Tall tales can add interest to maths, says Marjorie Gorman
Stories are an enjoyable way to help children develop mathematical language and reasoning. Reading a story and talking about it with the class provides opportunities for children to share their thinking and for the teacher to make informal assessments of their learning.
Teachers have always known the power of story but they do not usually think of it as useful for maths, particularly in a three-part maths lesson. But there are so many delightful books that can be used to introduce variety and interest to infant maths. They need to be chosen with care and matched to specific learning objectives. Here are a few examples of stories which work well and the linked learning objectives.
The Forgetful Spider
By June Woodman, illustrated by Ken Morton, Brimax Children's Books.
Learning objective: Y1, understand addition and subtraction and use related vocabulary I first realised stories could help children with mathematical understanding when reading this short story to a Year 1 class.
It is about a spider who constantly loses shoes from his eight feet. As I was reading, I became aware that the children were working out how many shoes he had lost and how many he had left. Children who had been unable to calculate in a more formal situation were now showing me they could add and subtract to eight with confidence. They were sharing their thinking with me. They were saying things such as: "If he's lost two shoes he has six left," "When he's lost four shoes he'll have the same number of bare feet."
They were predicting and projecting, both useful mathematical skills.
Gumboot's Chocolatey Day By Mick Inkpen, Macmillan Children's Books.
Learning objective: Year 2, understanding multiplication as an array This is a lighthearted story about Gumboot, who has a bar of chocolate with 15 chunks. Multiplication as an array becomes obvious as children talk about how 15 chunks of chocolate can be arranged and how many strips of three there will be.
The Doorbell Rang By Pat Hutchins, Econo-clad Books.
Learning objective: Year 2, understand the operation of division as sharing equally The story starts with two children hoping to share 12 cookies their mother has made. They work out that that means six each, but before they can eat any, the doorbell rings and two friends arrive. The cookies are shared again to include the friends, but more and more people arrive to share the cookies. Everyone has one cookie when the doorbell rings again - what to do now? There is usually an audible gasp from the children at this point in the story, but it is grandma with another batch of cookies. The discussion is always lively and often leads to a discussion of fractions as well as revealing some children's attitudes to sharing.
The Queen's Bed Traditional Learning objective: Year 2, measure using uniform non-standard and standard units
One disadvantage of story or picture books is that they go out of print very quickly. But you can always make up your own story or adapt a traditional one. The loss of good illustrations is more than made up for by the constant eye contact with the whole group. The story can be embellished or cut to fit the time available. One story I have used is the Queen's Bed.
The King orders a bed for the Queen from the royal cabinet-maker, who takes the measurements but for some reason leaves the work to his apprentice.
When the bed is finished, it is too small.
These are just a few examples. Once you to start looking for similar books and stories, you will find many more. My advice is that when you find a useful book hold on to it, store it with your mathematical resources and include it in your planning.
Some stories, such as the Queen's Bed, make a good start to a lesson; others, such as The Forgetful Spider, can be useful as an informal assessment in the plenary session.
Marjorie Gorman is a maths consultant