Severn News

Learning Math, by the Book

Stories help us make sense of the world around us. Through their narratives, we discern patterns, make meaning, and create emotional connections. In the classroom, stories spark imagination and engagement in a way that textbooks often don't. For both math-wary and math-confident students, stories also provide a way to explore problem-solving with real-world context. Adding to an array of strategies to get students excited about learning math, Lower School Math Specialist Mrs. Stacy Shaener is bringing storytime to the math classroom with Math by the Book.

What is Math by the Book?

Math by the Book is a new math series created by Susan O'Connell, Margie Pearse, and Danielle Moore that "is dedicated to connecting literacy to math and teaching mathematics strategically through literature." (from the series website). Mrs. Shaener learned of this new approach this past summer with particular interest in how the authentic connection between stories and math could support students at any level while creating a space to discuss different cultures and life experiences.
The Math by the Book textbook and the storybook, My Papi has a Motorcycle' laying on a table.
The series comes with a list of 20 suggested books that reflect a wide range of topics, cultures, and characters.

First, We Listen

As Mrs. Shaener walked to the front of the 5th-grade classroom, storybook in hand, her students looked on with curiosity. She showed them the book cover, title, and author. "What does that have to do with math?" one student asked. Mrs. Shaener encouraged the group to consider what they think the answer might be. And then, to sit back and listen.

In My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, the main character, Daisy Ramona, zooms around the neighborhood with her papi on his motorcycle. She lovingly describes her town, Corona, California, built by a Mexican immigrant working-class community. She also notices quite a bit of change. The picture the author paints is poetic and nostalgic as she explores how communities of color adapt to a changing socio-economic landscape.
Severn School Lower School Math Specialist sits at the front of class and reads a book aloud to students.
Mrs. Shaener pauses throughout the reading to ask students if they recognize and understand the many Spanish words in the story and to talk about changes they may have seen in their own towns.

Embracing the Story Through Numbers

With the vivid story fresh in her students' minds, Mrs. Shaener begins using elements from the book to create word problems. Incorporating their recent study of the order of operations, students create expressions that represent number stories from the book. Mrs. Shaener's classroom starts to buzz as her students write in their journals and share with each other.
Severn School Lower School students sit at a desk together talking and sharing their work.
Students excitedly talk through their process out loud, self assess, and help each other.
That's part of the magic of Mrs. Shaener's approach to teaching math. She incorporates unexpected methods, like building from a story, to draw everyone in before the work begins. Every step along the way, she encourages her students to share their thinking with each other and the class.
Severn School Lower School students sit at a desk together talking and sharing their work.
The class is a collaborative environment that welcomes risk-taking as students evaluate what works and what doesn't without judgment of themselves or their peers.
Mrs. Shaener asks for volunteers to share their work at the board and practically every hand shoots into the air. They work through several more problems together, all while revisiting the world that Ramona and her papi experienced by motorcycle. Every student has a part in the conversation, regardless of where they are in their journey toward learning math. Weaving together literature, appreciating different cultures, and math problem-solving, Mrs. Shaener sets the stage for the kind of learning that sticks.
Severn School Lower School student writes a math expression on the board while the teacher helps, pointing to a section to think about further.
Mrs. Shaener offers helpful guidance but leaves the problem-solving up to the students themselves.

Support for Our Students, Support for Our Teachers

As a school, we are committed to meeting the individual needs of a diverse group of learners and believe that children do best when they have a committed team of adults supporting them. Mrs. Shaener helps our Lower School students make math a priority while also making it fun. Through innovative activities that help students at any level gain confidence with math, she builds a culture of belonging and support with every lesson.

Lower School

Upper School