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“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth,” Sherlock Holmes has said about his method of detective work. In Sylvan Dell’s new picture book, Deductive Detective, our hero Detective Duck shows that he’s learned from the best! He dons his best deerstalker hat, his much-too-big magnifying glass, and solves the case of the missing cake with the same methods the pros use!
That is, a style of logical thinking called “deductive reasoning.” In deductive reasoning,someone finds an answer they’re looking for by first finding out what the answer isn’t. When Detective Duck examines the clues and finds out which of his friends couldn’t have stolen the cake, it leads him closer to what really happened!
Of course, you don’t need a weird hat and a magnifying glass to use deductive reasoning. These methods come in handy every day! If you lose a toy, for example (or car keys), you may make your search easier by determining where the item isn’t.
“Oh yeah,” you may say, “I didn’t bring it to my friend’s house; I wasn’t holding it when I walked to the living room, or landed on the moon. I wouldn’t have brought it to my parents’ room or under the ocean or into Mordor.” By deciding where you shouldn’t look, you now have a better idea of where you should.
This kind of logic process happens throughout the day, sometimes without you even being aware of it; you might say your brain is always on the case as much as any detective!
Apply deductive reasoning the next time you’re in the bookstore: subtract the books that don’t meet the highest educational standards, offer pages of activities and facts, offer online supplements, are fun to look at and fun to read! You’ll be left with books by Sylvan Dell like The Deductive Detective!
I've been wondering: Can raw numerical facts be the raw materials for creativity in the minds of children? If we just set them loose on a set of data as if it were paint or clay, and we encourage them to find ways to use that data, will they come up with something that will make them, and you, say "Wow!"?
Today I went to the Panama Canal. Sounds like a nice Sunday excursion, doesn't it? I am in Panama for school visits next week, and thanks to the generosity of Kathryn Abbott, her husband Tim and their son Alan (an International School of Panama student), a visit to the Gatun Locks was on today's itinerary. Here's proof:
So here are some numerical facts associated with the Panama Canal:
-- Twelve to fifteen thousand ships per year pass through the canal.
-- The 22.5 mile passage takes two hours and saves the ship 7,872 miles and three weeks of sailing around Cape Horn.
-- The London-based ship called CMA CGM Blue Whale, which I watched pass through Gatun Locks, held 5,080 containers. On the basis of its capacity, it paid a toll of $384,000.
-- the lowest toll ever paid was 6 cents. It covered the passage by Richard Halliburton who secured permission to swim the length of the canal in 1928, but no exemption from the toll, which was assessed on the basis of his "tonnage." (I wrote about Halliburton in the March, 1989, issue of Smithsonian magazine.)
-- 1.8 million cubic meters of concrete were used to construct the Gatun Locks, one of the three lock systems of the canal.
-- About 5,000 workers lost their lives building the canal in the early 20th Century. Eighty percent of them were Black.
-- The locks lift each ship 85 feet to the highest elevation of the canal (Gatun Lake) and then back down again. Many of the ships weigh 60,000 tons or more.
-- Filling each lock chamber drains 26.7 million gallons of water from Gatun Lake. When the chamber is emptied, the water goes to sea. (The ongoing Panama Canal Expansion Project will change the system so that the water will be recycled.)
-- The width of the locks limits the size of ships that can pass through the canal. This distance, 110 feet, is called "Panamax" and it dictates the dimensions of ships worldwide. CMA CGM Blue Whale is 106 feet wide. (Locomotives called mulas, mules, ride on tracks alongside the lock, pulling the ships with taut cables that also center the ships in the passageway. These seagoing behemoths must never, ever touch the sides of the lock!)
There are many, many more but that's enough to run my experiment. The question is: can students take these figures and run with them to discover something interesting, something "Wow!" They can make assumptions. For example, they could assume that the ship I saw is typical of those that pass through the canal. Thus, to use a simple example, they might calculate the annual revenue of the canal by multiplying the toll paid for the Blue Whale by 12,000 or 15,000 (or something in between). Then they could put that into some kind of context. (How many teacher salaries would that pay?)
Here's what I did as an example, using the last bulleted item listed above:
The ship I saw is 106 feet wide and the lock is 110 feet wide, so the clearance is four feet, or two feet on each side. What does that mean in terms we can relate to?
I scaled the Blue Whale to the size of my kayak, which is about two feet wide. The ship is 50 times as wide as the kayak. So I divided the ship's clearance of 2 feet per side by 50 to find out what my kayak's clearance would be: about half an inch! So... a 110-foot wide ship passing through the lock with two feet of clearance on each side is like my kayak passing through a concrete-walled chamber with a half-inch of clearance on each side, not touching either side, not even once, not even for a zillionth of a second! Is that a "Wow!" moment or what?
I find it way cool that math can turn a raw fact into a wowful wonder. Of course I'm already planning a book. Maybe teachers of upper elementary, middle school or high school students can plan a class around this. Make it open ended. Give the kids facts, calculators, internet access to look up information, and the time to play. Show them books that turn facts into "Wows!" (May I recommend my If Dogs Were Dinosaurs and How Much Is a Million? for starters, but don't stop there.) See if your young mathematicians can be creative artists. Wow!
