Everyone Can Learn Math (Part 2)

This week’s magical math book is Everyone Can Learn Math by Alice Aspinall.   Julie Homenuik, an English teacher from Windsor, Ontario and Alice’s colleague wrote about her experience reading this book to her young daughter.

Inspired by the first line of Julie’s post (In the world of math, nothing matters more than how we’ve been taught to feel about math), I wrote Everyone Can Learn Math Part 1 outlining my current thinking about the importance of developing a productive disposition in math class and home.  Yesterday mathematics educator and parent David Butler wrote a related thread on twitter. In the thread (click tweet for more), David thoughtfully outlines some possible causes for why his daughter’s disposition towards mathematics shifted drastically in a short 8 weeks.

This thread is heartbreaking. No child should feel like this. “Math(s) class should not make people feel like this”!

As a parent, I know that mixed in with wonderful math experience I too will face (and have faced) similar struggles as I support my own children’s (2, 6 and 9) math learning. And as David says, “A lot of little things combine” to produce this sense of hopelessness. One thing I found helpful to me, especially regarding my children’s quick fact recall frustrations, was this quote from mathematics educator Ilana Horn (@ilana_horn): 

“Well, that is the kind of math smarts school values but there are other kinds of math smarts.” (Ilana Horn, tweet from January 2019). 

But is is only a beginning, there is much more to figure out regarding supporting children as they struggle with their identities in math classes. 

This week’s book offers another way for parents and teachers to support young children in developing a productive disposition towards math. A disposition where they see themselves an effective learner and doer of mathematics. Below Julie shares a bit about this book. Thanks to her and her daughter for sharing their #mathbookmagic!

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In the world of math, nothing matters more than how we’ve been taught to feel about math. Math is beautiful and magical. It informs so much of our world, which is what makes a student’s belief that they cannot do math all the more heartbreaking. In her book Everyone Can Learn Math, Alice Aspinall seeks to dispel the myth that some people are just not math people.

The Book

Alice Aspinall is a passionate high school mathematics teacher in Windsor, Ontario. Her book,  Everyone Can Learn Math , is born out of her passion for not just math, but a growth mindset.

Everyone can learn math

Published by Friesen Press in fall 2018, this inspiring story follows Amy, a young math student who observes her own achievements and the world around her, and finally makes connections to her personal struggle with a word problem. If others can overcome, if she herself can overcome in dance, then she can do the same in math. She finally recognizes that her ability to tackle this problem has everything to do with her own attitude and perseverance. She can do it; she just has to figure out how.

Alexandria Masse illustrates the book in pastel watercolors that move the reader through Amy’s struggles and realizations.

The book is available in hard and soft cover as well as in e-book format at Friesen Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

The Math

IMAGE #1 Everyone Can Learn Math
The math problem that sets the story in motion.

The fundamental conflict in the book is initially set out as character versus math problem: a word problem in which Amy needs to figure out how many candies each of her friends will receive if she has six friends and three packages of candy with eight candies in each. Truly, though, the problem is character versus self, where Amy needs to resolve her own attitude toward the problem, an issue that is as fundamental to math as the math itself. This book is not just teaching math, but teaching an approach to math. Aspinall recognizes how much our attitudes and preconceptions about mathematical ability impact our students’ experience with math. She didn’t set out to write a book that incorporated mathematical elements; she wanted to write a book that directly addressed how we can tackle the negative stigma surrounding math, especially for young girls like Amy.

Aspinall builds even more math into other aspects of the story. Take Amy’s classroom scenes, for example: The walls of the classroom feature a breakdown of mean, median, and mode, offering up another opportunity to talk math. The other half of the bulletin board displays an array.

IMAGE #2 Everyone Can Learn Math
Seeing math in all we do.

The front cover provides opportunities for number recognition, and the illustrations within offer opportunities to talk about how we use math in everyday activities—from the shape of our bodies when we dance and the shapes that make up monkey bars, to even the more complex math of sinking a basketball in a free throw. The various situations Amy encounters promotes math talk on many levels.

In fact, the story itself follows a mathematical structure—it is a pattern in which Amy must recognize the constant: perseverance. She perseveres and succeeds. Her peers persevere and succeed. She finally takes this equation—determination plus hard work—and makes it equal success for her in math too.

The Magic

Of course, as a parent of two young children, Aspinall knows the secret to a child’s heart: candy. Combining math and candy creates immediate magic for young learners. My daughter, who is four, already loves math, but when I offered the opportunity to work with math and candy together, her eyes lit up and she couldn’t contain her excitement at reorganizing the groups of candy that she would ultimately get to eat. I used three different colors of chocolate eggs for our exploration of the word problem, and although we got stuck a few times on logistics—“Well, there are only three colors” and “Well, there are only four people in our house”—we worked through it. The final result? Six groups of four, a happy dance, and a chocolate feast.

IMAGE #3 Everyone Can Learn Math
My daughter and I working through the problem together. [Last week was a queen week. My daughter insisted all last week we wear our crowns.]

The book is not just magic with the candy, however. After the first time I read the book to my daughter, she said, “I love it. Can we read it again?” An immediate repeat read is a magical book indeed.

Follow Everyone Can Learn Math on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Thanks and see you with more #mathbookmagic soon!

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