Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Connecting Children's Literature to Middle Grades Math

Magazine article AMLE Magazine

Connecting Children's Literature to Middle Grades Math

Article excerpt

Have you ever heard a student say, "I can't do math"? Has a parent ever told you in front of his or her child, "I hated math when I was in school"? Has that aversion to math seeped into your classroom?

You're not alone! But I have a solution! About 14 years ago, in a creative attempt to get my reluctant students more excited about learning, I began incorporating children's literature into my math classes. The results were nothing but positive. My math students' standardized test scores increased each year, and in 2007, those students were ranked ninth best in South Carolina. My seventh graders scored an average of 93.5% on the end-of-course exam two years in a row. My students also had 100% passing rates for two years in a row.

But it goes beyond the measurable data. Students who were struggling with a concept made connections with characters in the books I read to them. The gifted students who rarely were challenged became more creative. The hands-on projects and activities allowed my artistic students to shine. My auditory students loved being read to!

Integrating children's literature into math makes learning more engaging and less intimidating. It can motivate, provoke interest, connect mathematical ideas, promote critical thinking skills, inspire a creative writing experience for students (and teachers), and provide a context that leads to problem solving.

In children's literature, the stories and vocabulary are familiar and easy to comprehend. The conventional storylines, predictable outcomes, brevity, and informal language allow students to enjoy the math concepts that go along with the stories.

Reading in Math

In 2000, when I started teaching only seventh grade math (grade level, advanced, and honors), I began reading professional magazines published by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and the South Carolina Council for Teachers of Mathematics (SCCTM), and lots of books by Marilyn Burns in search of ways to link literature specifically to the middle grade math class. I found a plethora of ways for elementary teachers to use children's books in their math classes, but very few for middle grades teachers.

When I found articles that connected the math and literature for middle school students, I taught the lessons just as prescribed by the author. I saw a book and a potential lesson plan and adapted the plan to fit my seventh graders' needs and the current state academic standards. (Here is my blanket "thank you" and "shout out" to all of those great, innovative, creative teachers before me who chose to share lesson plans, books, and ideas.) Every year I would-and still do- kick each lesson up a notch with revisions and edits. And I now write my own lessons based on books.

For example, a friend uses The Grapes of Math (Tang, 2004) to teach the number properties. I prefer to use The Important Book (Brown, 1999). I have watched teachers use A Giraffe for France (Hillard, 2000) to teach measurement; I use the book to teach students how to write and solve equations. A few years ago I read an elementary school lesson plan online that described how to teach about feelings and social skills using Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece (2006). I read that book to my students to teach them how to find the missing angle measures and sectors of a circle.

I might use How I Became a Pirate (Long, 2003) to assess my students' prior knowledge regarding the coordinate plane; other teachers might use this book for a different math topic or they may use a different book for the same topic. …

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