Make a beeline for your local library’s children’s biography section and learn firsthand the shocking truth about picture book bios of mathematical geniuses. Apparently there was only one and his name was Einstein. End of story. The world as we know it is not overflowing with picture book encapsulations of the lives of Sir Isaac Newton or Archimedes (though admittedly you could probably drum up a Leonardo da Vinci book or two if you were keen to try). But when it comes to folks alive in the 20th century, Einstein is the beginning and the end of the story. You might be so foolish as to think there was a good reason for that fact. Maybe all the other mathematicians were dull. I mean, Einstein was a pretty interesting fella, what with his world-shattering theories and crazed mane. And true, the wild-haired physicist was fascinating in his own right, but if we’re talking out-and-out interesting people, few can compare with the patron saint of contemporary mathematics, Paul Erdős. Prior to reading this book I would have doubted a person could conceivably make an engaging biography chock full to overflowing with mathematical concepts. Now I can only stare in amazement at a story that could conceivably make a kid wonder about how neat everything from Euler’s map of Konigsburg to the Szekeres Snark is. This is one bio you do NOT want to miss. A stunner from start to finish.
For you see, there once was a boy who loved math. His name was Paul and he lived in Budapest, Hungary in 1913. As a child, Paul adored numbers, and theorems, and patterns, and tricky ideas like prime numbers. As he got older he grew to be the kind of guy who wanted to do math all the time! Paul was a great guy and a genius and folks loved having him over, but he was utterly incapable of taking care of himself. Fortunately, he didn’t have to. Folks would take care of Paul and in exchange he would bring mathematicians together. The result of these meetings was great strides in number theory, combinatorics, the probabilistic method, set theory, and more! Until the end of this days (when he died in a math meeting) Paul loved what he did and he loved the people he worked with. “Numbers and people were his best friends. Paul Erdős had no problem with that.”
There are two kinds of picture book biographies in this world. The first attempts to select just a single moment or personality quirk from a person’s life, letting it stand in as an example of the whole. Good examples of this kind of book might include Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell about the childhood of Jane Goodall or Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President And the Country by Kathleen Krull. It’s hard to pinpoint the perfect way to convey any subject, but it can sometimes be even harder to tell an entire life in the span of a mere 40 pages or so. Still, that tends to be the second and more common kind of picture book biography out there. Generally speaking they don’t tend to be terribly interesting. Just a series of rote facts, incapable of making it clear to a kind why a person mattered aside from the standard “because I said so” defense. The Boy Who Loved Math is different because it really takes the nature of biography seriously. If the purpose of a bio is to make it clear that a person was important, how important was a guy who loved math puzzles? Well, consider what the story can do. In a scant number of pages author Deborah Heiligman gives us an entire life synthesized down to just a couple key moments, giving the man’s life form and function and purpose, all while remaining lighthearted and fun to read. Who does that?
Did you know that there are kids out there who like math? I mean, reeeeeeally like math? The kinds that beg their parents for math problems to solve? They exist (heck, Ms. Heiligman gave birth to one) and for those kids this book will come like a present from on high. Because not only does the author highlight a fellow who took his passion for numbers and turned it into a fulfilling and fun life, but thanks to illustrator LeUyen Pham the illustrations are overflowing with math equations and puzzles and problems, just waiting to be interpreted and dissected. I have followed the career of Ms. Pham for many years. There is no book that she touches that she does not improve with her unique style. Whether it’s zeroing in on a child’s neuroses in Alvin Ho or bringing lush life to a work of poetry as in A Stick Is an Excellent Thing, Pham’s art can run the gamut from perfect interstitial pen-and-inks to lush watercolor paints. I say that, but I have never, but ever, seen anything like what she’s done in The Boy Who Loved Math.
It would not be overstating the matter to call this book Pham’s masterpiece. The common story behind its creation is that there was some difficulty finding the perfect artist for it because whosoever put pen to paper here would have to be comfortable on some level with incorporating math into the art. Many is the artist who would shy away from that demand. Not Ms. Pham. She takes to the medium like a duck to water, seemingly effortlessly weaving equations, charts, diagrams, numbers, and theorems into pictures that also have to complement the story, feature the faces of real people, capture a sense of time (often through clothing) and place (often through architecture), and hardest of all, be fun to look at.
But that’s just for starters. The final product is MUCH more complex. I’m not entirely certain what the medium is at work here but if I had to guess I’d go with watercolors. Whatever it is, Pham’s design on each page layout is extraordinary. Sometimes she’ll do a full page, border to border, chock full of illustrations of a single moment. That might pair with a page of interstitial scenes, giving a feel to Paul’s life. Or consider the page where you see a group of diners at a restaurant, their worlds carefully separated into dotted squares (a hat tip to one of Paul’s puzzles) while Paul sits in his very own dotted pentagon. It’s these little touches that make it clear that Paul isn’t like other folks. All this culminates in Pham’s remarkable Erdős number graph, where she outdoes herself showing how Paul intersected with the great mathematicians of the day. Absolutely stunning.
Both Heiligman and Pham take a great deal of care to tell this tale as honestly as possible. The extensive “Note From the Author” and “Note From the Illustrator” sections in the back are an eye-opening glimpse into what it takes to present a person honestly to a child audience. In Pham’s notes she concedes when she had to illustrate without a guide at hand. For example, Paul’s babysitter (“the dreaded Faulein”) had to be conjured from scratch. She is the rare exception, however. Almost every face in this book is a real person, and it’s remarkable to look and see Pham’s page by page notes on who each one is.
