Friday, October 30, 2009

Poetry Friday 2009: Halloween Word Problems

To celebrate the occasion, The Cat and The Fiddle recommends a Halloween word problem:

A mother spider told her twins
Beneath a dusky sky,
“I’ll take you out to trick or treat,
You’ll dress as octopi!”
She basted silk from spinnerets
Each stitch was close and small
And wove two teeny purple suits-
how many legs in all?

Holidays are naturals for word problems, and Halloween is probably the richest source for subject matter.

DIY (Do It Yourself) Halloween Word Problems.

1. Read some Halloween picture books with lots of characters.

2. Brainstorm subjects (ghosts, mummies and all the usual suspects) and/or items in their setting (coffins, tombstones etc.) for the word problems.

3. For mathematical action, creatures can go to, or leave, parties/cemeteries/haunted houses (addition and subtraction). They can scare, haunt, fly over things, etc. Groups can be used for multiplication or division. If a mummy needs 12 yards of bandages, how many yards do four mummies need? If three vampires share a bag that has 18 candy eyeballs, how many eyes will they each get? I could go on and on. It’s just too much fun.

4. Draw the picture and decorate your house with it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

SCBWI Writer's Day

Thanks to all the crew at Ventura/Santa Barbara SCBWI Writer's Day! Gracious hosts, great esprit de corps. On Saturday I gave a spotlight presentation called "How I Sold My Talking Dinosaur and Other Tales of a Picture Book Author," in which T-Math made his Powerpoint debut.

My favorite part of the conference was listening to the brisk, astute responses of the panel (Suzy Capozzi from Random House, Marilyn Mark from Marshall Cavendish, and Mark von Bargen from MacMillan) to the first pages. For picture books, the right equation was:
fresh characters + colorful writing + action propelling plot = a compelling Page One.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Today at The Cat and the Fiddle we reveal one of our secret recipes for creating (and showing kids how to create) fun word problems.

They’re easy to whip up, once you’ve chosen an appealing subject in his/her typical setting.

Word Problem Lesson with Dinosaurs

1. Read Tyrannosaurus Math.

2. Make a list of the animals and objects that were used in the math problems (other dinosaurs, teeth, bugs, footprints, leaves, rocks, a tree, etc.).

3. Look at the pictures in the book and come up with other things T-Math could have counted (horns, bony plates, petals on flowers, etc.).

4. Pick one of these things and make your own word problem, using the math operation of your choice.

5. Draw a picture to illustrate the problem.

Any good non-fiction book that has lots of detailed illustrations can be a rich source for word problems. In the following example, I’ll use pirates.

Word Problem Lesson with a Fun Main Character: Pirates

1. Pick a math skill, (I’ll choose triple digit addition.)

2. Read or browse: Jan Adkin’s What If You Met A Pirate.

3. You’re going to write a word problem about a pirate. Brainstorm a list of items or people that might be in his setting - ships, sails, parrots, gold coins, etc. (My character will be Captain Jack, and the items will be treasure chests.)

4. Think of an action that could involve math, using that item. (A pirate needs to travel a certain number of miles to chase the galleon with the treasure chests. Or it will take him a certain number of days. Or he will count up the money in the chest. I’ll pick the money.)

5. Write the problem. (Captain Jack and his crew captured a galleon. There were two treasure chests on board. One had 715 gold pieces, and the other had 826. How many gold pieces were there all together? )

6. Optional: Add details and description to your problem to make it more fun:

Captain Jack and his crew chased a galleon. After a heated battle that lasted six hours they captured the ship. The men could hardly wait to open the treasure chests. There might be diamonds, rubies, and lots of gold. Actually there was 715 gold pieces in one chest, and 826 in the other. How many gold pieces were there all together?

7. Illustrate the problem.

And that, me hearties, is just one way to combine non-fiction, writing, math, and art. If you're a parent and/or a teacher, what non-fiction books might you use? If you're a non-fiction writer, what cool word problems could arise from your book(s)? AARGH!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Word Problems With Bite

I wrote Tyrannosaurus Math (reviewed this week at Miss Rhumpius) before discovering Susan Gerofsky’s A Man Left Albuquerque Heading East, (mentioned in an earlier post). But it confirmed what I already knew: kids crave word problems with appealing imagery.

As part of her research Gerofsky asked a group of 5th and 6th graders to discuss three similar story problems in which Mike, Susanne or Sandra put some tomatoes, plums and apples into a number of bags or cartons.

“It would be better if it was about rocket blasters,” one child said.
“You’d have a better question, like if it’s candy,” said another. Sometimes you think of that when you solve a problem. Then when you go home you want to have candy. So your mouth just makes you do the question.”

Publishers of math books for the young get it. A search for “counting books” on Amazon turns up books with chocolate, icky bugs, crocodiles, fairy tale characters and more. Why shouldn’t older children get equal treatment? Why not serve them word problems with high interest topics?

In honor of Poetry Friday:

Max came upon five wild beasts,
They had fur, and scales and feathers,
Two terrible eyes shone from each,
How many eyes all together?

In my next post, a lesson on getting children to write their own jazzy word problems. Let the rumpus begin!