Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Math Lit: Probability, Measurement, and Graphing

Math and story books may seem as though they belong to completely different disciplines, but they can work together to teach mathematical concepts that some students find difficult. The stories and pictures are engaging for kids, helping them to stay focused on the principles at hand. Also, the stories provide children with a familiar, more concrete platform for understanding concepts that are both foreign and abstract. Below are some great titles which can make the tricky concepts of probability, measurement, and graphing easier to swallow. Parents and teachers may want to use these books as introductions to new material, or as a way to reinforce concepts that have already been taught using more traditional methods.


Most children are fascinated by the concept of probability once they become aware of it, though statistics is not typically taught until the very end of high school. The understanding that many events are not completely random represents a big milestone in a child’s development, and as children learn to play simple games involving coin tosses, spinners, cards, and dice, probability becomes an important principle in their lives.

To help kids move beyond the kind of probability they’ve learned by tossing coins, children’s literature comes to the rescue with a variety of fun and informative storybooks. For teaching simple statistics, The Reading Teacher* recommends A Very Improbable Story by Edward Einhorn, It’s Probably Penny by Loreen Leedy, and Caldecott Medal winner Jumanji by Chris van Allsburg. Odds are good kids will love learning with these stories!


Using a measuring tape or ruler seems pretty basic, but for some children it can be a real challenge, particularly when inches are subdivided into fractions. The concept of length can be difficult for kids to wrap their heads around, in part because many of them don’t have a lot of experience measuring things themselves.

More practice is obviously called for, but parents and teachers may want to consider reaching for storybooks to teach children the fundamentals behind measurement. For teaching linear measurement, a recent article in The Reading Teacher* recommends Inch by Inch, written by legendary children’s author Leo Lionni, The Fattest, Tallest, Biggest Snowman Ever by Bettina Ling, Much Bigger Than Martin by Stephen Kellogg, and The Inch-High Samurai by Ralph F. McCarthy among others. Books like Mr. Archimedes’ Bath by Pamela Allen help explain other types of measurement.

Literature may lend meaning to measurement that kids didn’t see there before, and the selections above are a few examples that really measure up!


A book about Rene Descartes, the French philosopher and mathematician who gave us the Cartesion system of coordinates, hardly seems destined to be a child’s favorite. Yet The Fly on the Ceiling by Julie Glass is clever and engaging enough to keep kids entertained while they learn about the theory behind graphing on a coordinate plane.

The Reading Teacher* recommends several other titles for teaching students about graphing through storybooks, among them Fair is Fair by Jennifer Dussling (bar graphs) and TigerMath: Learning to Graph from a Baby Tiger by Ann Whitehead Nagda (various types of graphs).

*Bintz, W. P. et al. Using Literature to Teach Measurement. (2011). The Reading Teacher, 65(1), 58-70

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