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Using Children’s Literature To Teach Mathematics

by on 29/06/2018 4113

Mathematics Anxiety 

Maths is often construed as a challenging subject to teach. Likewise, many students harbour a negative perception towards the subject. Their minds are somehow conditioned to think that maths is hard to understand, and ultimately have difficulty understanding even basic numeracy skills. Moreover, teachers are often made to understand that students who are weak at maths must therefore busy themselves with more maths homework and hours of its classes.

Whilst these can arguably be effective and true, several studies and findings have also indicated students who are weak in maths are identified as individuals who suffered from mathematics anxiety. The term "mathematics anxiety" was first coined by Sheila Tobias in 1976 in her article titled "Math Anxiety: Why is a Smart Girl Like You Counting on Your Fingers?" The article discussed, among others, the panic, helplessness, paralysis, and mental disorganisation that are most likely to occur in people with math anxiety disorder, especially when they are required to solve mathematical problems. Mathematics anxiety, in short, is a feeling of fear and hopelessness in understanding mathematical concepts


Overcoming Mathematics Anxiety 

Numerous strategies have been adopted by teachers the world over to help students overcome maths anxiety. These strategies include humour, cards, cartoon from newspapers and books. One specific strategy the article wishes to elaborate here is through the use of children's literature. To cite William James, an American philosopher and psychologist who had once said, "The union of the mathematician with the poet, fervour with measure, passion with correctness, this surely is the ideal."

Howard Gardner's The Theory of Multiple Intelligences emphasises that intelligence ought not to be measured by one and only type of intellectual capacity. "There are multiple kinds of intelligences," adds Gardner. Musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intra-personal, and naturalistic are sorts of intelligences one human can possess. Gardner further postulates that if students are made to learn academic subjects in a manner that's responsive to any of their identified intelligence, they will most likely understand what they are taught. Mathematics included.


Connecting Children's Literature And Mathematics 

Based on the premise of Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, reading children's book is one such strategy parents or teachers can make use of to introduce basic concepts of mathematics to maths anxious students. How does this actually help? Children books are typically filled with loads of illustrations simply because children enjoy reading picture books. Pictures in picture books exist primarily so that they can help in the telling of stories. With that in mind, in learning maths, students can readily understand its ideas and concepts more effectively if when mathematics is included within a story and presented using series of pictures. This is because children's literature, more often than not, tends to depict real-life's morals of the story. This, in turn, inspires students to look at mathematics (within a story) from a different angle. It eventually helps build an intangible perception of mathematics through pictures and a story.

There are many picture books that are both story driven and mathematically inspired out there. The book doesn't necessarily have to be laden with maths in it. Story comes first, then maths. Because story is what excites children the most. Here are some of them:

1) Children books that teach counting and adding

a) Quack and Count by Keith Baker

b) Ways to Get to 11 by Eve Merriam

c) Mission Addition by Loreen Leedy

d) From One to One Hundred by Teri Sloat

e) Every Buddy Counts by Stuart J. Murphy

f) On Beyond a Million by David M. Schwartz

g) The Twelve Days of Kindergarten by Deborah Lee Rose

h) Two Ways to Count to Ten by Ruby Dee

2) Children books that teach counting backwards and subtraction

a) Monster Math by Grace Maccarone

b) Ten Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O'connell

c) Turtle Splash! Countdown at the Pond by Cathryn Falwell

d) Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow

e) The Action of Subtraction by Brian P. Cleary

f) Monster Musical Chairs by Stuart Murphy

g) If You Were a Minus Sign" by Speed Shaskan

h) Subtraction Action by Loreen Leedy


3) Children books that teach measurement

a) Mr. Cookie Baker by Monica Wellington

b) Who Sank the Boat? by Pamela Allen

c) Tracks in the Sand by Loreen Leedy

d) Just a Little Bit by Ann Tompert

e) Now I'm Big by Margaret Miller

f) Millions to Measure by David M. Schwartz

g) Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy

4) Children books that teach money

a) The Penny Pot by Stuart Murphy

b) Alexander Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst

c) Bennies Pennies by Pat Brisson

d) A Dollar for Penny by Julie Class

e) A Quarter for the Tooth Fairy by Caren Holtzman

f) Trouble with Money by Stan Berenstain & Jan Berenstain

g) Curious George Saves Pennies by Margret Rey



Children's literature can be used to encourage students to explore mathematics. It also helps to promote mathematical disclosure. Teaching mathematics within a story, that's often based on real life situations, helps develop mathematical understanding among children whilst manages to reduce mathematics anxiety in them.