These competences, which have been identified through an extensive and systematic analysis of the international research literature, we have called foundational number sense (FoNS) (grundläggande taluppfattning på svenska). FoNS is the foundation for later mathematical learning, particularly arithmetic and algebra. Children who do not acquire FoNS tend to fail later.

Photo: Anna Löwenhielm/FoNS
Photo: Anna Löwenhielm/FoNS

That being said, children’s learning is due not only to what and how they are taught but the ways in which culture determines the opportunities children receive. Teachers, pupils and parents are conditioned to behave in ways that reflect cultural norms. Many of these culturally determined behaviours, including how parents support their children at home, are repeated by successive generations to form a way of life that makes the educational traditions of one country different from those of another. By way of a very simple example, Swedish mathematics teachers cut the corners from their pupils’ books to show when a page has been completed. This practice, largely unknown elsewhere, is part of a particular way of life that has no basis in research and may have no influence on learning.

The FoNS project, therefore, has four broad aims.

  • To investigate how Swedish and English teachers conceptualise and teach foundational number sense (FoNS) to grade one pupils.
  • To investigate the culturally conditioned ways of life enacted in Swedish and English grade one mathematics classrooms. Are these ways of life conducive to children’s learning.
  • To investigate how the ways of life enacted by Swedish and English parents support their children’s learning of mathematics in general and FoNS in particular.
  • To support teachers’ professional development by identifying and categorising FoNS-related best practice in the two countries.

Teachers’ beliefs and practices, both generally and in relation to FoNS, will be examined through interviews, postal surveys and video-recorded classroom observations. Parents’ beliefs and practices, both generally and in relation to FoNS, will be examined through interviews and postal surveys. While surveys will yield data for quantitative analyses focused on statistically valid statements of generality,  interviews and observations will be subjected to both qualitative and quantitative analyses, the latter typically being structured by the FoNS competences.

Comparing Sweden with another country will enable the unique characteristics of Swedish mathematics teaching to come to the fore. Importantly, English performance on international tests of mathematics was initially similar to that of Sweden. However, the performance decline of older English students has been halted at the same time as the performance of grade 4 pupils has risen to be amongst the best in Europe. Finally, England shares many social, political, educational and cultural similarities with Sweden which, alongside improving test scores, makes it an appropriate site for comparison and the identification of transferable educational insights.

In addition to writing papers for conferences and academic journals, the project will establish and maintain a website on which will be hosted materials to support teachers’ professional development.