“Exploring the math shelf #1” – How to pick math books for a meaningful discussion

I often write about how much I enjoy listening to a child making sense of a math problem. But something I find quite fulfilling as well is reading books with my children (any child, actually). No need to say that I am quite excited about our new journey, “Exploring the math shelf”, that takes us weekly to our public library to explore their selection of math books.

Before I start discussing books we have checked out, I thought that sharing our book selection process could be helpful as well. It has indeed been working quite well for us, considering the math discussions that have popped up at our house in the past few weeks.

At some point, I expect, well, I hope, my kids will be naturally attracted to the math section, and pick math books on their own. For now though, I think they count on me to do so :-).

  1. FullSizeRender-1I usually do not have any specific math books in mind when I arrive at the library. I like to browse the shelf.
  2. Often, I take several books around a math concept my kids have been talking about, such as place value, multiplication or fractions.
  3. I try to mix stories (e.g. “Earth Day – Hooray”, by S. J. Murphy and R Andriani, a story illustrating place value) with books specifically detailing a math concept  (e.g. Place Value, by D. A. Adler). That way, we can have an informal math talk while reading a story, and have access to other more detailed sources if my children raise a particular math question.

Once home, we read books when we feel like it. Sometimes at night, sometimes during the day. Unlike with the story books, we rarely read our “math” books from beginning to the end. Rather, we discuss a page or two at a time, such as page 8-11 in Place Value, where the number system is compared to the alphabet. But we go back to the books several times during the week.

One more thing: I do read the math books with my kids. Indeed, you would be surprised by the imprecision, and even inaccuracies you may find in math books. I checked out recently a book about multiplication, and was quite excited to see that the equations included the units. I always encourage my child Rosie, 8,  to do the same when she solves problems (e.g. 2 cats + 3 cats = 5 cats). Indeed, there is no need to wait for a Chemistry course to begin such a helpful habit. Alas, in the book, to illustrate 2 baskets containing each 7 tomatoes , the equation was:

7 tomatoes X 2 baskets = 14 tomatoes.

Somehow, magically, the “basket” unit disappeared (to produce more tomatoes???). Now if the equation had been written as follow, I would have highly recommended the book:

7 tomatoes/basket  X  2 baskets = 14 tomatoes.

I have to say, though, that once you are aware of possible misconceptions, and discuss such eventualities with your child, it opens a new door to more meaningful math. Rosie is now on a new quest:  “See, Mom?  They say that you have to use the zero mark when you use a ruler. But you don’t have to ! It is easier, but you don’t have to !”. Never too early to become a critical reader.

Have fun reading !

Would love to hear from you !

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