Discovering Math in Literature

Find useful tips on how to pull math concepts out of literature. Provided by Penguin Putnam.
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Discovering Math in Literature

You can pull math concepts out of many interesting books. Use our suggestions below to help you find real-world application of math skills and broaden the educational value of reading in your classroom.


Pattern Recognition and Sequences
The ability to perceive and predict visual and numerical patterns is fundamental to later success with number abstractions. Your students may begin by "finding the one that's different" in a linear series of Rechenka's decorated eggs, Angus's jack-o-lanterns, or Strega Nona's customers. Then, you may ask them to reproduce given patterns, such as the stars on Strega Amelia's gown or the markings of one of the Millions of Cats on blank objects or character shapes. This prepares your students to identify, predict, and extend missing elements of a repeated pattern of objects or characters encountered in this thematic unit.


Number Sense and Numeration
"A picture is worth a thousand words," and the illustrations in these picture books offer a wealth of visual representations that will lead your students to count, manipulate, and group real world objects on a variety of skill levels. They may count the number of eggs in Rechenka's basket and the eggs in a carton at the supermarket. They can actually see what happens when they add one more pumpkin to nine pumpkins. Rudimentary concepts of place value will be developed as your students organize the Millions of Cats on the faraway hill in groupings of ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands, preparing them for later use of rounding procedures and operating with larger numbers.


Mathematics in Motion
Some students may learn best when they can "feel" mathematical rhythms and "move" to the calculated beat. Taking a cue from Tanya's dance teacher, who clapped out the beat of her barre exercises, you can engage your students in rhythmic clapping, marching, jumping, ball bouncing and, yes, even dancing to any number of beats fast and slow, classical and contemporary. Like Tanya, they might enjoy the different rhythms and moods of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet; or like Babushka, they might count out and move to the beat of a Russian folk dance; or like Strega Nona, they might clap and twirl to an enthusiastic tarantella. If your students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, you can invite them to bring in music from their home cultures to share and discuss rhythmic similarities and differences with their classmates. Bravo, to all!

Puzzles and Games
Imagine the delight of your students as they assist some of their favorite stories and characters jump from their pages into homemade games of various sorts. A Millions of Cats game can be played on a board of squares upon which color-coded cats of ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands place value are randomly scattered. Upon the throw of dice, players move along the squares collecting the colored cats where they land. The first player to reach a predetermined number is the winner. Card games are a sure way to reinforce number facts. The Wolf's Stew game is played like "Double War" with two decks of cards, all worth face value (picture cards are worth ten). All cards are dealt face down in two piles for each of two players. At his turn, each player turns over the top cards on each pile, and totals them by adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. Tallies from each turn are recorded, and the first player to reach the number one hundred exactly keeps all the cards from that round. The player who reaches one hundred most often and collects the most cards wins the game. Guessing games, matching puzzles, crossword puzzles – there's so much fun to be found in the pages of a book!
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