Guest Educator

Math Makes a Good Read

by Liza Mazinas

This month’s Guest Educator, Lisa Mazinas, is a Delaware elementary school teacher. MetroKids invites educators to contribute articles that offer insights to other teachers and parents about topics such as curriculum techniques, motivation, discipline or teacher-parent relations. Please send ideas to

Have you ever felt like your child can provide the right answers to math problems but cannot explain why? Does he or she memorize facts and rules in isolation but can’t connect abstract concepts to the outside world? One way to help children see the importance of math in their daily lives is through literature.

Many children learn math through rote memorization and drill practice. They view numbers as worksheets and cannot see beyond their textbook pages that math is all around them. For some parents, math homework brings back unpleasant memories of their own school days.

Fortunately, children of all ages love stories, and many children’s literature books integrate math themes. Some were written specifically for that purpose, while others just happen to include math. Math is everywhere and finding it in stories only reinforces that concept for kids.

As a 3rd grade teacher, I try to read at least one math story at the start of each unit. The kids enjoy the stories and most pick up the books later to read on their own. Reading doesn’t feel like math to them, which piques their interest and keeps their attention for the rest of the lesson.

Children’s books motivate kids to reason mathematically, while also experiencing a connection between the books and their lives. Using literature allows students to gain a human perspective on mathematics. Children sometimes forget math rules, but they usually remember stories.

To get started at home, choose one or more of the books listed below. You can just read the story or try one of the activities too. Relax and enjoy the experience with your child! Keep in mind that the age ranges are just a guide; many of the books can be used with older or younger children.

The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns (Scholastic Press, $16.95).
Math Concept: Shapes.
Ages: 4-8
Summary: This is the story of a triangle who gets bored with his life. He asks a shapeshifter to transform him into other shapes, like a pentagon and quadrilateral, only to finally realize that he likes being a triangle after all. Kids learn that shapes are everywhere.
Activity: Have your child find examples in the house of all the shapes in the story.

How Big is a Foot? by Rolf Myller (Yearling, $4.50).
Math Concept: Measurement.
Ages: 4-8
Summary: The king hires a carpenter to make a bed for the queen. The problem is that the carpenter uses his own feet as a measuring tool. This is a great book to introduce why we need a standard of measurement.
Activity: Trace your foot on paper and have your child do the same. Cut out the feet and use them to measure items around the room. Discuss how the measurements differ from parent to child.

Apple Fractions by Jerry Pallotta (Scholastic, $5.99).
Math Concept: Fractions.
Ages: 5-8
Summary: Pallotta introduces basic fractions by dividing apples up into parts.
Activity: Take an apple(s) and divide it into fractions.

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander (Charlesbridge Publishing, $16.95).
Math Concepts: Circumference, pi, radius.
Ages: 6 and up
Summary: Radius must save his father, who turned into a dragon, by searching for the magic number.
Activity: Find the circumference of household items, based on the formula that you learned from the story.

Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (Viking Juvenile, $17.99)
Math Concept: Problem Solving.
Ages: 4-8.
Summary: The main character’s teacher puts a curse on her and now everything is a math problem.
Activity: Choose one of the problems from the story to solve. Next, have your child write a problem from his/her own life and then solve it.

If You Made a Million by David M. Schwartz (Harper- Trophy, $6.99)
Math Concept: Money and Counting.
Ages: 6-10.
Summary: Schwartz presents money in ways that correspond to how children think. He also explores topics such as loans, interest and saving.
Activity: Choose a dollar amount and have your child find as many different combinations as possible to equal that number.

Other Titles:
Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno (HarperTrophy, $6.99)
Marvelous Math, poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Aladdin, $7.99)
Too Many Cooks!
by Andrea Buckless (Cartwheel, $3.99)
The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins (HarperTrophy, $6.99)
Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert (Dragonfly Books, $6.99)

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