Research Proposal: Integrating Literature Into the Math Curriculum in Elementary Grades

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Integrating Literature Into the Math Curriculum in Elementary Grades

The integration between mathematics and literature for the primary or elementary grades is a subject that has attracted considerable attention from educators and theorists. There are many verifiable online sources as well as offline journals and books that advocate the importance of the interrelationship between mathematics and literature - to the advantage of both subjects.

A plainly written and informative resource that provides a good overview of this issue is Math and Literature: a Match Made in the Classroom. This article states clearly that,

If you are seeking a new way to add relevancy to your classroom math activities, the answer may be right in your school library! Literature is the ideal vehicle to help your students see the importance of numbers in their daily lives

Math and Literature: A Match Made in the Classroom).

This is also a useful resource in that it provides links and references to other relevant literature on the interrelationship between mathematics and literature.

The above article refers to a number of important authors in this area. One prominent writer referred to is Marilyn Burns, who has written a number of books on the understanding of the symbiotic relationship between mathematics and literature. In her works, Burns emphasizes the way in which various forms of literature can be used to explain mathematical concepts. The author expresses the view that the combining of mathematics and literature is a useful way to introduce the child to the world of mathematical concepts. She notes that;

Reading books that weave mathematical ideas into engaging stories helps dispel the myth that math is dry, unimaginative, and inaccessible. Children's books can not only generate interest in math but also provide contexts that help bring meaning to abstract concepts

Math and Literature: A Match Made in the Classroom).

The idea of literature as a conduit for context is also noted in many other studies; which emphasizes that appropriate literature can make mathematics more accessible to the younger learner. The learning process becomes more intuitive by placing mathematics in recognizable and accessible contexts through literature.

In her work, Burns also recommends books one and two of Math and Literature (Grades K?3) for teachers. A fairly extensive selection of links to information on books by this author can be accessed at Books by Marilyn Burns ( very useful article that provides an overview of some of the possibilities and issues that are involved in the integration of literature in the mathematics curriculum and vice versa is You're Not in Math Class Anymore: Integrating Math across the Curriculum. This article make the important point that, "Educational research -- not to mention experience and common sense -- tells us that students learn best and make better sense of what they're learning when they can make connections with previous learning or with different areas of learning..."(You're Not in Math Class Anymore: Integrating Math Across the Curriculum). This view posits that the interaction between various subjects such as mathematic and literature can be used to expand educational horizons

In this context the link between writing, literature and mathematics can be seen in various practical exercises that teachers have undertaken. In one example, children were encouraged to write about running and exercise periods at school. This process was found not only to have a positive effect on the writing and language ability of the children but also had favorable outcomes in terms of their mathematical skills. "...during year-end benchmark testing, the class completed sections on numeration more quickly, yet scored as well or better, than past classes" (You're Not in Math Class Anymore: Integrating Math Across the Curriculum).

It was also found that the use of writing and literature added to the young student's understanding of fractions. As one teacher notes after combining writing exercises with mathematics:

My fraction committee, a group of the most capable math students, computed the class's [running] mileage on their own, working with 1/2's, 1/4's and 3/4's. They represented the fractions by models, but they could also compute them in their heads

You're Not in Math Class Anymore: Integrating Math Across the Curriculum).

A very useful overview of the different approaches and research perspectives on the integration of literature in the mathematical curricula is Incorporating Language Arts into the Mathematics Curriculum: A Literature Survey by Kolstad et al. (1996) This study emphasizes the view that,

Recent educational philosophy has supported the whole language and integrated curriculum approaches. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) has recommended that the mathematics curriculum include development of language and symbolism to communicate mathematical ideas and relationships (Kolstad, Briggs & Whalen, 1996, p. 423).

Among the many studies and viewpoints reviewed in this article, one aspect that stands out is the significant way in which literature serves to aid the assimilation and understanding of mathematical concepts, especially in the earlier grades. As a study by Whitin and Gary (1994), Promoting mathematical explorations through children's literature, asserts, books and literature are effective in mathematics in that they " students explore mathematical ideas in natural, familiar, and meaningful contexts" (Whitin and Gary, 1994, p. 394). Other studies also point out that literature can be used in increase and involve the student's interest and enjoyment in the subject matter (Grossman, et al. 1993). There is also the view that, " if students can relate to and enjoy the plot, setting, and characters of a story, the new math skill will be associated with the meaningful contexts" (Kolstad, Briggs & Whalen, 1996, p.423). A good example from the literature of the intersection between literature and mathematics is the doorbell rang by Hutchins (1986). The work deals with the concept of division in mathematics by dealing with this concept in the literary context of sharing cookies.

There are also a number of studies that discuss how literature serves as a motivating influence in mathematics. This refers to the awakening of the student's sense of exploration and intellectual discovery. An example of this approach is Counting on Frank by Clement (1990). The author investigates how literature encourages intellectual curiosity and provides a means of testing mathematical ideas and concepts.

There are also many studies in the literature that take a more unconventional approach to the discussion of this topic. A study by Jacquelin Smith entitled a Different Angle for Integrating Mathematics provides some useful insights into the possibilities of literature in teaching and learning mathematics at the lower grades. The author suggests that, "One technique that weaves mathematics into the whole fabric of the elementary curriculum lies in using literature not explicitly designed for understanding mathematics "(Smith, 1995, p. 288). The article goes on to explore the possible advantages of integrating mathematical concepts with children's literature and social studies.

In essence this study investigates a more unusual application of literature in the understanding and learning of mathematics. This involves encouraging aspects of mathematical conceptualization through a focus on processes within the literature, such as patterning. In one example cited,

The mathematics problem was implicitly, not explicitly, stated in the story, and using the story for a mathematics problem-solving discussion resulted in un-anticipated opportunities to heighten the third graders' awareness of angles in a geometric design" (Smith, 1995).

This method was also used to explore spatial relationships.

Another interesting study on the interrelationship between mathematics and literary is Mathematics and Mother Goose, by Cindy Young and Wendy Maulding (1994). This article also considers the relationship between rhyme, number and mathematical learning. " Rhyming patterns can be pictured with mathematical symbols" (Young & Maulding, 1994. p.36). The study goes on to suggest that Mother Goose can be useful in developing an understanding of prenumber and number concepts at an early age.

Young children like to hear Mother Goose rhymes read aloud and also enjoy learning the rhymes themselves. By building on what students already know and enjoy, teachers of mathematics can pose tasks that are based on knowledge of students' understandings, interests, and experience (Young & Maulding, 1994. p.36).

This can also be related to ordering and problem solving; for example, with regard to the important aspect of patterning. This refers to the view that, variety of patterns can be made by using the rhyming scheme of nursery rhymes. With pattern blocks or any similar material, students can map out the rhyming pattern of a particular nursery rhyme. Their methods can be shared with the entire class. One approach would be to label a rhyming line with a particular shape. (Young & Maulding, 1994)

In conclusion there is a growing consensus in the literature that the interrelationship between mathematics and literature is mutually beneficial. A useful study that examines these interactions in-depth is Mathematics in Literature by Lipsey and Pasternack. These two authors point out and echo views about the beneficial combination of these two subjects that are reiterated in many other studies.

Understanding of major mathematical concepts may be motivated, explored, and enhanced through literary art. Literature stirs our imaginations and emotions, making ideas more enjoyable… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Integrating Literature Into the Math Curriculum in Elementary Grades."  February 13, 2009.  Accessed August 20, 2019.