Mathematically literate… Say what?

Ready for a mouthful? According to JGR Martinez, this describes a 21st century learner of mathematics:

“Students need to learn to use language to focus and work through problems to communicate ideas coherently and clearly, to structure arguments, to extend their thinking, to understand their own thinking processes as well as others, and to develop flexibility in representing and interpreting ideas.” (2001)

As teachers of 21st century learners, and of the Common Core, we are responsible for preparing our children to be mathematically literate. It goes beyond learning the algorithms and naming numbers, beyond identifying colors and filling in formulas, beyond building shapes and patterns. Being mathematically literate means understanding the processes, understanding the vocabulary, and having a conversation about math in the world. I believe mathematical literacy extends beyond just numeric literacy.

In kindergarten, what this means to me, is that I need to introduce math vocabulary early. Even the words that seem too difficult for them to grasp. Although we are laying the foundation in the simplest of terms, it is never to early to start introducing “big kid” words for them to learn. We transition to higher level vocabulary through out the year in language arts and reading seamlessly. And math is no different.

This week, we are reviewing 3D shapes. For some students, this can be confusing because 3D shapes may look just like 2D shapes to them. We began with a poem I grabbed from the blog Lil’ Country Kindergarten. This is a great introduction because it already gets them thinking about 3D shapes being “fat” not “flat”. Then we moved on to the “big kid” word of dimension. I held up two shapes blocks, one 2D and one 3D. We discussed the shapes and how they are similar or different.

You gotta love those kids who just see into your mind and know just what you want to hear.

“Well, to me, one looks like a box. You can put things in a box but not in a plain old rectangle.” Ding Ding Ding!

We then could move into talking about dimensions meaning describing how long, wide, or deep something is. 2D shapes only have 2 dimensions – long and wide. 3D shapes have 3 dimensions – long, wide, and deep.

Our lessons continued throughout the week. I included Tana Hoban’s Cones, Cubes, Cylinders, and Spheres.


Bringing literature into math helps the students make connections across subject areas. We are expected to be able to read and write: during reading, during writing, and even during math (and science and social studies). Her book is great because it is wordless nonfiction showing real world examples of these shapes. Students can make connections between what we are talking about and their everyday lives. They then can translate the mathematical vocabulary elsewhere. Can we say literate? 🙂

I realize now that this post may sound like I’ve stepped on a soap box. But I am passionate about literacy and how it should transcend every subject area. Using literature in every subject can help create literate learners (of every subject matter).

Here are some great resources for math literacy:
Shape poem:

Building math literacy in kindergarten (fun games):

From the Mathematical Association of America:

Journal of Mathematics Education: 8.Bobby_Ojose_–_Mathematics_Literacy_Are_We_Able_To_Put_The_Mathematics_We_Learn_Into_Everyday_Use-1

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Filed under Literacy, math literacy

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