgement of the competence of players. These characteristics apply to the processes of play, regardless of the content. (Dockett & Perry, 2010, p. 175)

The use of play as the basis for learning activities affects the roles available to the teacher and children. From examining an activity where preschool children explored glass jars, we found that although the teacher could offer suggestions about activities, the children did not have to adopt them and could suggest alternatives (Lange, Meaney, Riesbeck, & Wernberg, 2012). Wang, Berson, Jaruszewicz, Hartle and Rosen (2010) discussed the importance of “the virtual world product developers who incorporate decision making options that the users can manipulate” (p. 36). As exercise of choice was one of the key features of play (Dockett & Perry, 2010), consideration of who controlled what content was used and how it could be used were of interest.


Dockett, S., & Perry, B. (2010). What makes mathematics play? In L. Sparrow, B. Kissane, & C. Hurst (Eds.), Shaping the future of mathematics education: Proceedings of the 33th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australia, (pp. 715-718). Freemantle, Australia: MERGA Inc. Available from http://www.merga.net.au/

Highfield, K., & Mulligan, J. (2007). The role of dynamic interactive technological tools in preschoolers’ mathematical patterning. In J. M. Watson & K. Beswick (Eds.), Mathematics: Essential research, essential practice: Mathematics: Essential research, essential practice (Proceedings of 30th Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, Hobart), (pp. 372-381). Adelaide: Merga. Available from http://www.merga.net.au/

Lange, T., Meaney, T., Riesbeck, E., & Wernberg, A. (2012). How one preschool teacher recognises mathematical teaching moments. In Proceedings of POEM 2012: A Mathematics Education Perspective on early Mathematics Learning between the Poles of Instruction and Construction, Frankfurt am Main, Germany 27-29 February 2012. Frankfurt am Main: Available from http://cermat.org/poem2012/

Prensky, M. (2006). Don’t bother me mom – I’m learning. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Sarama, J., & Clements, D. H. (2009). “Concrete” computer manipulatives in mathematics education. Child Development Perspectives, 3, 145-150.

Skolverket (2010). Läroplan för förskolan Lpfö 98: Reviderad 2010. Stockholm: Skolverket.

Wang, X. C., Berson, I. R., Jaruszewicz, C., Hartle, L., & Rosen, D. (2010). Young children’s technology experiences in multiple contexts: Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory reconsidered. In I. R. Berson & M. J. Berson (Eds.), High tech tots: Childhood in a digital world (pp. 23-47). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

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