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The Dreaded Math Curse - Linking Literature and Math

I love books that link math and literature, and one of my favorites is Math Curse by Jon Scieszka. Published in 1995 through Viking Press, the book tells the story of a student (I’m not sure from the illustrations if it is a boy or a girl) who is cursed by the way mathematics works in everyday life. It is a tale where everything is a math problem, from tabulating teeth to calculating a bowl of corn flakes. Everything in life becomes a math problem.

First you see the math teacher, Mrs. Fibonacci, (don’t you love that name?) declare, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.” Then you watch as the student turns into a “raving math lunatic” since s/he believes “Mrs. Fibonacci has obviously put a math curse on me.”

From sunrise to sunset, the student anxiously mulls over the answers to countless calculations such as: How much time does it take to get ready and be at the bus stop? (a problem the reader can solve.). Estimate how many M Ms you would eat if you had to measure the Mississippi River using M Ms. There is even an English word problem: “If mail + box = mailbox, does lipstick – stick = lip? Does tunafish + tunafish = fournafish?” (silly, but funny.) A class treat of cupcakes becomes a study in fractions, while a trip to the store turns into a problem of money. The story continues until the student is finally free of the math curse, but then again Mr. Newton, the science teacher, regrettably says, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a science experiment.”


Math Curse is full of honest to goodness math problems (and some rather unrelated bonus questions, such as "What does this inkblot look like?"). Readers can try to solve the problems and check their answers located on the back cover of the book. The problems are perfect to get students’ minds working and thinking about how math really does apply to their everyday life.

The illustrations by Lane Smith are one of a kind. They are busy and chaotic to reflect the “math zombie” this student becomes. Many resemble a cut and paste project, with some images touching or overlapping others. Mostly dark colors are used especially when the student begins to dream s/he is trapped in a blackboard room covered with never-ending math problems. (a nightmare for many) Smith’s art work makes Scieszka's words come to life and helps to paint a picture of what is going through the mind of the main character as s/he deals with the dreaded math curse.

John Scieszka does a remarkable job of breaking down the typical school day into math problems while also adding some tongue-in-cheek and light hearted humor which every mathphobic needs. The math is perhaps a little advanced for elementary students, but the problems are perfect for middle school or high school students.

Math Curse also demonstrates how a problem may seem difficult, but if you are persistent, you can find the solution to the problem. The book teaches not to fear or be anxious about math or for that matter, any other subject in school. Despite the fact the main character is completely overwhelmed by mathematics, it allows students who struggle with the identical feeling to know they are not alone. Any student who has ever been distressed over numbers, fractions, word problems and the like will certainly identify with the main character.

As a math teacher, I think this book makes math fun as well as interesting. Although I recognize math is everywhere in everyday life, I never realized just how much until I read the Math Curse and mathematically saw the day of a typical student. I believe what sets Math Curse apart from other books is that it accurately illustrates and explains how math is actually used and applied in day-to-day life. I love the story, the message, and especially the content.

October - Is It "Fall" or "Autumn"?

It's finally October, one of my favorite months of the year. October means football (Ohio State, of course), cooler weather and gorgeous leaves. (It is also when my husband and I were married.) In October, we see the leaves turning colors, and the deciduous trees shedding their leaves.

Another name for fall is autumn, a rather odd name to me.  Through research, I discovered that the word autumn is from the Old French autumpne, automne, which came from the Latin autumnus. Autumn has been in general use since the 1960's and means the season that follows summer and comes before winter.
Fall is the most common usage among those in the United States; however, the word autumn is often interchanged with fall in many countries including the U.S.A. It marks the transition from summer into winter, in September if you live in the Northern Hemisphere or in March if you live in the Southern Hemisphere.  It also denotes when the days are noticeably shorter and the temperatures finally start to cool off. In North America, autumn is considered to officially start with the September equinox. This year that was September 23rd.
With all of that said, the leaves in our neighbor's yard have already begun to fall into ours which aggravates my husband because he is the one who gets to rake them. Maybe focusing on some activities using leaves will divert his attention away from the thought of raking leaves to science investigations.  
Remember ironing leaves between wax paper?  We did that in school when I was a little girl (eons and eons ago).  Here is how to do it.
  1. Find different sizes and colors of leaves.
  2. Tear off two sheets about the same size of waxed paper.
  3. Set the iron on "dry".  No water or steam here!
  4. The heat level of the iron should be medium.
  5. Place leaves on one piece of the waxed paper.
  6. Lay the other piece on top.
  7. Iron away!
You can also use this activity to identify leaves.  According to my husband who knows trees, leaves and birds from his college studies, we "waxed" a maple leaf, sweet gum leaf, elm leaf, cottonwood leaf (the state tree of Kansas - they are everywhere), and two he doesn't recognize because they come from some unknown ornamental shrubs.
Leaf Investigation

Maybe you would like to use leaves as a science investigation in your classroom.  I have one in my Teacher Pay Teachers store that is a six lesson science performance demonstration for the primary grades. The inquiry guides the primary student through the scientific method and includes 1) exploration time, 2) writing a good investigative question, 3) making a prediction, 4) designing a plan, 5) gathering the data, and 6) writing a conclusion based on the data. Be-leaf me, your students will have fun!

