Celebrate Storytelling in Mathematics

September 25th is Math Storytelling Day! MetaMetrics® offers Lexile “Find a Book” so that educators and families can use student Lexile® measures to make informed decisions about reading materials that both interest children and are at reading levels appropriate for them to understand the material. Likewise, on quantiles.com MetaMetrics offers Math Literature Guides that accompany children’s books so that teachers and parents can use student Quantile® measures to engage children with appropriate topics in mathematics. Because this is the week of storytelling in mathematics, we want to share some Math Literature Guides that serve as samples for a variety of mathematics skills and concepts.

A simple topic for the early mathematics learner is working with ordinal numbers, such as first, second, third, and fourth. A fun book to read is Trouble on the T-Ball Team by Eve Bunting. The Math Literature Guide for this book offers ideas for using ordinal numbers at sports events (third quarter of a football game), in routine events of the day, or when losing the first tooth. In the Math Literature Guide, notice the blue title of the book. This means that when you click the title, you will be taken to the Lexile “Find a Book” page for that book.  On that page in the right-hand column is a drop-down menu called “Find This Book.” Select “World Cat” in that drop-down list to see libraries near your home where you might find the book. You can also select “Barnes & Noble” or “Amazon” to purchase the book.

For children a little older, another more challenging math topic is counting to a million, the subject of the book, A Million Dots by Andrew Clements.  Dots are everywhere in the book and the challenge is to find the dot that is indicated by the number on the page. The Math Literature Guide for this book offers ideas for questions that will encourage children to think critically when comparing such large numbers.

Geometry topics are the subject of many children’s books. One example is Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland by Cindy Neuschwander. This book includes some plays on words about angles and circles. By fifth grade, students are learning about right angles, acute angles, and obtuse angles. So the Math Literature Guide for the book offers ideas for finding different types of angles in the book and for thinking about where angles are found in architecture, design, and nature.

Mathematics is everywhere in our world but can seem to be invisible unless we take the time to point it out. Reading children’s books that accentuate the uses of mathematics offers insight and appreciation for the role of mathematics in our lives. Talking about the books we read makes reading more fun as well.  Sunday, September 25, is Math Storytelling Day, so take a trip to the library where you will find books that reveal mathematics in unexpected places to kick off a week of pleasure in reading books about mathematics. Read and enjoy!

Story Telling in Mathematics

Many people have fond memories of mom or dad putting them to bed with favorite bedtime stories. I recall the precious memory of a parent reading a fun story just before I snuggled into bed for the night. I also have a special memory of the bedtime hour when my dad was home to tuck me in. He did not read stories to me. He gave me “algebra” problems. From the time I was in third grade and up, he would ask, “A number plus 8 is 15. What is the number?” Now as a grandmother, I play “Mystery Number” with my grandchildren at bedtime. They never fail to follow their answer with “Give me another one, Grandma!”

My bedtime memories were a good combination of mathematics and literacy. The benefits of reading to our children are enduring. Through books, children appreciate experiences of others that often relate to their own experiences, expectations, and dreams. Children’s books can also help to teach the concepts and uses of mathematics.

Math Storytelling Day is coming up! According to their website, September 25 is set aside every year to celebrate the many ways that mathematics is used in our daily lives. “Math Storytelling Day is a great opportunity to get children excited about math through stories and games. Math stories can include logic, patterns, puzzles and numbers.”

A great place to find mathematical resources, such as games, activities, websites, tutorials, and videos is quantiles.com. Parents and teachers can access resources that are targeted to a child’s mathematical ability level based on The Quantile® Framework for Mathematics.  This learning community for teachers, parents, and students also includes helpful articles such as “The Quantile Framework for Mathematics in the Home.” As well as those ideas listed in the article, another simple convenient way to encourage a strong appreciation for the mathematics people use every day is to read books about math topics that inspire children to appreciate and enjoy mathematics.

The website quantiles.com lists children’s books that teach mathematics and offers Math Literature Guides that detail specifics about how to connect mathematics and literature. Each Math Literature Guide includes a series of questions and activities that promote ways for parent to talk about mathematics with their children. One example is the Math Literature Guide for the book Keep Your Distance, a fun and humorous book about measuring lengths with inches, feet, and miles by Gail Herman.

To celebrate Math Storytelling Day this year, the Quantile Team at MetaMetrics will share more book titles and Math Literature Guides about various topics in mathematics. Math storytelling can be an enjoyable experience for parents, teachers, and students as they focus on the ways mathematics is used daily. Stay tuned!

