When I started this blog, I had no children of my own but spent lots of time talking math with the children of my friends. This talk began to pop up more frequently on my twitter feed as well in posts. Now that I have children of my own, I am wholly invested in the project of talking mathematics with them (whether they notice it or not)1. This has resulted in many moments of surprise and delight, and continues to fuel my interest in the roots of mathematical learning (far before I get to see them in secondary school).
About two weeks ago, I was asked to try a new app called Math Storytime. The app is designed to use stories to spark opportunity for math talk with small children. This post is a summary of the experiences my boy and I had (and continue to have) with the app. In order to structure our experience, I will begin with a description of the mechanics and features of the app. After that, I will leave some comments about the mathematics sponsored through the stories followed by download links.
Math Storytime can be used in a web browser or as an app. Having tried both, I recommend that you download the app for the most functionality. (That is also what they suggest). The touch screen added to the interactive feel, and the pages “turned” much smoother and faster with the app.
The app is a collection of eight stories targeted at young children2. Their central themes are mathematical in nature: from measuring vegetables, to placing in competitions, to making maps, etc. The home menu of the app shows the covers of the stories, and it is easy for the kids to select which one they would like to read. Once in a story, the user determines the pacing by “turning” the pages by hitting a button. The text appears progressively and small animations add to the story–a nice feature unavailable to paper books. Little golden stars signal spots on the page that the child can touch to activate the animations. My son enjoyed searching for the stars as we read.
Each story begins and ends with a musical interlude, and sound effects continue throughout the book. However, the sound can be turned off if it becomes too much to handle or if baby sister is already asleep next door. Each time you begin a story, you are given the option to read the book yourself or have it narrated. However, only an English narration is provided. An interesting feature is the ability to record your own narration. I narrated on of the stories, and my son got a kick out of listening to me read him a book when I was in the other room. If I were completely honest, it is sometimes nice to have the option to leave the room. Not always, but sometimes.
The app’s coolest feature (for a math teacher or a parent interested in talking math with their kids), is the in-app discussion suggestions. With the touch the screen, the app suggests possible talking points about the story you are reading. Because you pace the book by turning the pages, these tips can be sought out without a huge time pressure. I would probably recommend that a parent pre-read these discussion tips before reading so they are better equipped to find opportunities to highlight. I even tried including extra questions in a customized narration of one of the stories. I asked him questions about the things we talked about when we last read the book together. This was a fun way to extend the versatility of the discussion tips and the narration recording feature.
The themes in the stories are varied. Most incorporate the mathematical ideas smoothly into the plots of the short stories, but there are a couple where it is obvious that the math was forced into the picture. The more natural infusions include the use of location words like behind, above, and between in a story about ducks searching for a worm, and the idea of coordinate mapping being incorporated into a story about squirrels hiding acorns for the winter. The less natural infusions include a dragon flipping a coin to decide where to eat or a girl having to name 3D shapes as they fly by. On the whole, the stories do provide opportunity to talk with your kids about math if the reader is on the lookout for the opportunities (the discussion tips help).
One really cool fallout from reading these stories with my son was the possibilities that we played with after we had read them. In the next few days, he began to ask questions about the themes we had read about. (This is a common thing for him to do, but because these stories contained mathematical possibility, the conversations quickly became about math).
- He saw some spare change on the kitchen island and asked if we could flip the coins. We did. Every time it was “Heads,” we took a step forward, and every time it was “Tails,” we took a step backward. We tried to get all the way across the living room.
- After a character wondered how long a minute was, we had interesting conversations about measuring time. We timed him doing some things that took about a minute, and that night he noticed the oven timer was counting down. He asked how long a minute was and we sat and watched it count down together.
I believe the real value in the stories is the ongoing conversations that can start at storytime. Talking mathematics is one thing, but noticing mathematics in the stream of daily life is a particularly powerful moment for a young learner. This app might plant a seed of curiosity and help those charged with fertilizing that curiosity wade through some of those important conversations.
All in all, I am very pleased to have found this collection of stories, and I hope they continue to add to the collection of eight books. We plan on having the app handy for the next long drive, and my son has already asked to record his voice on one of the stories. As a parent, you never say no to free books, especially ones that are thoughtfully constructed to spark learning opportunities.
Information about Math Storytime can be found at the links below: