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PhD Studentship - Developing Spatial Thinking and Number Sense in Early Childhood with the Froebel Gifts

Manchester Metropolitan University

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Manchester
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,609
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 28th September 2021
Closes: 31st October 2021

Project summary

‌‌‌‌The Froebel Trust and Manchester Metropolitan University are jointly funding a PhD studentship that will investigate how Froebel’s Gifts support the development of young children’s understanding of space, shape and number. The Froebelian legacy of the Gifts can be traced in the continuing tradition of block play provision in early childhood education. The project is interested in the distinctive affordances of the original Gifts, such as their non-standard de/compositional structure and their inherent ordinal/cardinal relationality. Creating and experimenting with multiple sets of the 3-D geometric forms in different materials is integral to the project. The project uses micro-ethnographic and sensory methods, working alongside young children, parents, and early years practitioners to explore new ways of engaging with Froebel’s Gifts.

The 3.5 year-long project is positioned in the Education and Social Research Institute. The successful candidate will join the Children and Childhood Research Group, the Maths Research Group and The Manifold Lab, at the Faculty of Education, at MMU. These have a track record of arts-based projects and theoretical interests in re-conceptualising the role of affect, the sensate, and bodied maths-making. They host lively seminars which include international scholars and a vibrant research community, and they have a reputation for innovative methodologies. 

Aims and objectives

The project aims to show how the Froebel Gifts are generative tools for building mathematical thinking in young children. Responding to current debates about the place of spatial reasoning in the new Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Framework (DfE, 2020) in England (ones which echo broader international debates in the field of early childhood maths pedagogy), the research aims to explore relationships between number sense and spatial reasoning when young children are engaged actively in play activities with the Gifts.

Project objectives also pertain to new ways of making, modifying and using the Froebel Gifts by creating multiple sets of 3-D geometric forms, (for example using 3-D printing) or using enlarged versions of the forms, in line with Froebel’s original intentions. This experimental co-produced research will work with children, parents, and early years practitioners to create and design associated activities that offer guidance for children’s play with the different Gift sets, expanding their relevance to early childhood maths curricula.

This project’s use of micro-sensory ethnographic methods will highlight the role of the moving body and manual manipulation of material objects in mathematical sense making. The research will thus contribute to enhancing learning theories more generally. The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Christina MacRae, Dr Laura Trafi-Prats and Professor Elizabeth de Freitas, and Professor Ricardo Nemirovsky.

Specific requirements of the project

We are looking for candidates who: 

  • Have experience of (or an interest in) teaching or research with young children. 
  • Are familiar with qualitative research methodologies. 
  • Are interested in contemporary debates about the role of bodies and movement in relation to mathematical thinking
  • Have an interest in Maker Space practices. 
  • Are eager to explore the value of Froebel’s Gifts in contemporary learning 

How to apply

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