Teaching With Trade Books – Math

As a middle school mathematics teacher, you probably feel like you don’t have enough time to teach all of your content within the course of a school year. Why on earth would you ever want to add more material in the form of trade books when you can’t seem to finish your assigned textbook? Turns out that making time to incorporate children’s literature in your classroom can led to rich results.

One of the most immediate benefits of using trade books is increasing student engagement. High quality trade books are written as to spark interest and create a desire to read. Many contain colorful, interesting illustrations, photographs, and diagrams, all of which draw students into the text and improve comprehension. Contrast this with the reaction that many students have toward the textbook: either a lack of interest or an assumption that the assigned reading will be too difficult.

Incorporating children’s literature also allows you to differentiate instruction and support English Language Learners and struggling readers in a way that textbooks cannot. If you visit the children’s section of your school or local library, you’ll discover a wealth of books for students on every reading level and topic. Using trade books which better match students’ abilities can help them build content knowledge and interact more successfully with the required text.

Of course, successful integration of children’s literature into your middle school mathematics class requires planning and forethought. Here are some tips for using trade books in your classroom. The following resources will guide you in finding exemplary trade books and lessons.

Mathematics and Children’s Literature
In three lessons from NCTM Illuminations, students participate in activities in which they focus on connections between mathematics and children’s literature. Three pieces of literature are used to teach geometry and measurement topics in the mathematics curriculum, from using and describing geometric figures to estimating volume of figures.

Lesson 1: Shapes and Poetry – Students read the poem “Shapes” from A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein, and create their own illustration of the poem. In this lesson, students explore geometric figures and positional words.

Lesson 2: Estimating Volume by Counting on Frank – In this lesson, students read the book Counting on Frank. They use information in the book to make estimates involving volume. In particular, students explore the size of humpback whales.

Lesson 3: How Big Is a Foot? – In this lesson, students read the book How Big Is a Foot?, by Rolf Myller. They then create non-standard units (using their own footprints) and use them to make “beds.” As a result, students explore the need for a standard unit of measure.

One Grain of Rice
In this lesson, also from NCTM Illuminations, students take on the role of a villager in a third-world country trying to feed her village. While listening to the teacher read aloud the book One Grain of Rice by Demi, students work collaboratively to come up with a bargaining plan to trick the raja into feeding the village using algebra, exponential growth, and estimation.

Ohio Resource Center (ORC) Mathematics Bookshelf
The Mathematics Bookshelf features outstanding trade books that support mathematics instruction in K–12 classrooms. Mathematics Review Board members have selected books that will appeal to students and enrich the teaching and learning of mathematics. Each book review includes:

— a brief summary of the story
— the main mathematical ideas
— suggestions for how to use the book
— the value of the book in standards-based instruction
— standards alignment
— a list of related ORC resources

Math and Nonfiction, Grades 6–8
This print book helps teachers build on their students’ natural passion for knowledge as they engage in real-world mathematical problem solving. The lessons in this book use nonfiction as a springboard to explore mathematical concepts key to the middle school curriculum.

Read any Good Math Lately?
This print book by David Whitin and Sandra Wilde acquaints readers with some of the best children’s literature containing a mathematical subtext, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, books of games and puzzles, books that reflect different cultures. The titles are diverse, but they all address a range of mathematical topics: place value, estimation, large numbers, geometry, measurement, fractions, classification, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

It’s the Story that Counts
This print book, also by David Whitin and Sandra Wilde, explains ways books have been used to explore mathematical concepts, the importance of children’s spontaneous reactions, and the role of mathematical conversation. It also focuses on the books themselves, exploring multicultural themes and images in books, books on the number system, statistics, and probability.

Math and Literature, Grades 6-8
This print book by Jennifer M. Bay-Williams and Sherri L. Martinie brings the joy of children’s literature to the middle-school math classroom. It 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 and Holes.

Search for Literature
The California Department of Education has created this online literature search for science and mathematics with over 1,400 titles in the search database. The search includes the typical categories found in a search for literature at a library, such as author, title, and keyword. It also contains a customized search for selecting up to three categories that relate more specifically to education. Those categories include grade level, language, genre, classifications (types of books), curriculum connections, awards (by author or illustrator), science subject area, mathmatics subject area, science standards connections, and math standards connections (California state standards). Teachers will find useful a recommended list of literature for science and mathematics.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/08/2011.

Reading Math

You may have heard this complaint or even made it yourself: “These tests are more about reading than they are about math!”  Students are increasingly asked to understand and apply math to situations, rather than just perform an operation on numbers. This involves reading the math text that sets out the problem scenario.

Add to that the inherent difficulty of math vocabulary, where a word can mean one thing in a mathematical context and another in everyday settings.  Symbols, another part of vocabulary, can look alike but have different meanings, or different symbols can represent the same operation (for example, *, x, and · for multiplication).

And there’s the textbook, usually opened only for the problem sets, since most students are alienated by its language and its very format.

How can we help middle school students learn to read the math they need for today’s tests and high school courses?  Far from expecting teachers to stretch their class time to include yet more content, I’d like to offer online resources that can enrich math instruction as teachers help their students better understand the content they are already tackling.