Heiligman’s author’s note speaks less to what she included and more to what she had to leave out. She doesn’t mention the fact that Paul was addicted to amphetamines and honestly that sort of detail wouldn’t have served the story much at all. Similarly I had no problem with Paul’s father’s absence. Heiligman mentions in her note what the man went through and why his absences would make Paul’s mother the “central person in his life emotionally”. The book never denies his existence, it just focuses on Paul’s mother as a guiding force that was perhaps in some way responsible for the man’s more quirky qualities. The only part of the book that I would have changed wasn’t what Heiligman left out but what she put in. At one point the story is in the midst of telling some of Paul’s more peculiar acts as a guest (stabbing tomato juice cartons with knives, waking friends up at 4 a.m. to talk math, etc.). Then, out of the blue, we see a very brief mention of Paul getting caught by the police when he tried to look at a radio tower. That section is almost immediately forgotten when the text jumps back to Paul and his hosts, asking why they put up with his oddities. I can see why placing Paul in the midst of the Red Scare puts the tale into context, but I might argue that there’s no real reason to include it. Though the Note for the Author at the end mentions that because of this act he wasn’t allowed back in the States for a decade, it doesn’t have a real bearing on the thrust of the book. As they say in the biz, it comes right out.
I have mentioned that this book is a boon for the math-lovers of the world, but what about the kids who couldn’t care diddly over squat about mathy malarkey? Well, as far as I’m concerned the whole reason this book works is because it’s fun. A little bit silly too, come to that. Even if a kid couldn’t care less about prime numbers, there’s interest to be had in watching someone else get excited about them. We don’t read biographies of people exactly like ourselves all the time, because what would be the point of that? Part of the reason biographies even exist is to grant us glimpses into the lives of the folks we would otherwise never have the chance to meet. Your kid may never become a mathematician, but with the book they can at least hang out with one.
One problem teachers have when they teach math is that they cannot come up with a way to make it clear that for some people mathematics is a game. A wonderful game full of surprises and puzzles and queries. What The Boy Who Loved Math does so well is to not only show how much fun math can be on your own, it makes it clear that the contribution Paul Erdős gave to the world above and beyond his own genius was that he encouraged people to work together to solve their problems. Heiligman’s biography isn’t simply the rote facts about a man’s life. It places that life in context, gives meaning to what he did, and makes it clear that above and beyond his eccentricities (which admittedly make for wonderful picture book bio fare) this was a guy who made the world a better place through mathematics. What’s more, he lived his life exactly the way he wanted to. How many of us can say as much? So applause for Heiligman and Pham for not only presenting a little known life for all the world to see, but for giving that life such a magnificent package as this book. A must purchase.
On shelves June 25th
Source: Advanced readers galley sent from publisher for review.
Two contrasting experiences stick in mind from my first year at university.
First, I spent a lot of time in lectures that I did not understand. I don’t mean lectures in which I got the general gist but didn’t quite follow the technical details. I mean lectures in which I understood not one thing from the beginning to the end. I still went to all the lectures and wrote everything down – I was a dutiful sort of student – but this was hardly the ideal learning experience.
Second, at the end of the year, I was awarded first class marks. The best thing about this was that later that evening, a friend came up to me in the bar and said, “Hey Lara, I hear you got a first!” and I was rapidly surrounded by other friends offering enthusiastic congratulations. This was a revelation. I had attended the kind of school at which students who did well were derided rather than congratulated. I was delighted to find myself in a place where success was celebrated.
Looking back, I think that the interesting thing about these two experiences is the relationship between the two. How could I have done so well when I understood so little of so many lectures?
I don’t think that there was a problem with me. I didn’t come out at the very top, but obviously I had the ability and dedication to get to grips with the mathematics. Nor do I think that there was a problem with the lecturers. Like the vast majority of the mathematicians I have met since, my lecturers cared about their courses and put considerable effort into giving a logically coherent presentation. Not all were natural entertainers, but there was nothing fundamentally wrong with their teaching.
I now think that the problems were more subtle, and related to two issues in particular.
First, there was a communication gap: the lecturers and I did not understand mathematics in the same way. Mathematicians understand mathematics as a network of axioms, definitions, examples, algorithms, theorems, proofs, and applications. They present and explain these, hoping that students will appreciate the logic of the ideas and will think about the ways in which they can be combined. I didn’t really know how to learn effectively from lectures on abstract material, and research indicates that I was pretty typical in this respect.
Students arrive at university with a set of expectations about what it means to ‘do mathematics’ – about what kind of information teachers will provide and about what students are supposed to do with it. Some of these expectations work well at school but not at university. Many students need to learn, for instance, to treat definitions as stipulative rather than descriptive, to generate and check their own examples, to interpret logical language in a strict, mathematical way rather than a more flexible, context-influenced way, and to infer logical relationships within and across mathematical proofs. These things are expected, but often they are not explicitly taught.
My second problem was that I didn’t have very good study skills. I wasn’t terrible – I wasn’t lazy, or arrogant, or easily distracted, or unwilling to put in the hours. But I wasn’t very effective in deciding how to spend my study time. In fact, I don’t remember making many conscious decisions about it at all. I would try a question, find it difficult, stare out of the window, become worried, attempt to study some section of my lecture notes instead, fail at that too, and end up discouraged. Again, many students are like this. I have met a few who probably should have postponed university until they were ready to exercise some self-discipline, but most do want to learn.
What they lack is a set of strategies for managing their learning – for deciding how to distribute their time when no-one is checking what they’ve done from one class to the next, and for maintaining momentum when things get difficult. Many could improve their effectiveness by doing simple things like systematically prioritizing study tasks, and developing a routine in which they study particular subjects in particular gaps between lectures. Again, the responsibility for learning these skills lies primarily with the student.
Personally, I never got to a point where I understood every lecture. But I learned how to make sense of abstract material, I developed strategies for studying effectively, and I maintained my first class marks. What I would now say to current students is this: take charge. Find out what lecturers and tutors are expecting, and take opportunities to learn about good study habits. Students who do that should find, like I did, that undergraduate mathematics is challenging, but a pleasure to learn.
