ERIC Identifier: ED464807
Publication Date: 2001-12-00
Author: Haury, David L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Literature-Based Mathematics in Elementary School. ERIC Digest.
"When we think of mathematics books, we think of non-fiction, even though
mathematics itself is predominantly fiction" (Pappas, 1999).
Some of us may feel uncomfortable with the notion that mathematics is
fiction, but the concepts and procedures of mathematics are all constructions of
our minds, products of our attempts to understand our worlds, real and
imaginary. Some mathematical ideas have obvious practical applications in our
everyday lives, while other ideas seem very abstract, with little apparent
connection to life as most of us experience it. All mathematical ideas, though,
take shape through our attempts to communicate, and therefore find their way
into our literature. Having an inherent sense of number (Dehaene, 1997), we
express mathematical ideas in stories, essays, poems, books, and other forms of
literature that convey life experiences, real or imagined. One way of connecting
school mathematics to everyday life, then, is to draw attention to the
mathematics embedded in the literature of everyday life, to reveal the
mathematics inherent in human thinking and communication about life experiences.
BENEFITS OF THE LITERATURE CONNECTION
instruction to children's literature has become increasingly popular in recent
years for a variety of reasons. Some suggest that the literature connection
motivates students (Usnick & McCarthy, 1998), provokes interest
(Welchman-Tischler, 1992), helps students connect mathematical ideas to their
personal experiences (Murphy, 2000), accommodates children with different
learning styles (Murphy, 2000), promotes critical thinking (Murphy, 2000), or
provides a context for using mathematics to solve problems (Jacobs & Rak,
1997; Melser & Leitze, 1999). Hebert and Furner (1997) introduced the idea
of "bibliotherapy" to help students see mathematics as a tool for making life
easier. Smith (1999) described the use of literature in designing lessons that
place mathematical ideas in a cultural context.
Despite the many suggestions and reasons for incorporating literature into
mathematics instruction, however, relatively few formal studies of the benefits
of literature-based mathematics have been reported. Hong (1996) did find that
kindergartners exposed to story-related mathematics exhibited a greater
preference and aptitude for mathematics activities than did those of a
comparison group. Whitin and Whitin (2000) explored the ways in which
fourth-grade students use story, metaphor, and language to develop mathematical
thinking skills and strategies, and their book offers ideas for using children's
literature to inspire mathematical investigations and to teach mathematical
concepts. Another research group (Karp, Brown, Allen, & Allen, 1998)
examined the use of role models in children's literature to promote conceptual
understanding and passion for mathematics among girls. In each of these studies,
the value of literature-based mathematics instruction seems to be affirmed, but
in what ways can literature be incorporated into mathematics instruction?
WAYS TO USE CHILDREN'S LITERATURE IN TEACHING
Though many children's books are explicitly about mathematics,
such as books about counting or shapes, other books have mathematics embedded
within a larger context. These books are generally not perceived as "math
books," but mathematics appears as a natural element within stories, problems,
personal vignettes, or cultural events. Welchman-Tischler (1992) has classified
the ways to use such books as follows:
To provide a context or model for an activity with mathematical content.
To introduce manipulative's that will be used in varied ways (not necessarily as
in the story).
To inspire a creative mathematics experience for children.
To pose an interesting problem.
To prepare for a mathematics concept or skill.
To develop or explain a mathematics concept or skill.
To review a mathematics concept or skill.
Though any given book could likely be used in multiple ways, the common
element in these various approaches is the intent to use literature to provide
vicarious mathematical experiences based on real problems or situations of
interest to teachers and students.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
Criteria for evaluating
children's books with mathematical dimensions have been offered by Austin
(1998), and she makes the point that books to be used should provide a
pleasurable and authentic literary experience as well as the opportunity to use
mathematics for authentic purposes. Context is key. Without context, whether
through direct experiences with objects, everyday problems to solve, or
literature-based mathematics, schoolroom mathematics too easily becomes reduced
to what Carl Sandbug described in his poem, "Arithmetic:" "Arithmetic is numbers
you squeeze from your head to your hand to your pencil to your paper till you
get the answer." Through attention to the mathematics in literature, we can help
students realize that mathematics, including arithmetic, is a spontaneous and
natural expression of human minds attempting to capture important aspects of our
experienced and imagined worlds.
Thiessen, D., Matthias, M., & Smith, J.
