Incorporating Children’s Literature into Mathematics Instruction

By Madeline Bailey / Texas A&M University

 

In the world of present day education, incorporating reading and writing into classrooms of every grade level and discipline has become the norm, often to the chagrin of upper level STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teachers who do not see these concepts as particularly relevant to their subject. However, despite the initial mixed sentiments, it has become clear that not only does the integration of reading and writing, specifically in the form of children’s literature, positively impact students’ comprehension, but also their retention and overall attitudes towards the subject.

 

Benefits of Incorporation

Over the course of several years of study, the incorporation of children’s literature into the math classroom has been found to markedly improve student performance in several areas, the most important of which being comprehension and retention (Mink &Fraser, 2005). By offering mathematical vocabulary and ideas in an understandable and developmentally appropriate format, children’s books allow students the opportunity to better understand and retain abstract mathematical concepts without being overwhelmed (Padula, 2004).

 

Comprehension of Mathematical Content

For generations, “traditional” mathematics instruction was the norm in classrooms across the United States (Mattone, 2007). Students were shown a series of steps that they were to use to solve a given problem, and they were expected to repeat these steps until the problem could be solved almost mechanically. This method in no way presented mathematical ideas as particularly relevant or understandable to students. However, in modern mathematics classrooms, the integration of children’s literature is revitalizing math education.

 

In order to use children’s books to their fullest mathematical potential, teachers must make their content relevant and meaningful to their students. For example, using a math fiction book as an introduction to a specific concept, paired with a classroom discussion to explain the concept and a follow-up activity emphasizing the mathematical content, students are exposed to the same idea several times in a variety of ways.

 

Retention of Mathematical Content

Not only are children’s books familiar to students, they are also much more appealing than say, a math textbook. Using children’s literature in math classrooms has been found to not only improve student performance, but attitudes towards math as well (Mink & Fraser, 2005). This integration encourages the students to be interested and excited about learning math, which makes them far more likely to understand, apply, and retain the information (Mink & Fraser, 2005

 

Relevance

The most damaging mindset when teaching mathematics revolves around students asking when they will ever use math in their daily lives. The only way to overcome this increasingly prevalent idea is to consistently demonstrate how math is a relevant and important part of life for everyone everywhere.

 

Encouraging students to read self-selected texts and find embedded math ideas is another way to enhance math instruction. When students see the use of math in situations that they can relate to, they are better able to understand not only the usefulness, but necessity of math in everyday life.

 

Recommendations for Teachers
  1. Choose books that are appropriate and relevant to students.
  2. Encourage math-based conversations and the use of mathematics as a means of communication.
  3. Encourage discussion of mathematical concepts and allow students to find the explanations that make the most sense to them.
  4. Integrate self-selected literature to show that math is universal as well as useful.
  5. Design appropriate extension activities that compliment both the included texts and core math concepts.

 

Conclusion

Overall, the effective incorporation of children’s literature into the mathematics classroom has been proven to aid in students’ comprehension and retention of math concepts, regardless of whether or not the text is mathematically focused. Children’s books provide a familiar, unintimidating format for students to be exposed to both concrete and abstract ideas, thinking, and patterns. The context of a story also encourages connections between the underlying mathematical ideas and the real world, emphasizing the fact that math is a fundamental component of everyday life. Finally, no literature-based math lesson is complete without an appropriate extension or follow-up activity. These activities serve to further explain and repeat the concepts introduced in the text, while giving students the opportunity to apply them and demonstrate mastery.

Silicon Valley To Women Who’ve Left Tech: Please Come Back

Published in STEM Magazine

 

When Kim Poletti exited the tech industry in 2005 to take some time to raise her 10-month-old daughter, she left as a successful project manager leading technical teams for IBM. But when she tried to get back into the workforce 10 years later, she had a hard time getting anyone to even interview her.

“Most people just aren’t interested in looking at somebody who has a 10-year break on their résumé. Trying to convince them that I still had these skills and probably actually had more skills as a result of being a stay-at-home mom was difficult,” Poletti said. “I feel like that role isn’t really valued that much in our culture.”

Across many industries, women who pause their careers find it difficult to return to work as they are often met with recruiters turned off by big résumé gaps and perhaps questioning their reasons for leaving in the first place. In Silicon Valley, this is a major reason why women hold just 18 percent of tech positions and just 33 percent of all jobs in the tech industry, according to an analysis of company reports provided by 500 Miles, a startup that helps candidates make informed decisions about where to work and helps companies find talent.

But as Silicon Valley struggles to bring more women into its ranks, a handful of tech giants, including PayPal, Intel and IBM, are tapping into this group of workers who have long been ignored with programs that are designed to make it easy for them to transition back into the industry. These programs employ numerous tactics to close the deal, including flexible and reasonable work hours that can accommodate women with families, unlike the grueling schedules that dominate some tech companies such as Amazon and many startups.

 

Companies launching “returnship” programs also train their managers so they know how to work with individuals who are coming back to tech. Rather than avoiding résumés with gaps, they’re trained to look for them: Is this a qualified woman who took a break and may want to come back?

Returnees are given multiple points of contacts throughout their companies by assigned multiple mentors in addition to their direct supervisors. To ensure their careers will be able to advance, companies launching returnship programs offer their interns training across a broad range of topics, including how to write a résumé, conduct a job interview and promote themselves. Additionally, these programs provide women with multiple networking opportunities both inside and outside their companies so they can start rebuilding their connections throughout the tech industry.

“These are talented women who have the skills but they just happened to take some time off,” said Claudia Galvan, the former senior director of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and an industry veteran. These women find it “almost impossible to go back to work, or if they do go back to work, they have to take totally different jobs from what their career was, a demotion, of course pay cuts — and that’s if they get the opportunity to get back into the workforce.”

“It’s almost considered career suicide to leave,” Galvan said.

At PayPal, for example, the payments-processing company is set to launch its “Recharge” program in February. Through Recharge, PayPal will bring on eight women who will be paid interns with the company for 20 weeks, giving the women an on-ramp back into tech. PayPal is hoping to hire the women at the end of their internships but also wants to give them the freedom to explore other options.

“If the pilot program is successful, we want to expand that,” said M.J. Austin, a senior technologist at PayPal. Austin experienced the difficulty of leaving and coming back herself after leaving the industry in 2001 to raise her newborn children. She was able to return to work three years later by way of eBay and PayPal thanks to a mentor who championed her abilities. “That support coming in the door to say, ‘Hey, we’re behind you,’ will give you an opportunity to really shine.”