Earlier this year at my employee meeting with my principal, I asked her, “If you could pick one thing that I could improve on, what would it be?” She sat there and thought about it for a minute and then said, “You know how excited you get about reading? Do you think you could try and spread some of that excitement to math?” She had a good point there. Kids can tell when you are faking it, and there have been times when I was faking it with math. I’ve always been a reading person, but that’s no excuse. As Lester Laminack has said, “You signed up to teach children, not subjects.” So, I’ve tried to genuinely enjoy teaching math, and help my students to enjoy it as well. As Greg Tang reminds us in his wonderful picture book Math-terpieces (Published 2003, illustrated by Greg Paprocki), math can be fun. Not to mention the fact that we can sneak some reading into it, too.
The concept of this book is simple. On every two pages, Tang presents a poem, a painting, and some math. On the left side, he gives us a well-known work of art, along with a poem about that artist that involves math. On the right hand side, there are different groupings of objects that go along with the poem and painting. For example, one of the paintings is Georges Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte.” The poem goes like this:
For pointillism he’s well-known,
a style Seurat can call his own.
So many dots when you are near,
stand back and they all disappear!
Can you make 8 with purple spots?
Find six smart ways to group the dots!
On the right-hand side are six groupings of a different number of dots. The children must then find all the different combinations of dots that they can make that will equal 8. The entire book continues in this fashion. At the end, Greg Tang has given the solutions, along with an “art notes” section that defines the different styles of all the paintings throughout the book.
Greg Tang has been known for some time now for his math picturebooks. I had never really used his books, despite the fact that I have many in my classroom library. This is the first Greg Tang book that I’ve actually read, and I am impressed with how well-done this book is. At first, it took me a minute to understand what I was supposed to do. I flipped to the solutions page, understood what was happening, and then had fun trying to figure out all the different configurations. Once you get the concept, it is hard to not have fun staring at the beautiful pictures and finding solutions. In the front matter, there is an author’s note from Greg Tang. I appreciated this author’s note, because it lets you know his intentions with this book. His intention was for younger kids to practice addition, older kids to practice problem solving, and for every kid to have an introduction to art history. It’s pretty impressive when you are able to incorporate art history, reading, and math all into one book!
My teacher brain automatically jumps to how I could use it in my classroom. There is a practice called “subitizing,” where a teacher holds up a card with a small number of objects. In subitizing, the goal is to be able to quickly generate how many are on that card. In a way, this book can help with subitizing. The children should be able to quickly know how many objects are in each group, because the groups have anywhere between 1 and 5 items in each group. This book expands on that, however, because the children are trying to figure out which groups to put together. It is a great exercise in helping children gain the automaticity that they need with numbers. For teachers who practice subitizing, this book can definitely extend upon the work that is already being done.
In addition to math, I can’t help but think of how neat it could be if this turned into a project of some sorts. Children could research an artist and then pick one that they love. Then, they could choose a painting from that artist and write a poem discussing what they learned. Lastly, they could involve the math in it and create the groups of objects, just like Greg Tang. Just think of all the different things the children would be doing with this—art appreciation, research, reading, writing, and math! It’s like a cross-curricular dream of a project! I don’t know whether I should do it during read time, math time, or writing time, but I’m thinking this could be a great post-SOL project that is both engaging and educational for children.
After reading Math-terpieces, I want to go read all of Greg Tang’s book. I appreciate anybody who tries to make math meaningful and enjoyable for students. I also appreciate books about math. This is the kind of book that a child could pick up and be thoroughly engaged with for a long time. You go, Greg Tang!
Greg Tang also has a math website where you can play math games: check it out here.
Image from Amazon.com