Gold in Math Olympiad

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games finished almost a month ago with the U.S. winning a total of 121 medals, which is almost double that of Britain in second place.  While we are still celebrating our nation’s athletic prowess, we should also be touting our academic success — the U.S recently won its second consecutive gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). The IMO is an annual competition for high school students held each year in a different country. The two-day competition requires students to complete 3 problems each day in 4 ½ hours. Here is an example problem:

“In Lineland there are n ≥ 1 towns, arranged along a road running from left to right. Each town has a left bulldozer (put to the left of the town and facing left) and a right bulldozer (put to the right of the town and facing right). The sizes of the 2n bulldozers are distinct. Every time when a right and a left bulldozer confront each other, the larger bulldozer pushes the smaller one off the road. On the other hand, the bulldozers are quite unprotected at their rears; so, if a bulldozer reaches the rear-end of another one, the first one pushes the second one off the road, regardless of their sizes. Let A and B be two towns, with B being to the right of A. We say that town A can sweep town B away if the right bulldozer of A can move over to B pushing off all bulldozers it meets. Similarly, B can sweep A away if the left bulldozer of B can move to A pushing off all bulldozers of all towns on its way. Prove that there is exactly one town which cannot be swept away by any other one. (Estonia)”

In the podcast “Count One More Gold for The U.S. — In MathJody Avirgan interviews Po-Shen Loh, the U.S. team coach. Loh, once a team member and now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks that just as the U.S. Olympics inspires young athletes, the IMO can likewise encourage students to be interested in mathematics. “I think that mathematics is similar to sports in the sense that if you do more practice, you actually get significantly better,” states Loh. “And the big question then becomes, ‘How do we convince people that doing that practice in mathematics is a fun, fruitful, exciting thing to do?’”

Good question, Professor Loh. One way we can encourage fun mathematics practice is through the use of math games. A quick internet search yields hundreds of math game sites. For a more precise approach to finding math games, teachers and parents can use the free resources available on quantiles.com.  At the site, click “Use the Quantile Framework” at the top of home page. Then select “Math Skills Database” and “Keyword Search.” Enter a keyword such as “Operations.”  A list of Quantile Skill and Concepts (QSCs) targeted to the topic will appear. Suppose you want to practice “Order of Operations.” Click the QSC “Use order of operations including parentheses and other grouping symbols to simplify numerical expressions.” Then click” Show 18 Resources” to view the free resources calibrated to that skill. There are several math games listed to help students practice math AND have fun.  

Shakespeare in the Original Pronunciation

To all high school English teachers and Shakespeare fans, a wonderful—-albeit delightfully esoteric—-publication earlier this year may have slipped under your radar. David Crystal, the Anglo-Welsh linguist, has produced the first Oxford Dictionary on Original Shakespearean Pronunciation. While on the surface this may seem like Academic pedantry at best, and utter hogwash at worst, I couldn’t recommend exploring it more. Looking into the original pronunciation of Shakespeare allows us to feel closer to Shakespeare’s world; help us understand rhymes and puns that no longer seem to work (which reminds us of how rude and bawdy original Shakespeare really was); and have a lot of fun just examining how English has shifted. Forty dollars does seem like a frivolous investment just to be able to comprehend pronunciation of the Bard’s player. However, Crystal offers free material and information on how pronunciation works. You can also compare how the sonnets have shifted over time. For instance, you can compare one of my favorite sonnets, Sonnet 130, to the Original Pronunciation. Or see how A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream would have sounded to its first audience.

Here is a video of David Crystal and his son Ben explaining more OP and doing a demonstration of some of accent as they compare parts of the Henry V and Romeo and Juliet.

Vocabulary Matters

Vocabulary matters. From early readers learning sight and high-frequency words to medical students deciphering Latin-based names for the parts of the human body, vocabulary is critical for academic and life success. While students acquire many words indirectly through typical reading experiences and engagement in conversation, research suggests that high-quality direct instruction of vocabulary remains an effective way for students to learn new words. Unfortunately, time limitations and the quantity of potential words preclude educators and parents from providing direct instruction designed to teach all possible vocabulary words.

To address this challenge, MetaMetrics has developed a new technology, Lexile® PowerV, to facilitate the selection of words from a piece of text. Words are selected based on three criteria: challenge level, relevance to the passage, and consequence for later reading experiences. The challenge criteria can be based on either the text complexity (e.g., words that will be hard given this text) or reader ability (e.g., words that will be hard for a particular reader). Words relevant to the passage reflect the key themes of the text based on a corpus analysis of 1.4 billion running words. Lastly, words with high utility (i.e. words that are part of large word families) or have been recognized as important for future academic success are selected where appropriate. For more information about the research underlying PowerV, please see our research briefs Empirical Lexile Measures for Words, Lexile Word Frequency Profiles, and Calculation of Lexile Word Measures Using a Corpus-Based Model and Student Performance Data.