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If you're looking for a way to inspire very young people to wonder about math and science, look no further than Infinity and Me!
Hosford, Kate. 2012. Infinity and Me. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda. (Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska)
Infinity and Me will open up (dare I say it?) infinite possibilities and questions!
A small girl, Uma, ponders infinity while gazing at stars,
How many stars were in the sky? A million? A billion? Maybe the number was as big as infinity. I started to feel very, very small. How could I even think about something as big as infinity?
Uma proceeds to ask others how they conceive of infinity, and hears it defined in quantities of numbers, time, music, ancestors - even spaghetti! Finally, she settles on her own measure of infinity, quantified in something that is both personal and boundless. Full-bleed painted illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska capture the magical sense of the endless immensity of infinity that at first perplexes Uma, and finally envelops her in understanding.
In the end, it doesn't matter how one envisions infinity; what does matter is kindling an interest in something broader, wider, more infinite than oneself.
This is an intriguing introduction to a mathematical concept.
I was once in Prospect Park in Brooklyn when I passed a very small child wearing a porkpie hat running as fast as his chubby legs could carry him. Behind him his father yelled out (to little avail), “Pontius! Pontius, slow down!” I mention this because there is a particular Brooklyn aesthetic to a picture book like The Chicken Problem. Consider, if you will, its heroine Peg. Here she is sporting a mighty trendy little outfit replete with striped tights and buckled red boots. Even her name, Peg, suggests that she was named after Peggy Lee or someone of equal caliber. Notice too that she’s playing a ukulele on the endpapers and that pretty much clinches it. Peg is trendy. Too trendy for your preschooler? Not in the least. Peg may be a specific type of heroine peculiar to a single geographical location but with her urbane Cat and her trouble with high-spirited chicks this is one of those memorable heroines and one-on-one readalouds that add a little bit of math to a little bit of story alongside a whole lot of fine and beautiful art to bring us one fine fine book.
It’s a bright and beautiful day when young Peg and her cat Cat go to the farm to have a perfect picnic with a pig. Peg is one of those girls who like everything to be just so, and when she discovers that she accidentally cut an extra slice of pie she feels it’s a dire problem. Cat solves the imbalance by removing a very small chick from a nearby coop and surely that would be the end of that . . . if he’d managed to remember to close the coop door. Suddenly one hundred chickens are free and roaming the farm. It’s up to Peg, Cat, and maybe that pig they picked up, to figure out a way to cajole these freedom loving fowl into returning from whence they came. When that mission is finally accomplished that leaves one final matter: Time for pie!
I’ve read the occasional professional review that snarked about the svelte story found here, but to be honest I was rather charmed by it. It’s not the most dire straits that Peg and Cat must escape but in the simplest sense it’s a story with a mistake, a solution, and a conclusion that feels satisfying. The language itself repeats in good ways and sounds pleasant on the tongue (“The pie was fresh and juicy and gooey”) while the plot appeals to the pint-sized obsessive compulsives out there that insist that everything be exactly right.
The art is particularly charming, though I found I couldn’t figure out the medium. If I was going to harbor a guess I’d say that it was digital art doing a stand-up and cheer imitation of mixed media. I might have figured it to be done by hand, were it not for the fact that on more than one occasion a chicken will repeat in a large crowd scene. No matter, since it’s the charm of the characters that ultimately pull this puppy through. Peg, noseless though she may be, is a likeable soul. Cat, a feline I initially considered lacking in smiles, turns out to have quite a bit of nuance to his rotund eggplant-like little body. The pig is always referred to as “a pig”, as if he were just some barnyard stray the duo stumbled over on their travels. He seems so content wherever he is, legs neatly crossed beneath him, that you suspect he’d follow Peg and Cat to the ends of the earth if they asked. As for the chickens themselves, they’re beautifully expressionless and yet you spend a lot of your time just trying to keep up with their antics.
Speaking of endpapers, I’ve seen inside jokes in my day. I’ve seen clever details and little pokes of fun. What I have never seen are endpapers that are SO o’erfilled with details and ideas that you could spend the better part of twenty minutes parsing them. It is important to know that the front endpapers are incredibly different from the back endpapers. I mention this in part because I know that libraries have a tendency to glue their bookflaps to their books’ front and back covers and the result is going to cover up quite a bit of content. At the front of the book you can find six scenes drawn from Peg and Cat’s adventures. Sometimes they might be rowing George Washington over the Delaware while other times they’re jamming with a band of bears. Quick flip to the back of the book and you’ve the strangest collection of one hundred chickens you ever did see. An explanation is provided in the special thanks section. It says, “And, for posing so patiently for the pictures, the one hundred chickens,” and then names each and every last one of them. It took a while for me to realize that the names correspond with the pictures on the opposite page. I had already looked at the pictures of the chicks before and noticed odd details about them (like the fact that one of them resembled President Obama on his HOPE poster) but didn’t realize that each one had a name (“Barawk Obama”). Look closely enough and you’ll find references to Lady Gaga, Mahatma Gandhi, Rumpelstiltskin, St. John, George Bernard Shaw, and many others. My personal favorite was the preppy turtleneck donning Cluck C. Cluck III. Even without reading his name I knew he was a 1% chicken, if you know what I mean.
