“The Library Problem” – An Ongoing Column in Teaching Children Mathematics

Schad, Brian, Joseph Georgeson, and Sarah Bunten. 2010. “The Library Problem.” Teaching Children Mathematics 16 (7): 387–89.

The authors, elementary and middle school math teachers, describe a math lesson plan that takes elementary age students to the local public library to gather and analyze data. The students count the number of words on a page of a picture book, and then tally the number of letters in each word on the same page. They describe two methods: older students can work in pairs where one student counts and one completes the table, and younger students can complete the activity using one page with a whole class. Once they have gathered data, they analyze it with the goal of understanding relationships between numbers (e.g. ratio, fraction, decimals, percentages) and how numbers can be visually represented (e.g. on a tally sheet). The authors claim that this exercise puts a difficult concept like rational numbers in the context of how many words you read or how difficult a book is. The authors conclude by inviting other teachers to try the same problem in their classes and share the outcomes. This lesson could be easily adapted by a school librarian or by a public children’s librarian.

Lesson Goals:

  • Students can tally the number of words on a page of a picture book
  • Students can tally the number of letters in each word on a page of a picture book
  • Students can compare these figures and discuss patterns they observe

Lesson Plan Materials

For more detailed instructions and examples, see: Schad, Brian, Joseph Georgeson, and Sarah Bunten. 2010. “The Library Problem.” Teaching Children Mathematics 16 (7): 387–89.

Common Core State Standards this Lesson Supports

  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP4 Model with mathematics.

AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner

  • AASL 2.1.3 Use strategies to draw conclusions from information and apply knowledge to curricular areas, real-world situations, and further investigations.
  • AASL 2.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information.

Related Articles

  • Small, Marian. 2010. “North Dakota’s Centennial Quilt and Problem Solvers: Solutions: The Library Problem.” Teaching Children Mathematics 16 (7): 386–93.

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