This research initiative has implications for parents, educators, and partners. For parents and educators, MetaMetrics’ Lexile “Find a Book” website provides a portal to PowerV functionality. For select books, PowerV provides targeted vocabulary lists based on either the text complexity of the selection or specific reader ability. The word lists generated by PowerV can be used to inform pre-reading activities and instruction, providing readers with an opportunity to learn critical words before encountering them in text. The utility of these word lists is best illustrated with examples.

Don Quixote by Cervantes has a text complexity of 1410L, and PowerV selected ten words from the book that are important for readers to know, regardless of their individual reading abilities: goatherds, shepherdesses, valorous, earldom, belabored, doleful, covetous, digressions, succor, and chaste. To get a more individualized vocabulary list, a teacher or parent could enter a reader measure for a student. In this example, a reader measure of 1000L was entered and PowerV generated a custom word list that is appropriate for this particular reader: curate, disenchantment, commending, absurdities, lamentations, besought, jousts, renegade, and proverb.

A more contemporary example is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling. The first novel in the Harry Potter series has a text complexity of 880L and PowerV identified the words that are important for readers regardless of reading ability: referring, broomstick, defrosting, clouted, unseated, bathrobes, quartets, trances, and alibis. For a fourth grader reading at 600L planning to engage with this stretch text, PowerV identified a custom vocabulary list: chasers, scuffles, piers, bowlers, madam, cloak, boaters, dodges, hushing, and whiskery.

MetaMetrics provides a web service for partners looking to integrate PowerV functionality into their own instructional systems. The service accepts a variety of parameters (text, ISBN, Lexile range, number of requested words) and returns appropriate vocabulary lists. Example usages could include: highlighting of challenge words (if in a digital environment), providing word lists in the front of each book, or pre-reading vocabulary-building activities. For more information about licensing Lexile PowerV, please click here.

Given the importance of vocabulary development for academic success, the word selection provided by PowerV is a critical first step in improving student vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. With these words in-hand, parents, educators, and partners all have the opportunity to adopt the instructional approach that best suites the needs of their students. In the end, vocabulary matters.

Lexile by Chapter Guides: Expanded Offerings for a New School Year!

A flurry flutters throughout our nation’s schools as instructors clean classrooms and libraries. Bookshelves are being rearranged. Teachers frantically organize their textbooks and create new bulletin boards. This month, educators gear up with excitement, and refresh their materials (and themselves!) for a new school year. Here at MetaMetrics (developer of Lexile measures), we’re refreshing some of our resources for you too!

Launched last fall, Lexile by Chapter Guides have drawn considerable attention to the utility of Lexile measures in instructional planning. In particular (and as articulated in Tim Shanahan’s blog post this past June), this work helps grades 2-12 teachers think beyond merely using text complexity measures as a way to assign certain texts to students based upon their reading ability. Instead, these Guides help teachers think more about the kinds of instructional scaffolding needed to bridge the gap between the difficulty a particular text presents and the individual student’s unique reading abilities. With a deeper understanding of both the complexity within a book and the reading ability of individual students, educators can more thoroughly explore and prepare for those reader and task considerations in the classroom.

MetaMetrics is pleased to announce that we have added 38 new Lexile by Chapter Guides (LbC) for 33 different titles to our collection. These new Guides are available, along with our previous offerings, on the LbC webpage here. The new titles included represent many books that have been requested by teachers and librarians through our feedback survey; our research into frequently taught full-length works at various grade levels; and also a few that serve to illustrate the importance of this work for instructional planning.

Perhaps most exciting in our new offerings is the inclusion of 16 non-fiction, informational texts. These non-fiction titles (many of which also have discussion guides for teachers collected here) will help provide teachers of science, mathematics, history, social studies, and other content areas access to the same information teachers of literature have enjoyed over the past year.

The planning and preparation that goes on in schools this time of year becomes the foundation for student success over the next many months. We hope Lexile by Chapter Guides are a part of that planning and preparation too. Whether teachers are using these Guides to help them better understand the needs of their instruction, or whether they are sharing them with students to help them anticipate and plan for their own independent reading, Lexile by Chapter Guides are a treasure trove of information that help to spur everyone toward success!

Support your brain by supporting small press literature

As Summer, sadly, draws to an end, the thought of finishing those last books on your Summer reading list may be hard to manage—the malaise of heat only matched by the languor of picking up another tomme published by one of those big publishing houses. It has become commonplace for the “big books” of summer to emerge from the gargantuan publishers with books as meandering as when Dickens was paid by installment (though let’s not be so trite as to call these books Dickensian). These are, indeed, great books, but they are based on a model where the author gets paid a substantial advance for a book that seems to necessitate a weight equal to the gold paid. And, some might say, these books all seem a bit familiar, a bit safe, and a bit expected. Yet, as reported by The Atlantic in the age of the 7-figure book deals, small presses are providing great literature often noted for their beauty, brevity, and creativity.

In non-fiction, Graywolf, based in Minneapolis, has published such books of essays as Leslie Jamison’s Empathy Exams or Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. In poetry, Graywolf has published 3 Sections, Vijay Seshadri’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, and Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine’s important and timely book on race in America (See how instructors have used Citizen in the classroom).

Other notable small presses—though there are many to explore—include Algonquin Books, based in Chapel Hill, NC, which published Julia Alvarez and first published Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Dorothy, based in St. Louis, which publishes authors who are women, and recently published such devastatingly beautiful books as Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo and Nell Zink’s Wallcreeper; Tin House Books, based in Portland, OR, which has sponsored great writers for decades in its magazine Tin House. So explore, and escape into those last days of Summer with a creative and thought provoking new book by one of these presses that helps keep contemporary literature alive.

Educators Needed for Early Reading Focus Group

Are you a kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade teacher, librarian, or reading specialist? Are you interested in hearing about the latest Lexile research in early-reading and sharing your feedback?

Over several years, numerous research studies were conducted to examine the characteristics and features of books intended for early-reading students. This research investigated predictors of text complexity of these books and led to the enhancement of the Lexile® Analyzer (the tool used to determine the Lexile measure of texts).

We are looking for early education professionals to join us in our Durham, NC office and participate in a 90 minute focus group on our outreach efforts related to more precise measurement of K-3 books. Each participant will receive a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card.

Interested? Please complete this short survey. Thank you for your time!

Summer Reading Loss

As we hit heat in the triple digits, summer can seem innervating. Unfortunately, just as kids set into the casual routine of vacation, an insidious truth emerges: some students often return to school with a lower reading aptitude than when they finished school. Among the first to note this phenomenon in 1978, Barbara Hayns determined that different rates of summer learning among students may have a persistent effect over how their educational career develops. In other words, when a student loses skills in summer, it takes her/him a considerable time to catch back up while her/his fellow students continue to improve.

Summer reading loss affects those of lower socioeconomic status, and those of color, disproportionately. In what eminent sociologist Karl Alexander called “turning off the tap,” during the school year schools provide resources that are not available to many people in the summer months. Those with more resources (usually those of higher socioeconomic status or whose parents have more education) tend to do better while the tap is off. Meanwhile, those with fewer resources often feel the strain and suffer disproportionate losses.

However, one solution is to keep reading, either through a formal summer reading program or through a self-directed program. In an effort combat summer reading loss, we’ve created the Summer Reading Pledge on “Find A Book”. Here parents and students can select books that match their Lexile Reading Levels. With the simple Summer Reading Log, parents and students can track a student’s reading progress. It is hard to fathom that the halcyon summer holidays help contribute to an increasing achievement gap among students. Yet, just keeping students engaged with the right books can go along way to narrowing the gap and curtailing summer loss.

Fighting Summer Learning Loss

In partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), MetaMetrics freely provides the annual “Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge” to state education agencies to develop and sustain their summer reading programs. Led by CEO and President Malbert Smith, Ph.D., who serves on the National Summer Learning Association’s Board of Directors, the summer learning challenge is a favorite project among the MetaMetrics staff. It is fulfilling work that relies on the collaboration and dedication across the MetaMetrics team—from engineering to government relations to the marketing department. This year MetaMetrics celebrates its 5th year of leading the fight against summer learning loss.

This summer, MetaMetrics collaborated with 21 state departments of education to combat the negative effects of summer reading loss. Among the 21 states participating in the Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge, the Lexile “Find a Book” search tool, Summer Reading Log and Summer Reading Pledge were promoted to encourage targeted reading practice. These promotional efforts have not gone unnoticed! For example in Kentucky, with many thanks to the tireless efforts of Kathy Mansfield at the KY Department of Education, over 7,200 summer reading pledges have been submitted. The Summer Reading Pledge is available until August 31st, and so far more than 120,000 books have been pledged to read nationwide.

MetaMetrics also leads a charge against summer math loss. The Summer Math Challenge launched in 2013, and has gained great momentum and popularity over the years. Participants have reported:

“I think that this is a great COST-EFFECTIVE activity for ALL parents. I look forward to each activity so that I have “scheduled learning” time for the summer with my daughter.”

“The summer math challenge was great…the exercises were right on target and fun.

This summer, 19 state education agencies have promoted the Summer Math Challenge through press releases, listserv emails and social media outreach. To see which states particpated this year, and past years, visit: https://www.quantiles.com/content/summer-math-challenge/state-participants/. Like the resources for the Chief’s Summer Learning Challenge, the Summer Math Challenge is made freely available to all participants. For more information about the summer math and reading initiatives, visit: https://www.quantiles.com/content/summer-math-challenge/ and https://lexile.com/chiefs-challenge/.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.