Reading in Math class…and not just word problems!October 9, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 4 Comments
(Authored by Bill Heinsler)
When I was in middle and high school, there were two kinds of books I encountered in my classroom: textbooks and literature/novels the language arts teachers had us work with. The teachers used the textbooks as the only source of written information in the classroom, never looking to broaden their (or really, our) horizons. This led to mostly boring classes, with focus only on the information that the authors of the texts included because they thought that it was important – or would help to sell their book! Now, as I am getting closer to having my own classroom and my own students, I want to break this terrible tradtion that so many of us dealt with when we were in school.
In the traditional math textbook, there might be a brief explanation about how a theory came into existence or why a branch of mathematics developed, but usually that only description lasts only a paragraph at best. Mathematics has been in existence for millenia (thousands of years) – the symbols have changed, but the use of numbers for counting and measuring has been around for thousands of years. In the book, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, the author describes three reasons for the emergence of mathematics: counting sheep, measuring property, and the passage of time. Also in the book, the author describes a 30,000 year old bone with counting marks carved into it! While these ideas are very simple and the math was just used for counting, I think that it is very important for students to know that they are studying a discipline that was created well before their great grandparent’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents!
In an article published by the Teachers College at Columbia University (http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news/article.htm?id=2914), reading in mathematics is very justly defended:
Math, like other subjects, has history and new areas yet to be discovered. Through reading, students learn the history of how certain formulas came to be and alternate forms of math. One class learned taxi geometry that takes into account the grid street system of New York City, she said. In other forms of geometry, mathematical constraints can make a sphere look like a square.
The article goes on to discuss the importance of reading in any inquiry based classroom, where students play such a major role in constructing their knowledge and understanding.
Inquiry-orientation [inquiry based learning] suggests that knowledge is dynamic and there are more interesting ideas to come from it than what is written already.
With the abundance of excellent written material that is so easily attainable today, the possibilities for bringing in more reading material than just a textbook are nearly limitless.
Note – In doing some searching on the internet for this topic, I stumbled across an excellent resource that lists many trade books that contain great information that can be incorporated into the math classroom, complete with the topic discussed in the book as well as the grade level(s) that the topic/book are appropriate for. It can be found at: http://teachingtechie.typepad.com/learning/files/literature_to_math.pdf.