As the bookflaps explain, Peg and Cat are well on their way to becoming a television series on PBS that teaches preschoolers math someday. And while that might account for some of the adventures on the endpapers, the story stands perfectly well on its own. I don’t need to see Peg on my TiVo to know she’s a special kind of kid. Whether or not the show occurs, I do hope that we’ll see more of Peg and her erstwhile purple companion on good old-fashioned paper and board in the future. I suspect folks will end up picking up the book more for the art and story than the math, and that’s okay. Fun pretty much sums it up.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
And though its website is gone, you get a pretty clear sense of Peg, Cat and their world here.
I am now entertaining the ridiculous hope that when the show premiers they make Peg-with-ukelele YouTube videos like the millions already out there. Just Peg, a ukelele, a blank wall, and one of her songs. I mean, might as well at this point, right?
BUGS BY THE NUMBERS, written and illustrated by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss, is a book I have a love/hate relationship with. Let's start with the stuff the "bugs" me (no pun intended) so that I can get on to the many things I love about it. Please bear with me while I put on my scientist hat.
First, I really dislike the use of the word bugs as a broad classification for arthropods and other "creepy crawly" creatures. Here's a rundown on the classification system and where these organisms are found.
Arthropods are composed of five classes of organisms--arachnids, insects, crustaceans, centipedes, and millipedes. Now, hemiptera is an order of insects known as "true bugs." Included here are stink bugs, cicadas, aphids, water striders and more.
The animals highlighted in this book are ant, butterfly, dobsonfly, fly, ladybug, spider, centipede, grasshopper, walking stick, leaf insect, scorpion, dragonfly, bee, mosquito, firefly, flea, cockroach, praying mantis, tick, bed bug, beetle, termite, and earthworm. All come from the phylum arthropod with the exception of the earthworm. This raises my second concern regarding the use of the word bug. Annelids are a phylum in the animal kingdom consisting largely of segmented worms. Earthworms fall within this phylum. They are not bugs in any sense of the word. I will admit that the term "worm" is used rather loosely and is sometimes used to refer to certain forms of insect larvae (think mealworms, glowworms, inchworms, etc.). The authors do explain in the fine print on the earthworm page that all bugs evolved from earthworms. Even so, I find their inclusion here troubling. It's the one page that I skip while sharing this book with students.
Now that I've had may little science rant, let's talk about the really amazing features of this book. When I read this book I begin by reading a bit from the jacket flap, as two brief rhyming stanzas do a terrific job introducing the contents of the book.
Each bug on these pages Looks unique and rare, Not like the insects You see everywhere.
They're made up of numbers: The ones that you count. 'Cause when you think bugs, You think BIG amounts.
When you open the pages you'll find 23 different animals constructed from numbers of varying sizes and font faces. Many of the pages have fun flaps and flip-out sections. On every page there is a wealth of information on the animal, always highlighting in some way the numbers used to create it. For example, the ant is composed of 1s, 2s, and 3s, with each number comprising a different body segment (1s-head, 2s-thorax, 3s-abdomen). A fold-out flap of a leaf includes the number 3 and the fact that like other insects, ants have 3 body parts. When the flap is lifted up, 50 ants form the number 50. Beneath the number is this fact. "Ants can lift 50 times their own body weight. If you could do that, you'd be able to life a car." The fold-out flap on the bottom of the page looks like a pile of dirt. When it is folded down, a picture of ant tunnels beneath the ground is accompanied by the fact "An ant colony can reach 20 feet below ground. " In addition to these numbers and facts, readers learn that ants have 2 stomachs, that worker ants can take 250 short naps a day, and that queen ants can live for 30 years. As you can see, this one double-page spread is jam-packed with information. Nineteen of the animals in the book receive such extended treatment, with only four (dobsonfly, fly, tick and bedbug) garnering only a single page each.
My favorite page is the beetle page. While the graphic highlights the rhinocerous beetle, the bits of information along the bottom of the page describe a few standouts in the beetle family. Did you know that the fastest-running insect is the Australian Tiger Beetle? Or the that Goliath Beetle is the world's heaviest insect? Or that there are over 300,000 species of beetles on the planet?
It's clear from the outset that Werner and Forss anticipated the kind of concern I raised about the use of the word bug. Here's an excerpt from the introductory page.
Now some smarties might notice As the go through and look, Not every creature is a bug in this book.
Not all critters that fly or crawl on the ground Are technically bugs, but we both have found Mos folks call them bugs, and since they do, We figured, why not? We'd call them "bugs" too.
Real bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs And spiders are neither (oh, please don't say, "Ugh").
So yes, the authors beg a bit of latitude in the beginning. I do think that if you use this in any kind of science context this needs to be explained and perhaps examined in a bit more depth.
Despite my concerns regarding the use of the word bug and the inclusion of the earthworm, I find the bulk of the book to be gorgeously constructed, highly engaging, and chock full of interesting tidbits. The kids in your classroom will be fighting over this one, so you may want more than one copy. RECOMMENDED.
Author/Illustrator: Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss Publisher: Blue Apple Books Publication Date: April 2011 Pages: 56 pages Grades: 3-8 ISBN: 978-1609050610 Source of Book: Copy borrowed from my local public library
What's not to love about cleverly disguised math problems? Or rib-tickling parodies of classic poems?
Can you guess the classic that inspired this poem?
Once upon a midnight rotten,
Cold, and rainy, I'd forgotten
All about the apple pie
Still cooling from the hour before.
I ignored the frightful stranger
Knocking, knocking . . . I, sleepwalking,
Pitter-pattered toward the pantry,
Took a knife from the kitchen drawer,
And screamed aloud, "How many cuts
Give me ten pieces?" through the door,
The stranger bellowed, "Never four!"