(1998). "The wonderful world of mathematics: A critically annotated list of
children's books in mathematics." 2nd Edition. Reston, VA: National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics. [ED 419 691]
This book provides annotated bibliographies of children's literature books
emphasizing mathematics education. Each review describes the book's content and
accuracy, its illustrations and their appropriateness, the author's writing
style, and indicates whether activities for the reader are included. Chapters in
this book include: (1) Early Number Concepts; (2) Number-Extensions and
Connections; (3) Measurement; (4) Geometry and Spatial Sense; and (5) Series and
Use the search engine provided by this Web site to find standards, readings,
and activities related to integrating mathematics and literature at all grade
on Using Children's Literature in Math and Science
This is an online version of a magazine produced by the Eisenhower National
Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education.
Literature in the Mathematics Classroom
An extensive directory of online and printed resources, including a listing
of citations from the ERIC database.
A listing of children's books that relate to counting, estimating, fractions,
geometry, graphing, measurement, money, number relationships, pattern,
probability, sorting, and time.
Hurst's Children's Literature Site
In addition to reviews of books, this Web site offers activities and ideas
for using children's literature in many subject areas, including mathematics.
FINDING RESOURCES IN THE ERIC DATABASE
materials are described in the ERIC database, available online at:
effectively, use combinations of ERIC Descriptors. As of September 2001, there
were 213 items indexed by the Descriptors "mathematics" and "children's
literature." For more tailored searches, combine these terms with one or more of
the following Descriptors: "arithmetic," "algebra," "computation," "estimation
mathematics," "geometry," "mathematical concepts," "mathematics skills,"
"numbers," "patterns in mathematics," "probability," "problem solving,"
"statistics," or "word problems mathematics." To search for resources
appropriate for a particular grade level, include one or more of the following
ERIC Descriptors: "early childhood education," "primary education," "preschool
education, elementary education, secondary education, elementary secondary
education," "intermediate grades," "middle schools," or "junior high schools."
For greater specificity, use one or more of the following ERIC Descriptors:
"kindergarten," "grade 1," "grade 2," etc.
SEARCHING THE WEB FOR ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
To find other
relevant materials on the World Wide Web, use a search engine such as Google
(http://www.google.com) and search terms such as: math OR mathematics teaching
OR teach literature.
Austin, P. (1998). Math books as literature:
Which ones measure up? "New Advocate," 11 (2), 119-33. [EJ 606 322]
Dehaene, S. (1997). "The number sense," Oxford University Press.
Hebert,T. & Furner,J. (1997). High ability students overcome math anxiety
through bibliotherapy. "Journal of Secondary Gifted Education," 8 (4), 164-78.
Hong, H. (1996). Effects of mathematics learning through children's
literature on math achievement and dispositional outcomes. "Early Childhood
Research Quarterly," 11 (4) 477-94. [EJ 550 959]
Jacobs,A. & Rak,S. (1997). Mathematics and literature-A winning
combination. "Teaching Children Mathematics," 4 (3), 156-57. [EJ 556 192]
Karp, K., Brown, E. T., Allen, L., & Allen, C. (1998). "Feisty females:
Inspiring girls to think mathematically." Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. [ED 437
Melser, N. & Leitze,A. (1999). Connecting Language Arts and Mathematical
Problem Solving in the Middle Grades. "Middle School Journal," 31 (1), 48-54.
[EJ 618 638]
Murphy, S. J. (2000). Children's books about math: Trade books that teach.
"New Advocate," 13 (4), 365-74. [EJ 617 808]
Pappas, T. (1999). "Mathematical footprints: Discovering mathematical
impressions all around us." San Carlos, CA: Wide World Publishing, p. 149.
Smith,N. L., Babione, C., & Vick, B. J. (1999). Dumpling soup: Exploring
kitchens, cultures, and mathematics. "Teaching Children Mathematics," 6 (3),
148-52. [EJ 597 952]
Usnick, V. & McCarthy,J. (1998). Turning adolescents onto mathematics
through literature. "Middle School Journal," 29 (4), 50-54. [EJ 615 455]
Welchman-Tischler, R. (1992). "How to use children's literature to teach
mathematics." Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Available
online at http://watt.enc.org/online/ENC2285/%202285.html.%20
Whitin, P. & Whitin,D. J. (2000). "Mathematics is language too: Talking
and writing in the mathematics classroom." Urbana, IL and Reston VA: National
Council of Teachers of English, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. [ED