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In the first of a two-part series, UVA professor Robert Berry discusses the state of math at the early childhood and elementary school levels, the national policy issues that influence how children are taught and how we can improve.

This is a two-part series: Read Part 2

Robert Berry disagrees with the notion that – similar to drinking milk – kids either love or hate math.

The University of Virginia’s Samuel Braley Gray Professor of Education believes children enter the world as “emergent mathematicians, naturally curious, and trying to make sense of their world using mathematical thinking.”

The problem, according to Berry, is maintaining that curiosity, rather than suppressing it. He studies how teachers can foster such curiosity, as well as the national policy shifts and equity issues that impact how children are taught.

“Children’s experiences in mathematics must nurture and strengthen the curiosity and joy that they naturally bring to their learning and observations of the world,” he said. “Children are inquisitive and need teachers to be equally as curious about their mathematical observations, questions and insights.”

Too often, Berry said, children’s math experiences at the early childhood and elementary school levels are reduced to rote knowledge and skills.

“I believe that children do not hate mathematics; they may hate their experiences with mathematics that do not allow them to investigate their curiosities and experience joy,” he said.

In the first of a two-part series, UVA Today caught up with Berry, of UVA’s Curry School of Education and Human Development, to take a deeper dive into the subject.

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