Go ahead, draw a circle and give it a try! The answer can be found upside-down on the opposing page. (Look it up or figure it out because I'm not telling!) Mathematically you could use four cuts, however, the pieces would not be equal in size.
Another poem takes the final lines of "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" and replaces them with these words:
My tightie whities look so sad.
My tightie whities look so sad.
Yup, it's sacrilege of the best kind. Kids will have fun reading and solving these. Hopefully some smart teachers will share the originals with kids and maybe even have them try some mathematical parodies of their own.
Here's one more to whet your appetite. Yes, it contains fractions, but be brave!
Edward Lear's Elephant with Hot Dog
Inspired by "There Was An Old Man With a Beard" by Edward Lear
When an elephant sat down to order
A half of a third of a quarter
Of an eighty-foot bun
And a frankfurter, son
Was it longer than three feet, or shorter?
The round up this week is being hosted by Doraine Bennett at Dori Reads. Do stop by and take in the terrific poetry being share. Happy poetry Friday!
I might be a little bit anti-TV in general. I'll be honest.
BUT...when the Olympics are on? Bring on the popcorn, and let's hang out on the couch!
As homeschoolers, the Olympics provide the perfect opportunity to do some unconventional learning time. Here are a few (easy and stress-free) ideas:
Have a globe or world map in the room. Each time a new country is mentioned, find it! You could even go the extra mile and google a little info about the country. Today, my son and I spent some time looking up some of the less-known countries that will be participating.
Make flags. You can make flags to hang or ones to wave while cheering for your country. You could make a flag for England and learn about London. You could have a sketchbook handy and sketch flags of countries you look up.
Make a banner of world flags.
Make a chart with a few of the most prominent countries, and chart their medals each day.
If you feel ambitious, set up a mock-Olympic games in your backyard. Have you heard of the Modern Pentathlon? It would be fun to imitate. It involves shooting, swimming, running, fencing, and show jumping. Set up a course in the backyard where kids shoot a water gun at a target, cross through a kiddie pool, stab something with a foam sword, and jump over a hurdle on a hobby horse. Don't forget a stopwatch. You could keep this pretty simple or go all out and invite the neighborhood.
Read about some of the people (past or present) who have competed in the Olympics.
When watching a sporting event such as basketball or volleyball, get out a white-board or chalkboard and tally up each team's points.
Choose an event and eat food from the country that earned gold.
Make medals for each other. You could think of a strength for each member of the family and give them a gold medal for that quality.
Learn about decimals. How long is a tenth or hundredth of a second? Find the differences between scores and times of gold medalists vs. silver and bronze medalists.
Buy gold coin chocolates and win 'medals' for doing chores, good behavior, etc.
Have everyone guess how many gold medals your country will win during the entire summer Olympics. Whoever ends up closest gets a prize.
Discuss the degrees of a circle in association with diving.
Learn about a sporting event you are unfamiliar with.
Learn about horses and watch the equestrian events.
Create a routine modeled after synchronized swimming or gymnastics.
Do tricks on a trampoline. Have someone keep score.
Watch sailing and make sailboats to float in the bathtub or race down a creek.
Watch weightlifting. Weigh various items around the house.
How Many Jelly Beans? is the Sneaky Chef of picture books, but instead of hiding vegetables in kid friendly foods, Andrea Menotti and illustrator Yancey Labat (illustrator of the superb Worst Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure Series of choose-your-own adventure books by David Borgenicht) have hidden math facts inside of a brilliantly colored, candy coated story about two siblings trying to
While I was on Facebook this morning, I read a short conversation that took place yesterday between two of my closer friends; one from years past and close to my heart, the other newly formed and also close enough to hear my heartbeat.
What struck me as interesting was the subject of their discussion. They talked about poetry. Not just any poetry, but about well-known Sufi poets, both those of many decades or more past, as well as those of more contemporary times.
That subject isn’t one you can find lying around the average library when seeking good reading material. It struck me as relevant, too, that my older friend hasn’t been reading from these poets for very long. He’d discovered them after taking a recommendation from a newer acquaintance. An early morning discussion of Sufi philosophy isn’t usual FB fare, but it happens sometimes between educated people.
I realize that this doesn’t seem significant to the average reader. What makes it significant is that it came on the heels of a report I read this past week on the Illiteracy Reality that was released recently. The numbers on that report would make anyone stand up and protest or sit down in total discouragement.
According to the latest and greatest research, the current number of American adults, classified as functionally illiterate increases by 2.25 million each year.
Stop and think about that for just one second. It equates to having an equivalent population to the city of St. Louis joining the ranks of those who’re reading below a 5thgrade level. The number of people who are able to do routine math is even more dismal.
Here’s another factoid for you. When I worked corporate, albeit many years ago for one of the Fortune 500, I was asked to simplify my internal memos. Why? Because, my informant replied, the language structure accepted by upper echelon never exceeds 8th grade reading level. Everyone else, used 5th grade level to communicate.
I was stunned, to say the least. I suppose it comes from jargon needs. Jargon? Oh yeah. Every industry as its own jargon/language. Even fast food joints. This verbal shorthand makes communicating between employees faster, easier, and less likely to confuse the employees.
The laptop of my infinite sadness continues to remain broken which wrecks a certain special kind of havoc with my gray cells. To distract myself, I plunge headlong into the silliest news of the week. Let’s see if there’s anything here to console a battered Bird brain (something tells me that didn’t come out sounding quite right…).
