1.3 Language, mathematics and science in the course
Because of the schooled culture we have grown up in, we are likely to recognise language, mathematics and science as distinct ‘ways of knowing’. The words ‘language’, ‘mathematics’ and ‘science’ probably prompted you to think first of the school curriculum, where they are often treated very separately from each other. One of the intentions of the course is to explore and develop your understandings of these three subjects, which means that, inevitably, we will spend some time dealing with them separately. However, these ways of knowing are more than just school subjects or bodies of abstract academic knowledge: they are ways used by adults and children alike to engage with and make sense of the world. In most natural contexts, people act and think in many different ways at once: for example, when considering the mathematics you use when buying a carpet, if you were to give a detailed account of your visit to the carpet shop, you would find that you simultaneously used your skills and knowledge of both language (e.g. to discuss relative merits of different fibres, or to negotiate price) and science (e.g. when considering the cloth’s durability or ease of cleaning).
For young children, the need to separate out these ways of thinking will be still less obvious, as would be attempts to consider their thinking separately fromthe context in which it takes place. For these reasons, the course team favours a holistic view of the curriculum, where the totality of children’s experience is taken into account and learning opportunities are presented in a way that makes most sense. Similarly, we believe that practitioners should at all times be alert to the breadth and complexity of the things that children do. Consequently, when you are looking at the video sequences in the audiovisual material, we would urge you, even where the focus of an activity is on just one subject, to take account of how the children concerned are making use of other ways of knowing. For example, the course team considered illustrating a mathematical point with a sequence showing two children playing with water. At the same time as identifying their mathematical learning (relating to volume and capacity) we would also expect you to notice what they are learning about the properties of water and the way their language relates to their growing understanding.
The course is structured to reflect the way in which the three subjects are often intertwined, and how our understanding of them can offer different insights into the same experience. Initially, the course team briefly considered organising it as three completely separate sections, so that you would complete your study of, say, mathematics in the first ten weeks or so, before moving on to the next subject. However, it immediately became obvious that, as well as not reflecting reality, this approach would involve a great deal of overlap and repetition. We settled, therefore, on a pattern where a succession of aspects of language, mathematics and science are examined, using linking text to bring together points of similarity and to discuss what can be learnt more generally about thinking and knowing.