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Handling data : Early Years : Mathematics Content Knowledge

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Early Years
Handling data
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1. How confident are you that you understand the principles of:

a. similarity and difference which underpin many aspects of data handling in early years settings?


Collecting and representing data requires an understanding that objects and, later, more abstract information can be sorted into sets, depending on various attributes of interest at the time. For example, one day children will sort the animals into teddies and dolls, but on another they may choose the ones with red hats, blue hats and so on. The key mathematical principle is that each object must be sorted into only one group and that criteria must be applied consistently.

When children are very young, they often start sorting for one attribute (the red buttons) but then become distracted when they spot something more appealing (shiny buttons). Encouraging them to talk about what they are doing helps them to refine their sorting and develop consistency.

Talking about counter-examples is also important, because it is as important to know why some things do not belong in a set as knowing which ones do.

Additional User Example

Pupils can be asked to sorting dollies which are either wearing skirts, dresses, trousers and/or shirts.  Using actual dollies would be the best idea as the pupils can group them in different ways.  You may also want to use a visual prompt such as a picture of a skirt, shirt, dress and/or a pair of trousers so the child could put the right one with the right prompt. I would start off with the two examples at first and then move onto different combinations.  

Additional User Example

Set up a home corner:

  1. A greengrocers where the fruit and vegetables are sorted, by type, colour or size.
  2. A bakers where the breads, cakes etc or sorted
  3. A general shop where items are sorted by some criteria.  

What this might look like in the classroom

Children need to be able to recognise both similarities and differences in objects. Begin with just a few objects with at least one clear similarity and some simple differences; e.g. 3 red shapes, 2 different sized circles and a square. Ask questions such as ‘How are these shapes the same? How are they different?’ There are usually several possible answers. Value the ones given and suggest others yourself. Move on to larger collections and closer observations.

Discuss how objects are the same or different when talking with children as you play alongside them or as you are supervising putting coats on etc. Ask questions such as ‘how is your coat the same as Simon’s? How is it different to Simon’s?’

Taking this mathematics further

Use the language of similarities and differences when talking about old and new in a history focus, near and far in a geography one, etc.

Making connections

Play odd one out games. Begin with 3 simple objects such as a pencil, an apple and a banana. Read the mathemapedia entry for more information.

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