Studies that promote integrating mathematics with literature show a strong correlation between learning math content and interacting with stories that have mathematics themes. (Whitin & Wilde, 1992, 1995; Burns, 1992, 1995; Zambo, 2005). Since the new common core standards in math emphasize learning fewer concepts in greater depth, extending learning through text can become a routine part of a teacher’s math curriculum.
From the time a preschool child hears a story like “The Grouchy Ladybug,” by Eric Carle (or “The Bad Tempered Labybird” as it was published in the UK), math concepts are being introduced early on, albeit covertly. “Research supports that integrating mathematics with literature makes mathematical concepts more meaningful to young minds,” said Carole Kamerman, Independent Educational Consultant and retired educator from Kalamazoo Public Schools in Michigan. “Even though the concept is finally becoming popular, I must say I have always used picture books to support math lessons…it really works.”
As a former curriculum trainer and facilitator, including adopting curriculum for a girl’s school in Dubai, UAE, Kamerman stresses the importance of parents keeping the dialogue about math positive at home. “We need to remind parents, guardians and caregivers that saying things like, ‘I was never any good at math,’ is not acceptable anymore, there’s just too much at stake for our students,” she said.
How true. The National Academies 2010 study cites that the US ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science and engineering. This is what the Next Generation Science Standards and common core standards in mathematics stand to address in a meaningful way. It is essential that we remove the disconnect between subjects; the new science core standards—just like their math counterparts— will emphasize less rote memorization, fewer, but more specific concepts, and concentrate on the kind of science students can use for college and career pursuits.
Both sets of common core standards in science and math seek to focus on the big ideas— key concepts that can be continually used to teach a variety of skills and processes. How teachers choose to integrate subjects so that these “big ideas” resonate with students is the creative challenge.
The challenge for teachers: making sure the “big ideas” resonate with students.
In addition to rigorous instruction, we recommend that elementary school teachers, specifically, leave their biases at the door and speak about math in an upbeat way in the classroom, even if it isn’t their favorite subject. Negative views about math and science can be contagious.
“Some students are predisposed to dislike math, so anything we can do to help develop healthy attitudes about the subject is so important,” says Dr. Charles Pearson, Coordinator of the Marygrove Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment program. “Giving students lots of opportunities to engage in math concepts is key, and reading math-related children’s literature is one great way to do that.”
Here are some titles Dr. Pearson recommends to add to your math literacy library:
Addition and Subtraction:
“Adding Alligators” (Franco) Addition
“Centipede’s 100 Shoes” (Ross) Add/Subtract to 100
“Tar Beach” (Ringgold) Add/Subtract problems by the GCI method; African American Culture
“A House is a House for Me” (Hoberman) Classification
“Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” (Willems) Ask students to determine the number of buses needed for a school trip.
“Ming Lo Moves the Mountain” (Lobel) Multicultural Story
For more good titles, you can view this list from Dr. Elaine Young, Associate Professor of Mathematics, at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Pearson also stresses that when teachers choose math-related books that tie to students’ experiences, both personally and culturally, it helps children better identify with math concepts.
Kamerman agrees: “Suddenly fractions are not so scary,” she says. “…and counting money is fun when you choose a delightful and engaging book to illustrate the concept.” She recommends “Eating Fractions” by Bruce Macmillan or “Gator Pie” by Louise Mathews, and “Benny’s Pennies” by Pat Brisson.
So, the more you communicate about math—talk about it, read about it, write about it—the more you extend learning for students. Try it today.
Download our free webinar on How to Achieve Picture Perfect Math and get even more tips to encourage greater math literacy in your classroom.