Monday, May 17, 2010

Nonfiction Monday - Mathematical Reading

I picked up a bunch of books at my local independent bookstore recently, several of which I can't wait to put to use in my math classes this summer.

First Shapes in Buildings, written by Penny Ann Lane - Using photographs of architectural sites, Lane introduces readers to a range of two- and three-dimensional shapes and prods them to consider how and why the sites were built that way. I'm thrilled that this one uses such creative forms to highlight the shapes. Readers will find sites from around the world including Stonehenge (UK), the Temple of Anon at Karnak (Egypt), the Ka'bah in Makkah (Saudi Arabia), St. Peter's Piazza in Rome (Italy), the Imperial Villa of Katsura in Kyoto (Japan), the Masjid-in shah Mosque in Isfahan (Iran) and others. Each double-page spread includes a full-page photo of an architectural site and a facing page with a simple illustration of the shape being featured and text that explains the related aspect of the structure. Here is a sample of the text from the cylinder page. The photograph shows a row of columns from the Temple of Anon at Karnak.
These huge cylinders look like tree trunks.
The people who built this temple believed that walking
through this forest of columns would remind them
of their journey to the next life.

How would you feel if you walked through
all these massive cylinders?
I loved the way this text read and looked. The text and illustrations are clear, crisp and bright. Students will love finding the shapes in the 12 illustrations. It ends with a photographic glossary that identifies each building and its location in the world. This book will be the perfect resource for introducing a lesson on shapes in the environment and a terrific jumping off point for kids creating their own shape books using photos of architectural sites, either famous or local.

For Good Measure: The Ways We Say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big, How Old, written by Ken Robbins - Since we here in the US still cling to the customary system of measurement, teachers must be familiar with it and the metric system when teaching measurement. When I teach HOW to teach this topic I like to throw in a good bit of history and focus on nonstandard measurement. My students actually use their bodies to measure to get a feel for hands, fathoms, cubits and other "antiquated" measures. (Oh, how I wish they were!). Ken Robbins has just made my job of introducing these concepts a whole lot easier with his new book. Here's how it begins.
Certain words and phrases that we use to describe things are just not very specific: "lots," "scads," and "many," for instance, or pairs of opposites like "far" and "near," "big" and "small," "light" and "heavy," "new and "old." With words like that it's hard to know exactly what somebody means. Sometimes it doesn't matter so much, but when it does matter, we need standards of measurement that we can compare things to—units we can all agree on.
Each measurement in the book is accompanied by a photographic reference, a description of how the unit is measured and, if available, a bit of historical background. The text opens with measures of length and distance and includes the foot, span, hand, cubit, yard, fathom, mile (and pace), furlong, rod, league, and light-year. If these sound familiar, it is because we still use these terms! Horses are measured in hands, races run in furlongs, fabric cut in yards. After distance comes area, then weights, liquid measures, dry capacities and time. This book is chock full of information that is highlighted by lush illustrations, largely of Robbins making.

I do see one weakness with this title and that is the lack of back matter. Once the section on time ends, the last page of the book shows an image of the Earth with a measure of its diameter. I would have liked additional resources, a bibliography, or some list of references to show where this wealth of information came from. Don't get me wrong, I loved the book, it just ended with me wanting and needing a bit more.

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, written by Sarah Campbell with photographs by Sarah Campbell and Richard Campbell - This one begins with a series of photographs of flowers with different numbers of petals. The number of petals on the flowers—1, 2, 3, 5, and 8—are used to introduce the Fibonacci sequence and how the pattern is created. After looking at a few more flower species with numbers of petals in the Fibonacci sequence, Campbell shares other examples that include the spirals seen in pine cones, sunflowers, pineapples, and the nautilus shell. The text finishes with this encouragement.
Not all numbers in nature are Fibonacci numbers. A dogwood has 4 petals, and an amaryllis has 6. A garden snail and the fiddlehead on the fern are spirals, but they don't have the same shape as the nautilus. The next time you are outside, take a close look at the plants and animals. See if you can find Fibonacci numbers, spirals, or some other pattern. The are growing all around.
Campbell's book ends with a page of additional information on Fibonacci numbers and a helpful glossary.

Though not topically connected, what ties these three books together are their superb illustrations and clearly written texts. I recommend them all as terrific resources for integrating literacy and the study of math.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Hosting this week is Carol at Rasco From RIF. Do take some time to check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.


  1. I just successfully requested Growing Patterns from the library--thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Thanks for the recommendations. I homeschool and I'm always looking for fun ways to present math concepts.