This month’s Teacher Children Mathematics journal had a great lesson involving the Caldecott winning picture book, Jumanji. Those familiar with the title know that it’s about a pair of children who find a board game and begin playing it by rolling the dice. Things get out of hand and the only way to end the game is by rolling a 12. Then (to a lot of groans), I slammed the book shut and asked the children that we were going to do some math and I would read the end aftewards. I began by asking them how likely they thought the chance would be that a 12 would be rolled. There was a large range of answers. I then gave each child a pair of dice and asked them to roll it ten times and to record their answers. Finally, we took all their data and filled in a graph on the board. It looked like a nice rolling hill. I then asked the children why they thought this pattern emerged and eventually they started to say that the were more combinations of numbers to add to make 7 whereas there was only one way to get 12. We then read the end of the book and it was a great way for children to experience the concept of probability and how it might affect their lives. Would it be better to build houses on your strip of Monopoly when someone was 1 place away or 6 places away? Why?
Unfortunately, many textbooks are so linear, teaching one concept at a time, they don’t leave room for integration of other math concepts or even literature connections for fun, engaging, lessons like these that ask kids to discover the why behind the math. Many textbook series have ‘literature’ connections by producing their own children’s books. None to my knowledge have measured up to Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji – a true classic.