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The ramifications of a math curriculum structured around students' prior knowledge and previous experience

1 May 1998


The purpose of this qualitative study was to answer the following research question: What are the ramifications of a math curriculum that is structured around students' direct, personal experience and prior knowledge? My research addressing the question of a student- centered math curriculum was based on current studies done on the human brain and Kamii's implementation of Piaget's theory of "logico mathematical knowledge" (Kamii, 1985). Piaget's theory proposes that in order for children to expand their cognitive understanding of numbers and number concepts that they must first be given opportunities to find relevance of the concepts through their own self-discovery. This study took place at an urban elementary school located in the Pacific Northwest over a period of seven weeks. The participants were all kindergarten age children. Information was gathered in one AM. kindergarten classroom through a variety of methodological approaches including observations, informal interviews, and collected work of the participants. In order to protect the participants' rights to privacy and anonymity I have provided pseudonyms for all participants in this study. After collecting and organizing extensive field notes, interviews, and samples of work, three observable patterns of behavior emerged in relation to a math curriculum that was structured around students' direct, personal experiences and prior knowledge. My research first revealed that students displayed and communicated a genuine likeness for math when it was structured around their direct, personal experiences and prior knowledge. Second, teachers demonstrated an unconditional willingness to implement instructional strategies that embraced and fostered students' prior knowledge of specific mathematical concepts. Finally, my research revealed that teacher assessment of students' comprehension of mathematical knowledge was consistent with their student-centered approach of curriculum implementation. From these pieces of data, I conclude that the approach taken toward structuring math curriculum around students' direct personal experiences and prior knowledge has positive ramifications for both students and teachers.


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