I am thrilled to be coming to you today with yet another giveaway from Denise Gaskins and her Playful Math series. I consider Denise a mentor in my ongoing quest to make math engaging and fun (read: not intimidating) for my children. She has done it again, and this time with a book that brings together two things I love: deep thinking about mathematics and literature! Yes, literature. This book is all about thinking practically about mathematics. In a word (okay, a phrase), that means word problems. Yes, those pesky little critters that might be the bane of the math-phobic homeschooling mama’s existence. She gets right to the point by explaining the importance of word problems out at the very beginning of the book:
If we want our children to learn real math, we need to offer them plenty of problems to solve. A child may work through several pages of number calculations by rote, following memorized steps, but a good problems demands more attention. A story problem puts flesh on the abstract bones of arithmetic. Word problems encourage children to ponder what it means for one thing to be bigger than another, or smaller, or faster, or slower, or made up of several parts.
Denise enumerates the steps that children must go through to solve a word problem: read and understand the problem, translate the problem into a mathematical or algebraic equation, do the calculation, and make sense of the answer. She explains that while using key words to translate equations is useful, what’s more helpful learning to analyze the world problem. She offers a “problem-solving toolbox” which includes things like drawing a diagram or picture, acting the problem out, looking for a pattern, working backwards, and guessing and then checking. After this list, she spends many paragraphs explaining her favorite tool: the bar model diagram.
And now let us pause briefly for the bar model diagram.
Oh, my goodness! This was my Achilles’ heel a few years ago when Lulu was transitioning from RightStart to Singapore Math! The bar model was quite difficult for me to wrap my forty-year-old brain around, so I would sometimes have to wait for Steady Eddie to get home from work so we could all three put our heads together for certain problems. Denise has written the book I really needed then, and I’m so happy to have it now so that I can understand the method better myself! The gold here is that Denise doesn’t just explain the bar model diagram, she details how to explain it to the student! That was one of the hard things for me when transitioning Lulu from our beloved RightStart to Singapore: RightStart is mostly scripted, while Singapore isn’t, so I was quite discombobulated by it. Denise provides the “back story” I needed then in this little volume.
What follows are examples of word problems that get increasingly harder. Denise has written the word problems herself using literature as her source. For example, the foundational one-step problems are taken from Mr. Popper’s Penguins while the challenging algebra problems pull characters and scenarios from Star Wars. In the last section, Denise walks readers through the process of writing their own word problems. All of the problems are thoroughly explained with (what else?) accompanying bar diagrams. As much as Denise believes in the bar diagram model, though, she cautions her reader that “bar diagrams are not our goal.” She writes, “In all things, seek understanding. Making sense of the problem trumps any specific method.”
It’s no secret that I love Denise Gaskins’ books and her blog. I’ve sung her praises over and over. I feel like this book takes her work up a notch in difficulty, truly providing the homeschooling parent (or the non-homeschooling parent who wants to help provide an excellent math foundation for his or her child) in-depth “professional development.” I can’t recommend this work highly enough. The book is available in paperback or for the Kindle. Denise has also produced a student workbook to accompany this volume. Although I haven’t actually seen it in person, I think it looks like just the thing to make doing the work of the book a reality (rather than just reading about it). I actually think it makes sense to purchase one for the teacher and one for the student! (In my homeschool, I learn at least as much as my children.) 🙂
And now, for the really exciting news! Denise has offered to send one of my blog readers a paperback copy of Word Problems from Literature and a copy of the student workbook! All you have to do is comment below if you’d like to enter the drawing. I will randomly choose a winner on Monday, June 12, at 8 p.m. CST.