(A preview of the investigation is available. Just click on the title under the resource cover.) 

Using Metrics - Not Going the Whole Nine Yards!

Did you know that there are only three nations which do not use the metric system: Myanmar, Liberia and the United States? The U.S. uses two systems of measurement, the customary and the metric. Yes, since our country does use the metric system, we have given more than an inch, but we haven't gone the whole nine yards.

Today, when we shop for groceries, soda is sold in liters. Medicine is sold in milligrams, food nutrition labels are metric, and what about a 100-meter sprint or a 5K race? Still, we are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not conduct business in metric weights and measures. To be or not to be a metric nation has been a question of great consternation for our country for many years.

Here are some reasons why I think our nation should go to the metric system.
  1. It's the measurement system 96% of the world uses. 
  2. It is much easier to do conversions since it is based on units of ten. Water freezes at zero, not 32°, and it boils at 100, not 212°. 
  3. Teaching two measurement systems to children is time consuming and confusing. 
  4. It is the "official" language of science and medicine. 
  5. Its use is necessary when you travel outside of the United States. 
  6. Conversion from customary to metric is often fraught with errors. Because the metric system is a decimal system of weights and measures, it is easy to convert between units. 
  7. There are fewer measures to learn. Once you learn the meaning of the prefixes, you can easily convert mass, volume and distance measurements. No further conversion factors need to be memorized except the specific power of 10. For the Customary System you have to remember 5280 feet = 1 mile, 4 quarts = 1 gallon, 3 feet = 1 yard, 16 oz. = 1 pound, etc. 
  8. And just think, I would have less clutter in my kitchen since I wouldn’t need liquid and dry measuring cups or teaspoons and tablespoons! All I would need is a scale and liquid measuring cups!
So, while most nations use the metric system, the United States still clings to pounds, inches, and feet. Why do you think Americans refuse to convert? I’d be interested in your perspective and ideas.

A Go Figure Debut for a Canadian Science Teacher Who Is New!


Mo, of Big Red Science, is heading into her tenth year of teaching. She has taught in Canada, Italy, Micronesia, and on a tall ship while sailing the world!  Like most teachers, she loves the relationships she develops with her students. When a new school year starts, she is always eager to fast forward about two months to a time when she knows that her students and she will have created their own unique environment together full of positivity, comfort and a few ‘class inside jokes’!  Over the years, what she has learned about herself is that she develops these relationships through the learning that takes place. Mo loves the challenge of taking a concept that seems confusing or boring and tackling it in a way that makes students find joy in learning new things. She says that there is something about guiding students in their science and math journeys that really strengthens the relationships that she has with them.
  
At Mo’s school, each teacher has a desk in their departmental office, and then the teachers float between multiple classrooms each day. (Sounds like what I do on the college level.) This means that her décor is nothing special! (In other words, no bulletin boards to do!)  The vibe of whatever classroom she is in is relaxed because students feel comfortable with her. She also thinks it is important for students to know each other so she encourages numerous group work activities and tries to find ways for her students can talk to each other early and often. 

Bringing variety to her lessons is also a key component of her personal philosophy of education. She believes that if everything is the same day after day, students won’t be able to distinguish one day or topic from the next. Therefore, Mo fills her classes with as many different types of activities as she can find like games, case studies, labs, simulations, models, skits, foldables, watching and making videos and podcasts, debates, ‘speed dating’, question trails, storytelling, typical lectures…all kinds of stuff!  

Mo has lots of interests outside of teaching including singing, playing games, traveling, spending time at her cottage and recently squash. And the one thing that she will always, ALWAYS say yes to is an escape room. She and her partner have probably done thirty of them, and they claim they are pretty good!

FREE Resource
Currently, Mo has 60 resources in her store, Big Red Science, and nine of those items are free. One of her free items Fish and Polar Bear Back to School Inquiry Activity is a great way to get students to work together in a low-pressure situation while at the same time asking questions and using the scientific method intuitively. She uses it as an early ice breaker, but it can be done at any time of the year!

Only $3.00
Her featured paid item, YouTube Alternative Bell Ringer Assignment, is an engaging way to start a class. This assignment has students sift though You Tube to find a video that relates their science class to the real world. Mo has used this assignment in various classes for years, and notices that students always find incredibly interesting and engaging content.

Mo also has a blog called Big Red Science. (Can you guess how she got that name?) I found her articles to be engaging as well as practical. Take some time to check it out as well as her Teachers Pay Teachers store. There are products for general science, biology, chemistry and math. In addition, she has games, diagrams, movie guides, question trails, some décor, and video and podcast assignments. You will discover her products reflect the variety that she values in her classroom.