* Using literature to teach statistics

In the December issue of Teaching Children Mathematics (NCTM), two innovative kindergarten teachers from Ireland showcase a delightful approach to teaching statistics through literature.  Mairéad Hourigan and Aisling Leavy create an engaging and authentic problem for their students to solve: Which puppet should a (real) preschool teacher buy?  The preschool teacher wants to purchase a puppet for the character who appears most frequently in her story.  Hourigan and Leavy’s students were guided through a statistical framework called PPDAC (problem, plan, data, analysis, conclusion, cycle).  Those students were highly engaged in meaningful math work, which is awesome!statistics

This article has inspired me to go back to my work with Sharon Creech’s “Love That Dog,” a terrific book on poetry (and much more) for students about 9 or 10 years old.  My student and I have already analysed the changes in Jack’s writing over the course of the fictional school year using qualitative measures.  Jack wrote more and more poetry as his confidence improved, with increasingly complex lines, more interaction with his teacher and classmates, and greater revelation of his personal loss.  Using Hourigan and Leavy’s model, I will ask my student to substitute a quantitative study for  one of those qualitative measures.  I think he’ll be intrigued by the process and I look forward to seeing what he chooses for his statistical analysis.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

* Love That Dog

“Love That Dog” by Sharon Creech is a great read and perfect book for introducing kids to poetry (I’d say 3rd and 4th grade would be the best fit) . Written in free verse, “Love That Dog” is ostensibly a series of journal entries by Jack, a student in Miss Stretchberry’s class.  They start a year-long exploration of poetry and Jack’s reaction is one of annoyance.  In his  initial “poetic” entry, Jack flatly informs his teacher that boys don’t write poetry.  There are five features I LOVE about this book:

  1. Jack.  If you are looking for a book that effectively portrays a change of heart and mind in a young man, this is a classic.  For students who would benefit from opportunities to see how and why change occurs, “Love That Dog” has ample material for explaining the impact of emotions, words, and even sounds.
  2. The interaction between Jack and his teacher.  Jack’s entries are in response to (unseen) questions by Miss Stretchberry or in anticipations of what she might say or ask.  Although unseen, I’d say Miss Stretchberry has a gift for drawing the best from her students by accepting them where they are and gently urging them forward, using encouragement and high expectations.  For students who need help with perspective-taking, “Love That Dog” can be used to promote an understanding of conversational flow.  It also allows the reader to practice making inferences and predictions similar to authentic classroom experiences.
  3. The emotional impact of the plot.  As an adult, I could see where we were heading, but I was still captured by the intensity of the experience.  It would be a great opportunity for teachers (and parents) to discuss the issues that Jack tries to avoid.  No spoilers, though.  You’ll have to read it for yourself.
  4. The racial diversity of poetry.  The author reaches far and wide to select excellent poetry for her class.  Miss Stretchberry’s choices could guide many classroom teachers through her expansive collection of poems, which are also printed at the back of the book.  This is not a white-kids-only book.
  5. The book’s layout.  Every entry is dated, often a week apart, as the class appears to focus one day a week on writing poetry.  Each page is pale yellow with Jack’s entries printed in blue.  That format is significant but again, no spoilers here!

The poet who made the most impact on Jack (and me) was the late Walter Dean Myers.  Here’s an autobiographical clip, where he refers to his working relationship with his son, Christopher, his years of speech therapy, and his desire to reach kids who live in cities.