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Literature-Based Math Practices

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Can math skills and concepts be taught through children's literature? Can a shared reading experience in your classroom prompt meaningful math connections and a deep understanding of math concepts? The answer is yes!

Join us for a conversation with Sue O'Connell, author of Math by the Book, to hear about why she created the series and how literature-based math practices enhance students' math experiences. We'll also get a sneak peek at what participants can expect in her upcoming free workshop on September 27th.


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Below is a transcript of this episode.

Edie Davis Quinn:

Welcome back to the Heinemann Podcast. Can math skills and concepts be taught through children's literature? Can a shared reading experience in your classroom prompt meaningful math connections and deep understanding of math concepts? The answer is yes!

Join us for a conversation with Sue O'Connell, author of Math by the Book, to hear about why she created the series and how literature-based math practices enhance student math experiences. We'll also get a sneak peek of what participants can expect in her upcoming free workshop on September 27th.

Sue, it's such a pleasure to speak with you this morning. Let's jump in right at the beginning. Why Math by the Book? What led you to create the series?

Sue O'Connell:

Well, this is all about the importance of context when teaching mathematics. When I was taught math, it was devoid of context, it was just manipulating numbers to get answers. But math is so much more than that. Today's standards are expecting our students to understand the math they're doing and teaching through a context helps them make sense of the math. So that's one reason we use word problems in mathematics to give math a context. But the literature gives us something really special. Students get pulled into the story and really engaged in those lessons. It sets the context for more problem solving experiences. It gives that shared reading experience that brings equity into our teaching, since all students hear the same story and begin with a shared understanding of those story events. And it's just fun.

And we've heard that over and over. When we wrote Math in Practice, we included some literature based lessons in that and we did the same thing when John SanGiovanni and I wrote the Mastering the Basic Math Facts books. We started many lessons with a piece of literature and then moving into the math facts explorations. And what we heard over and over is that teachers loved those lessons that started with a story. So we decided to put together a resource, K-5, that gave them more of that, just looked at the math topics at each grade level, identified important math topics, and then showed them how to jump in there through the context of a story. And it just seems like both teachers and students are loving beginning math with a story.


Oh, that's wonderful. Yeah, thanks for that snapshot of the history and the inception of Math by the Book. Do you find that teaching mathematics through literature helps to dismantle some of these harmful math beliefs, such as I'm not a math person or math is only done in math class?


Most definitely. Through the stories, I think, students see that math is all around them. When you look at that idea that math is only done in math class, they see the math everywhere through the events and the characters in this story. They see connections between mathematics and everyday events. So it makes the math more meaningful to them. And in Math by the Book, we chose so many wonderful pieces of literature that weren't written specifically to teach math, but just show situations that connect to how math appears in the world around us. And that idea of, I'm not a math person, in Math by the Book, we really try and set up lessons in which students work together to explore, to investigate math ideas. They're very engaging lessons that have lots of math talk and students have to model and think about what they're seeing in those models. And by the time students get to the end of the lesson, they've discovered the mathematics, and that definitely helps them with their confidence and makes them feel more positive about themselves in terms of mathematics, feel good about their own math abilities.


I'd love to hear a little bit more about that engagement piece. Do you think children are more likely to enter mathematical discussions that originate from literature?


I've definitely seen that. Students love to talk about stories. You start with a piece of literature and everyone's in, they want to talk about the events, they want to talk about the characters, and it gives us a great lead in to discussing the math connections to those events and characters. And the questions we ask when we start with the context tend to focus more on the math connections or making sense of the math through that story. So it's less about right or wrong answers and more about interpreting the story, seeing the math connections to it. And I think that minimizes the fear of being wrong, that sometimes stops kids from participating in the math discussions in our classrooms.


That's great. I'm so excited for this upcoming event where folks can hear about everything you're speaking to more in depth. And also, I think it's really special that you'll be presenting with a panel of educators who are currently using your series and teaching mathematics through literature. Could you give us a little sneak peek about what participants will hear about in the upcoming event?


Sure. I'm excited about this round table. We wanted this to be educators talking to educators. So this session is really for any teachers or math coaches who are interested in that idea of integrating math and literature. We have a really nice mix of classroom teachers, a math interventionist, a math coach or specialist that'll share from their perspectives, their experiences launching math lessons with a piece of literature. They're going to share their favorite stories to use in math class. They're going to share some of their favorite math activities that go with those stories. They'll share tips for bringing literature into the math classroom. If the people listening or just getting started with this or thinking about getting started with it, they'll share insights about what they've seen as the benefits of doing this in their own classrooms. So it's going to be fun to hear from their experiences and I hope that anyone interested in using literature in math class will join us for this round table.


Thank you so much for your time today, Sue.




Yeah. And I look forward to seeing you on the upcoming event.


Sounds good.


Sue's upcoming free workshop is next week, September 27th at 4:30 PM Eastern Time. For more information and to register, go to heinemann.com/pd/events. You can also find a link to this workshop and a full transcript of the episode at blog.heinemann.com.


Copyright Heinemann Publishing.


Susan O’Connell has decades of experience supporting teachers in making sense of mathematics and effectively shifting how they teach. As a former elementary teacher, reading specialist, and math coach, Sue knows what it’s like in the classroom and her background is evident throughout her work as she unpacks best practices in a clear, practical, and upbeat way.

Sue is the lead author of the new Math by the Book series, a K-5 resource connecting math and children's literature.

She is also the lead author of Math in Practice, a  grade-by-grade K-5 professional learning resource. She is also coauthor of the bestselling Putting the Practices Into Action, Mastering the Basic Math Facts in Addition and Subtraction, and Mastering the Basic Math Facts in Multiplication and Division.  She served as editor of Heinemann’s popular Math Process Standards series and also wrote the bestselling Now I Get It.

Sue is a nationally known speaker and education consultant who directs Quality Teacher Development, an organization committed to providing outstanding math professional development for schools and districts across the country.

Watch an introductory Math in Practice webinar, hosted by Sue.

Connect with Sue on Twitter: @SueOConnellMath

Topics: Podcast, Sue O'Connell, Heinemann Podcast, Math by the Book

Date Published: 09/21/23

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