Math and Literature, Grades 6–8
Math and Literature, Grades 6–8 contains lessons and ideas based on 30 children’s literature titles. Children explore mathematical concepts based on lessons derived from titles such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling, and Holes, by Louis Sachar. This book includes a reference chart indicating the mathematical concept each lesson covers, such as number, geometry, patterns, algebra, measurement, data analysis, or probability.
Download an at-a-glance chart of children’s literature featured in the Math, Literature, and Nonfiction series, listed with grade levels and topics.
Jennifer M. Bay-Williams and Sherri L. Martinie
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Review by Juli Reutter Lenzotti, Denver Public Schools. Reprinted with permission from Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, © 2005 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. All rights reserved.
Finally, a Math and Literature book for middle school students! This text completes Math Solutions’ teaching-mathematics-using children’s-literature series begun more than ten years ago.
Math and Literature, Grades 6–8, by Bay-Williams and Martinie is organized in three parts. Part 1 offers lessons based on fourteen different pieces of children’s literature. Each lesson includes a short description of the book, an investigation, a mathematics focus, a list of materials needed, and a description of teaching the lesson from the instructor’s point of view—showing student work as well as including conversations from individual students and small groups. Part 2—Additional Ideas—offers sixteen lesson ideas minus the student work and classroom discussion. Blackline masters used to teach the lessons are included in part 3.
The Contents Chart is a quick, handy reference listing the Lesson or Additional Idea (book title), author, type of literature, and mathematics content strand (s) addressed in the investigation.
Student work included in the Math and Literature lessons is always a highlight; it supports and clarifies the teacher’s narrative. I did wish for the same level of depth (both in teacher narration and student work) in the Additional Ideas section, as well.
Marilyn Burns explains in the introduction that the premise for publishing the Math and Literature series was “that children’s books can be effective vehicles for motivating children to think and reason mathematically.” This collection of middle school investigations offers exactly that.
Review by Louis Lim, a PhD student in mathematics education at York University in Toronto, Canada. From the April 2006 issue of Education Review. Reproduced with permission from Louis Lim and Education Review.
Math and Literature: Grades 6–8 is part of a series organized by grade bands (others being grades K–1, 2–3, and 4–6) to incorporate literature in the teaching and learning of mathematics. The importance of literature and mathematics is described well by McShea, Vogel, & Yarnevich (2005): “connecting mathematics to literature is an inventive way to capture students’ interests, since examples from literature can be used to teach important mathematical concepts in an exciting and innovative manner” (p. 408). Bay-Williams (2005) adds that literature provides a rich context to learn mathematics for deeper understanding.
Making connections is so important that the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has identified Connections as one of 10 standards for school mathematics. The NCTM’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000) has influenced curriculum policy and textbook writing in North America. In fact, numerous articles pertaining to literature and mathematics have appeared in the NCTM journals, Teaching Children Mathematics and Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, with an entire issue devoted to that topic (April 2005 issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School).
Bay-Williams & Martinie have written a practical and easy-to-read resource for busy “teachers in the trenches”. Mathematics has not traditionally been associated with literature and teachers may have learned the subject discipline as drills and memorization, seeking to acquire isolated skills and procedures. What teachers need, I think, are specific instances of literature written for children and young adults (e.g., nonfiction, fiction, poetry), reproducible worksheets, and student exemplars. Further, references cited need to be readily available at major bookstores and libraries. This resource successfully does all that I have just described!
Thirty pieces of literature are referenced. A “Contents Chart” appears at the beginning of the book, listing the title and author of the children’s or young adult book, type of literature (nonfiction, fiction, poem), and which of the 5 strands or content areas of mathematics are addressed (number, geometry, patterns/algebra, measurement, data analysis/probability). There are a total of 14 lessons, each consisting of approximately 8 pages, organized as:
- synopsis of title and author of literature, summary of content of the literature piece, and mathematical content addressed
- materials needed
- how to introduce the investigation to the class
- class vignette of students working through the mathematics, follow-up problem, class discussion
- student work samples
The remaining 16 references to literature are each 2 pages, without student exemplars and class vignettes.
I believe that Bay-Williams & Martinie’s resource is suitable for grades 6–9 teachers. As a high school mathematics teacher, I enthusiastically identified 6 pieces of literature that I can easily use this semester with my grade 9 applied class:
- Eighteen Flavours, poem by Shel Silverstein, to write an equation for the height of n scoops of ice cream;
- Greedy Triangle, children’s fiction by Marilyn Burns, to develop a formula to find the total degrees of the interior angles of a polygon;
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, young adult fiction by J. K. Rowling, to determine the measures of central tendency (mean, mode, median) of Hagrid’s height and shoulder span. Students also create a scatterplot to explore the relationship between height and shoulder span;
- The Tell-Tale Heart, young adult fiction by Edgar Allan Poe, to construct a graph of volume versus time of a heart beat;
- The Village of Round and Square Houses, children’s nonfiction by Ann Grifalconi, to determine which of two houses has more surface area;
- Wilma Unlimited, children’s nonfiction by Kathleen Krull, to compare the rates of walking, hopping, and running.
I am thrilled to highly recommend this resource to grades 6–9 mathematics teachers. The resource is affordably priced and provides much needed assistance for teachers such as myself who need support to connect literature and mathematics. I often hear the phrase “all teachers are teachers of literacy”. This resource is one giant step to promote literacy in mathematics.