For a teacher’s workshop I gave recently, I was asked to share some ideas about using my book The Bumblebee Queen (Charlesbridge Publishing) in the context of math. Below are some of my informal notes on ideas. As you read through them, I'm sure you'll see that many of these techniques could apply to a wide range of children's books. It's just a matter of putting your math hat on and building mathematical awareness as you share literature with kids. This builds their skills for math, science, and analytical thinking in general. There's no better time to start this kind of math play (thinking) than at the beginning of the school year. This works for families sharing books at home, as well.
(A mathematical look at The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre)
BEING A MATH DETECTIVE
(Building number literacy and sensitivity)
After a first read of the book, as a story, look through it again, as a math detective.
Math can help you notice things and connect facts that you see.
So let’s be math detectives.
What do we notice about numbers in the book?
For younger students:
Let’s look through and write down what we see.
(Write down and honor various responses from kids counting.)
On the cover, we see:
examples that may be suggested by students:
three flowers on the left (columbine)
six legs on a bumblebee
two wings on a bumblebee
Three petals on each flower. Three trillium. They are named “tri” for three.
On the first full spread we see:
Four-toed bird feet
One chamber where she lives
You could count the number of pieces of grass
You could count the number of trees
Do you notice there are lots of things to count on each page?
There are many numbers to notice on each page.
Let’s try to narrow down what we count.
Let’s stay as close as possible to the bee and her life.
What numbers that we hear or see are important to her life?
For older students
1) Read the book and write down any numbers mentioned in the text. If you find them in a sentence, write down the entire sentence.
One way to look for numbers would be to scan the pages quickly for number shapes.
Try that. Does this technique find all the numbers? Why or why not?
(No. Some numbers may be spelled out in letters. So you will need to read, not just scan.
Some numbers may not be spelled out. You may need to look for clues to those numbers in the illustrations.)
Answers: examples of numbers students may have noted
250 bumblebee species
In 5 days, the eggs hatch.
The larvae spin cocoons 10-14 days after hatching
In ten days, the cocoons ripen. (Bees emerge.)
A bumblebee colony can contain 30-400 bees.
Three kinds of bees: queens, workers, drones
USING NUMBERS YOU HAVE GATHERED
CARDINAL NUMBERS/ ORDINAL NUMBERS
How many places did the bumblebee look before she found a place to build her colony?
By number, which place did she choose?
The 3rd place she looked.
Pause to investigate ordinal/cardinal numbers
Cardinal number—a number denoting quantity one, two, three, four five.
Ordinal number—a number denoting order 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th.
Take the figures you have gathered about the bumblebee’s life. Create a timeline, of the days of a bumblebee’s development.
From this kind of work you can study predictions, shapes, and geometry. Go where the students' thoughts take you! In South Carolina, teachers made diagrams of bees and other insects.
For a follow up, read some of David Schwartz's math books, of course. And have your students play with the worksheets and activities related to my book ONE IS A SNAIL, TEN IS A CRAB. Most of all, have fun with math. Make it a tool for poking, prodding, and playing with what we see in the world. Math is about exploration, not recitation.