Constance Kamii

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Constance Kamii is a Professor, Early Childhood Education Program Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


Constance Kamii was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and attended elementary schools there and in Japan. She finished high school in Los Angeles, attended Pomona College, and received her Ph.D. in education and psychology from the University of Michigan.

She is now a professor of early childhood education at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. A major concern of hers since her work on the Perry Preschool Project in the 1960s has been the conceptualization of goals and objectives for early childhood education on the basis of a scientific theory explaining children’s sociological and intellectual development. Convinced that the only theory in existence that explains this development from the first day of life to adolescence was that of Jean Piaget, she studied under him on and off for 15 years.

When she was not studying under Piaget in Geneva, she worked closely with teachers in the United States to develop practical ways of using his theory in classrooms. The outcome of this classroom research can be seen in Physical Knowledge in Preschool Education and Group Games in Early Education, which she wrote with Rheta DeVries. Since 1980, she has been extending this curriculum research to the primary grades and wrote Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic (about first grade), Young Children Continue to Reinvent Arithmetic, 2nd Grade, and Young Children Continue to Reinvent Arithmetic, 3rd Grade. In all these books, she emphasized the long-range, over-all aim of education envisioned by Piaget, which is children’s development of sociological and intellectual autonomy.

Kamii studied under Jean Piaget to develop an early childhood curriculum based on his theory. This work can be seen in Physical Knowledge in Preschool Education (1978) and Group Games in Early Education (1980), (which she wrote with Rheta Devries ), and Number in Preschool and Kindergarten (1982). From 1980 to 2000, she developed a primary arithmetic program based on Piaget's theory. She abandoned this effort in 2000 because many parents of fourth graders were teaching "carrying" and "borrowing" at home.

"The Harmful Effects of Algorithms in Grades 1–4"[edit]

One of her most cited papers (Kamii, C., & Dominick, A. 1998) proposed that the traditional methods of teaching one of the three Rs, arithmetic was actually harmful to learning mathematics. This paper was widely cited worldwide. These ideas influenced the NCTM standards which would be funded by the United States National Science Foundation to create several curricula cited as exemplary by the Department of Education and widely adopted by local, state, and federal education agencies by the 1990s and 2000s by consensus based decision making. While the NCTM and many other groups composed of educators and psychologists saw that Kamii's research resonated with their own experiences with children[citation needed], groups such as Mathematically Correct, composed largely of practicing mathematicians with no elementary classroom experience[citation needed], objected that many of the NCTM-inspired texts such as Investigations in Number, Data, and Space omitted standard arithmetic methods.

The teaching of procedural knowledge, as the main purpose of mathematics classes, was challenged by Kamii's research. Interviews and assessments with students who had learned arithmetic as a set of procedures demonstrated profound conceptual misunderstandings about place value and number magnitude[citation needed].

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