She aims to move students from awareness to action
Growing up on Chicago’s Southwest Side and later teaching young children in the nearby area, Laura Grandau, Ph.D., learned a lot about living, learning, and working in dense and diverse city neighborhoods. The desire to positively impact the life trajectory of children in urban contexts led her first to become a teacher — and now, a teacher of teachers.
“Tackling deep issues in child development and education, and influencing the ‘growing, learning and becoming’ of young children in today’s world is very important work,” says Dr. Grandau, a professor in Erikson Institute’s Master of Science in Early Childhood Education program.
Dr. Grandau helps Erikson students to understand the thinking behind theoretical coursework and how it can be put into action to benefit young children. “To be successful at teaching any subject matter, you need to be comfortable with the content,” she says. “But you also have to know how children learn, how they feel and identify – you have to know who they are. Being a good communicator and building trusting relationships is at the core of this work.”
No matter what the subject matter, Dr. Grandau teaches communication skills in all of her courses, including those that focus on core child development knowledge. She describes the work of teachers, caregivers, and social workers as being akin to detective work. Helping children and families involves looking and listening carefully and thoughtfully. “Sometimes in our professional work we need to bite our tongues,” she says. “Using our eyes more and being a good listener builds awareness, which in turn gives us ideas for productive next steps.”
Know math, know fun!
An expert in early mathematics education, particularly algebraic thinking, Dr. Grandau also works as a senior program developer for Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative, an initiative that focuses on professional development and research related to teaching foundational math concepts.
“Everyone is capable of doing math,” she says. “At Erikson, my goal is to help teachers become more comfortable with the complexities of early math and acquire the confidence and the tools to teach mathematical concepts that all young children can grasp. Teaching math is so much fun! Seeing how specific algorithms work or why children make certain errors is part of the joy of teaching the subject.”
Dr. Grandau is also interested in other early childhood STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) teaching and learning initiatives. “Children are born curious about how the world works. Cultivating that curiosity and becoming logical thinkers and problem-solvers will only make our future brighter.”
By the numbers
Dr. Grandau’s research touches upon various aspects of teacher education, early math, and teaching and learning in the other STEM fields. In today’s era of computers and technological tools, she is currently seeking grant funding to study the link between mathematical interactions and computational thinking in young children. She is also interested in bringing math to families and caregivers in informal settings, such as libraries and museums.
“In our society, we routinely teach young children their ABCs,” she says. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could incorporate more math activities into every child’s life, every day?”