Mathematical Concepts in Childrens Books

Big Bear, Little Brother by Carl Norac.

Big Bear, Little Brother is a children’s book aimed at children ages 3-5. At a first glance, it seems to be a beautiful story about a child who has lost his way and Big Bear looks after him until he finds his Dad. However, when reading the book again with fresh eyes – there are many mathematical concepts throughout this book.

Here is a list of words that I found throughout the book that can be linked to maths:

  • above
  • quickly
  • huge
  • behind
  • side by side
  • slowly
  • “to make sure the ice was thick enough” – this is a good one, evaluating the ice bridge and deciding if it is thick enough to cross, a lot of mathematics in this!
  • different
  • down
  • edge
  • much taller
  • copy
  • “mound of snow”
  • faster
  • same
  • twice
  • stopped
  • distance

This is 18 different words that can be explored and worked upon – however, every time I read the book I keep changing how many ‘math words’ there are! I started this blog with ten, I am now on eighteen! The story itself can also have mathematical concepts and activities can be planned.

For example, some activities that can be planned could include:

  1. Making footprints in the snow, and counting the number of footprints, exploring different sizes and shapes, and seeing if patterns or symmetry can be explored
  2. Compare and contrast all the different words and bring this into the classroom (for example Big (bear) and little (brother). What else is big and little? Faster, slower, quickly, stopped. Look at all these and see if we can compare and contrast.
  3. In the last few pages of the book – it is dark and windy and the headlights shine on Big Bear and Little Brother. Maybe having a cross curricular lesson that involves lights, shadows, size, symmetry etc.
  4. Simple tasks such as counting how many pages there are in the book, how many times a word is said in the book, how many footprints are on each page etc.

These are just some little examples that can be explored through this book – however, there are probably 100 more different ways to implement this book in the classroom and link it to other subjects. For example Minik (little brother) falls of the cliff at the start of the book, and big bear catches him – this could be linked to science and could look at speed and force (eg drop things from a height and measure how fast they fall). It could also be linked with maths and languages – how many footprints are there? Tres! (Three!).

I have only read this book a few times, and only studied it in depth about 30 minutes ago. But in that time, I have noticed how mathematical concepts are featured in this book, and how important it is that when we are reading childrens books there can be different mathematical concepts in all of them.

Maths…Before and After

Maths and I have a love-hate relationship. I love maths, but apparently maths hates me as I seem to be quite rubbish at it. Throughout my time at primary school I loved maths, and I think this was down to me having great teachers who taught me well. I was good at maths, I enjoyed maths so there didn’t seem to be an issue. However, when I got to high school things took a turn (I say turn, I actually mean a horrific accident and not only was it a turn but I was driving on the opposite side of the road). I had the same maths teacher throughout my first 4 years at high school. All ‘Ms K’ would do is a morning problem solving question, and then two periods (about 45 mins each?) of just sitting working through a textbook – and if you didn’t finish that chapter, then you went home and finished it. From then on, I hated maths. I hated going to maths, doing maths, thinking about maths, my maths exam in fourth year made me worry even more as I was stressed about something I really disliked.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel however. In my 6th year, I decided to give maths another shot. I spoke to various maths teachers throughout the department and they thought I would be able to cope in Higher Maths. How wrong they were. I walked in and walked straight back out. I was scared, I remember ‘Mr M’ writing on the board and it literally looked like another language. I went into Intermediate 2 Maths, and had ‘Mr C’. Mr C made me love maths again.

What Mr C did made me want to come to class. He spoke to me, he explained what I was doing wrong and even though it was still straight out a textbook work, I was starting to love it again. Loving the idea that there is (near enough) always one correct answer. I could go to the back of the book, check my answers and getting all of them right made me want to keep going home and working for hours on my work. I achieved an Intermediate 2 A and was thrilled.

So, I never achieved the grades for University, took a year gap to work and then went back to college. Remembering how much I loved maths made me pick higher maths, assuming that everything would be like Mr Cs class. Turns out it wasn’t. My college lecturer was like Ms K. She was silent, no help and if I was stuck, I was disrupting the classroom and she ‘didn’t have enough teaching time to help me’. I failed higher maths and again have a bad relationship with mathematics.

After todays workshop, I couldn’t get my head round the idea of talking and doing and recording maths. I have never been in a maths classroom where talking was even acceptable! Honestly, I still can’t get my head around how you can’t be silent in a maths lesson. I was trying to imagine what this would look like and techniques and ideas to teach maths and talk but I honestly have no idea how to go about doing this. In the workshop today I do feel better about my relationship with maths, and I know it will improve. I know I am quite good at maths (despite failing higher). However, it’s the teaching maths that frightens me the most, in case I’m not Mr C and I turn out to be Ms K.