When Children's Books Also Tell Stories About MathWhen Allison Hintz,
a professor of math education at the University of Washington, reads
children's literature, she sees math everywhere. An illustration of
footprints offers a chance to practice counting by twos; a book about
generosity offers a chance to think about addition and subtraction. In
some cases, an entire book centers around a mathematical idea: A 1993
book called Two of Everything, for instance, involves a magical pot that doubles whatever is placed inside it.
means that one of many teachers' and students' favorite classroom
activities—reading aloud—can also be a time for learning about math.
part of a new project called Story Time STEM, Hintz, a former
elementary school teacher, and Antony Smith, an associate professor of
educational studies at the University of Washington, are developing
toolkits that help adults identify such mathematical themes in books and
teach young children about them— a process she refers to as
"mathematizing literature." They're working with teachers and librarians
in the King County libraries, Highline Public Schools, and the YMCA in Washington state.
Hintz is a co-author, along with University of Washington professor Elham Kazemi, of Intentional Talk,
a book that guides teachers looking to have more in-depth conversations
about math with their students. Her work has focused on helping
children develop more positive dispositions towards math, in part
The Story Time STEM project aims to help
early-childhood educators and children's librarians use existing
children's books to teach the early numeracy and math skills that are
laid out in the Common Core State Standards.
In a pilot in
Yakima, for instance, teachers were given a tool to help them
"mathematize" books: Teachers were asked to lay out the main plots,
themes, and ideas in a book, and then lay out key mathematical concepts.
They then identify stopping points and key questions they can ask
during a read-aloud that will guide a mathematical discussion.
"Our greatest hope is that children and adults can see the mathematical potential in any story," Hintz said in an interview.
said books can be powerful tools to help students engage in
mathematical thinking. She said they're potentially richer than word
problems, which some students sometimes simply skim in order to gather
the numbers they need to do an equation.
complex problems, they work through mistakes, they spend a lot of time
on one problem," she said. She said books can help teachers model that
process to students.
She said talking about math in reading can
also help teachers and students find enjoyment in a subject that
many—especially many early-childhood educators—approach with
Other educators have also found lessons for other subjects in children's books: Financial literacy advocates suggest using children's books to teach about economics, and as far back as 1993, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics have suggested using literature to teach complex mathematical skills.
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