The best news of the day is that Matthew Kirby was the recent winner of the Edgar Award for Best Mystery in the juvenile category for his fabuloso book Icefall. My sole regret is that it did not also win an Agatha Award for “traditional mystery” in the style of Agatha Christie. Seems to me it was a shoo-in. I mean, can you think of any other children’s book last year that had such clear elements of And Then There Were None? Nope. In any case, Rocco interviews the two winners (the YA category went to Dandi Daley Mackall) here and here.
It’s so nice when you find a series on Facebook and then discover it has a website or blog equivalent in the “real world” (howsoever you choose to define that term). The Underground New York Public Library name may sound like it’s a reference to our one and only underground library (the Andrew Heiskell branch, in case you were curious) but it’s actually a street photography site showing what New Yorkers read on the subways. Various Hunger Games titles have made appearances as has Black Heart by Holly Black and some other YA/kid titles. Just a quick word of warning, though. It’s oddly engaging. You may find yourself flipping through the pages for hours.
A reprint of Roger Sutton’s 2010 Ezra Jack Keats Lecture from April 2011 has made its way online. What Hath Harry Wrought? puts the Harry Potter phenomenon in perspective now that we’ve some distance. And though I shudder to think that Love You Forever should get any credit for anything ever (growl grumble snarl raspberry) what Roger has to say here is worthy of discussion.
And in my totally-not-surprised-about-this department… From Cynopsis Kids:
“Fox Animation acquires the feature film rights to the kid’s book The Hero’s Guide to Saving your Kingdom, per THR. A fairy tale mashup by first-time author by Christopher Healy and featuring illustrations by Todd Harris, revolves around the four princes from Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. Chernin Entertainment (Rise of Planet of the Apes) is set to produce the movie. Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins Children’s Books release The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (432 pages) today.”
If y’all haven’t read The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your King
When my first picture book was published in 1985, getting feedback from a reader usually happened via a fan letter or while I was visiting a school. In our wonderful new digital world, authors can interact with their readers by means of email, blog posts, comments, tweets, videos, review sites, and whatever the tech-genuises will think of next. The reviews so far for my new picture book Seeing Symmetry have been very positive except for one blogger who commented that the book has “too much information.” The image below shows the opening spread, which has fewer images than some of the other pages, but gives the general idea:
There are many possible reasons for the statement…the blogger was probably looking for a much simpler book for very young children. But hey, what about all the older children, what are they going to read? One very good reason for creating the book at a higher level (that I wasn’t aware of at the time) is that the Common Core State Standard for line symmetry is in 4th grade. Do you want to know what it is? Thought you’d never ask: 4.G.3 Recognize a line of symmetry for a two-dimensional figure as a line across the figure such that the figure can be folded along the line into matching parts. Identify line-symmetric figures and draw lines of symmetry.
The question of how much to include is always an issue for authors. We do the research, compile a zillion things, and reluctantly pare it all down as much as possible. I did “cheat” a little bit by having a couple of pages of notes in the back. And perhaps a Simple Symmetry book is in my future…wouldn’t want to leave out the little guys!
Getting back to the original complaint, that there is “too much” information in this book, I can see how it might be difficult to get through many nonfiction books that are loaded with factoids. Here is a blog post on the Children’s Books and Reading blog that has a good approach using sentence starter cards to help kids process the information better… Non-Fiction Books: Putting Words Into Their Mouths. In short, the adult makes cards with phrases such as “I can see…” and “I can hear…” The adult and child take turns pretending to be a person in the book, the idea being to put yourself into the page and take the time to observe what is going on. There is no need to finish the entire book in one sitting, perhaps one page at a time is just right.
If anyone would like further immersion in the wonderful world of symmetry, I have been having a fabulous time compiling all kinds of symmetrical images on Pinterest. Amazingly, over 800 hundred people are following my symmetry board:
I'm on vacation this week, but wanted to point out Loreen Leedy's latest.
Leedy, Loreen. 2012. Seeing Symmetry. New York: Holiday House.
A teacher's dream, Seeing Symmetry is so much more than a book about symmetry. It is the intersection of math, art and nature in a clearly illustrated book that is entertaining, participatory, and educational. It's also correlated to 4th grade core curriculum standards for geometry (see Loreen Leedy's website). Notes, activities, math concepts and vocabulary are included as well.
More kids would like math if it were always presented like this. Worth checking out!
Watch the video below, narrated by author/illustrator, Loreen Leedy, and read a detailed review @ Kirkus Reviews.
Today's Monday Math Freebie is up over at Bookish Ways in Math and Science. You'll find a problem solving activity where students must determine a pattern of dominoes placed on a table. The pattern is missing the lines showing the individual dominoes. Students must use their reasoning skills to determine the arrangement of the dominoes.
Children’s Ezine Guardian Angel Kids: Math Concepts – February 2012 Issue
Teaching math concepts beyond traditional number problems opens up creative opportunities for both teachers and students. Different strategies include the use of poetry, stories, engaging articles, and activities that get the body and mind working in unison.
Come explore the world of "Math Concepts" in the Guardian Angel Kids February 2012 issue and learn how to tell time, add, subtract, and divide, rap to numbers through poetry, learn the history of pennies, how powerful zero truly is, and hands on math activities. Make it a family learning experience and fun will surely be had by one and all.
Letter from the EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Donna M. McDine
Learn to Count 1-10 flip book by Eugene Ruble
Sparkie: A Star Afraid of the Dark book video by Susann Batson
Children’S poetry, SHORT STORIES, and articleS:
“Can You Tell Time?” quiz by Marion Tickner – explores the different timepieces before the technology explosion.
“How Many Are Half?” poetry by Donna J. Shepherd – Grandma’s delicious chocolate chip cookie treat and how the cookies are shared.