Reading in the Mathematics Classroom
Written by Diana Metsisto, a middle school mathematics coach, this online chapter involves both the “why” and the “how” of integrating reading in the teaching of mathematics. She offers a number of concrete classroom strategies.

Unlocking the Mystery of Mathematics: Give Vocabulary Instruction a Chance
Math teacher Bizzie Cors realized that her students needed to “construct meaning for all vocabulary terms and connect to prior knowledge as well as to new concepts and algorithms.”  This led her to create a new process to teach vocabulary development.  Described here is what she calls the “sticky-note chain” process; its final product is a graphic organizer complete with sticky notes, connections, and problems created by the students themselves.

A Maths Dictionary for Kids
This animated, interactive mathematics dictionary for kids explains over 500 common mathematical terms in simple language. Each term is illustrated and, often, accompanied by an interactive applet that makes visual and immediate the definition of the term.

Getting to Know Your Middle Grades Mathematics Textbook
This article by Diane Kahle, an experienced teacher of middle school mathematics, shares general tips, small group and whole class ideas for textbook reading, and a ten-question scavenger hunt to help students learn how to find information in their mathematics textbook.

Books can be used to teach actual math concepts. For ideas, spend a few minutes at the Mathematics Bookshelf.

Please comment on these resources and offer your own ideas on teaching students to read math.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 10/10/2011.

Writing Math

As in other subjects, writing forces us to order our thoughts, make them clear to others. In mathematics, writing, as difficult as it is, helps students organize their understandings of concepts and set out for themselves their reasoning about a problem and its solution.  As stated in the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, “students who have opportunities, encouragement, and support for writing, reading, and listening in mathematics classes reap dual benefits: they communicate to learn mathematics, and they learn to communicate mathematically” (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 2000).

Writing comes easily to few of us, and that includes our students. These resources offer practical advice learned from the experiences of teachers in the classroom.  If you would, share with your colleagues your ideas on using writing as a teaching/learning tool by commenting on this blog post.

A Case for Using Reading and Writing in a Mathematics Classroom
Speaking from her own experiences as a math teacher, Sarah Kasten tells how — and why — she introduced reading and writing in her classroom. She shares how she directed her classes to do 5-minute, impromptu writing assignments, explain their problem-solving process, or even explain a new concept and create their own example problems. 

 Writing in Mathematics
A brief teacher-to-teacher article on getting started with writing in math class — moving from think-pair-share to a less-known model: think-write-pair-share.  A set of helpful links to other teachers’ experiences is given.

Math and Communication
You’ll find solid tips on encouraging and supporting math talk in this brief piece by well-known math teacher Kay Toliver.

Adapting Literacy Strategies to Improve Student Performance on Constructed-Response Items
This article discusses ways of adapting various reading strategies to help students improve their answers to extended-response questions on the mathematics portion of high-stakes tests. A practical article directed to teachers.  

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/14/2012.

Writing to Communicate in Science

Communication is a science process skill found within the Science as Inquiry section of the National Science Education Standards. The resources here point to methods and references science teachers can use to assist students in continual honing of this important skill.

Writing with Scientists
In this workshop students will use their own notes and research to write and publish a report online. The workshop will be most helpful if students have completed research on a topic.

14 Writing Strategies
This article from the December 2006 issue of Science Scope enumerates strategies that will encourage critical thinking and provide purposeful writing practice. NSTA members can download the article at no charge; nonmembers must pay $0.99.

Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides
This resource comes from a site intended for college students, Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students. However, because it focuses on PowerPoint presentations it is useful to students and teachers at all levels.

How to… Write to Learn Science
This book, available from NSTA, focuses on tapping students’ creativity, allowing them to express science concepts in their own words. Also offered are options for managing writing evaluations and a section on portfolio assessment. (NSTA members receive a reduced price.)


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

Creating Inquiry-Oriented Laboratory Exercises

The National Science Teachers Association’s Position Statement on Scientific Inquiry says:

Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science content is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences.

To this end, these resources will assist you in either creating inquiry activities from scratch or converting commercially available activities to reflect an inquiry approach.

How to Make Lab Activities More Open Ended
This one-page article provides concrete guidance on how to gradually convert the activities you already use to a more open-ended format, allowing for more student-centered inquiry, .

Rethinking Laboratories
This journal article describes an inquiry analysis tool and adaptation principles to help teachers evaluate and adapt laboratory instructional materials to be more inquiry-oriented. A set of questions can help teachers decide how much the instructional materials reflect an inquiry orientation. The article was originally printed in the September 2003 issue of The Science Teacher. NSTA members have free access; nonmembers are charged 99 cents for access.

Un-cooking the Lab: A Guide to Constructing Inquiry-based Labs in Biology
This four-page article contains sections titled: Features of an Inquiry-based Lab; Examples of Approaches to Labs; Inquiry-based Labs: Constructing a Framework; Inquiry-based Labs: Flow of Activities in the Classroom; Scientific Teaching: and References.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/16/2011.