“Numbers Rap,” poetry by Bill Kirk – the wonder of numbers all around us.
“Cookies with Sprinkles,” by Shari L. Klase and illustrated by Julie Hammond – a whimsical adventure to Grandma’s house.
“The Value of Pennies,” by Gina Napoli – discover the history and significance of pennies.
“The All Powerful Nothing,” by Mary Reina – learn about the power of zero and how it turns nothing into something.
“Hands on Math Activities for Home or School,” by Kathy Stemke – get moving and grooving with enjoyable Math activities.
“Hopscotch Math,” by Karen Robuck – teach and reinforce basic Math skills with the fun of hopscotch
When it comes to our book trailers, sometimes it takes a village!While author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld came up with the concept, and co-author Joan Holub fine tuned the script with her strong background in math and education, we in Marketing had a ton of fun putting it together ~ we used our very own in-house talent (voices!!) and we think we nailed a 10! That's a 1 with a 0 next to it...)
In My Mailbox is a meme hosted by The Story Siren where we show off all the books we got this week.
Mine is more than a little late, so there's quite a bit!
I got Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne at last weekend's signing at Children's Book World. It looks lovely and has a linen cover--much better than those spongy-rubber covers that were all the rage last year. I can't wait to read it!
Boy, I tell you. You get a kid and suddenly you find yourself scheming all these crazy schemes. “I’m going to get my kid to like vegetables!” “I’m going to get my kid to appreciate classical music!” “I’m going to get my kid to like math!” Crazy, right? I mean the first two seem doable, but the third? I’m an English major, guys. What are the chances that I’m even capable of instilling a math love in my offspring? To the rescue comes a new generation of picture books for kids with math-centric concepts. I’m not talking about books that take a math problem, turn it into a story, and somehow that’s going to magically get kids excited about integers. No, I’m talking about math books that practically dare kids to deny the pleasure of counting, estimating, etc. Such books most certainly exist, though it takes some digging to locate them. Now at long last we’ve a book that not only encourages kids to count on their own, but hits them over the head with a number they may hear all the time but could never quite comprehend. Until now.
Emma and Aiden. They like their jelly beans, they do. When Emma is asked how many she’d prefer she opts for a standard “Ten!” Not to be outdone, her brother Aiden asks for “Twenty!” So naturally Emma asks for twenty-five, and Aiden sees her twenty-five and raises the number to fifty. At a certain point, of course, Emma points out to her bro that when it comes to numbers like five hundred jelly beans (and you can see all five hundred on the table in front of them) there’s no way a person could eat that many. Aiden points out that in a year he could eat as many as a thousand. Up and up and up the numbers go, with more and more jelly beans filling the pages until at long last you reach the thrilling conclusion. Turn the page and you find some folded pages. On one side the kids are suggesting a MILLION jelly beans. Well, as it just so happens, that’s how many fill these folded pages. And finally, at long last, Aiden concedes that maybe a million, just maybe, might be too much.
It’s nice when you can imagine how a book’s going to be used. Author Andrea Menotti also happens to be a Senior Editor at Chronicle Books (whatta coincidence!). Her goal here was to give the book the barest outline of a skeleton of a plot on which to hang the art and those images of copious delicious colorful sugar bombs that appear on every page. The ending, I’ll tell you right now, relies on the shock of the number rather than the interaction between the two kids. Basically the dare at the end of the book that one number or another is “too many” is finally accepted. So there you go. When you first open it up you come to a two-page spread where Emma is being offered ten jellybeans. At this point a certain strain of child is going to insist on counting those beans, just to make sure the author and illustrator got it right. They’ll probably be the same kids that count the twenty an
When I put the poster for Zero the Hero on the chalkboard, excitement was instantaneous.
E-Mergency was a funny look at the way the letters of the alphabet work together (and how our words suffer when the E cannot be used). In Zero the Hero, ("A Book About Nothing"), Zero has all the trappings of a hero -- mask, cape, and pointy boots -- but he doesn't seem to be able to do anything amazing (mathematically speaking) all by himself.
"The thought gave Zero a hollow feeling inside." So he runs rolls away. Without Zero, the other numbers realize they are severely limited. Then, when the Roman Numerals capture the Counting Numbers...well, Zero can finally be a true hero.
Enter to win a signed copy of Zero the Hero by talented author Joan Holub and bestselling illsutrator Tom Lichtenheld.
Everyone loves a hero, right? And “nothing” beats a hero named Zero. The hero of this book will knock One’s socks off!
Giveaway begins March 1, 2012, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends March 29, 2012, at 11:59 P.M. PST.
Reading level: Ages 6-10
Hardcover: 40 pages
Book overview: Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. That’s what all the other numbers think of Zero. He doesn’t add anything in addition. He’s of no use in division. And don’t even ask what he does in multiplication. (Hint: Poof!) But Zero knows he’s worth a lot, and when the other numbers get into trouble, he swoops in to prove that his talents are innumerable.
Publisher: Henry Holt / Macmillan
About the author: Joan Holub has authored over 100 children’s books, including Groundhog Weather School; Shampoodle; and Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers and Swirly Stars. She is also the co-author of the popular Goddess Girls series for ages 8-12. joanholub.blogspot.com
About the illustrator:Tom Lichtenheld is the illustrator of the New York Times-bestselling books, Goodnight Goodnight, Construction Site; Duck! Rabbit!; and Shark vs. Train. tomlichtenheld.com
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Maximum entries: Three (3)
Shipping Guidelines: This book giveaway is open to all participants with a US mailing address.