Forging a Path into Math: Resources for Collaborating with Secondary Math Teachers

In 2017, I was finishing up my ninth year as a classroom math teacher, having taught everything from middle-school pre-algebra to high-school trigonometry, and also finishing my master's program to become a school librarian. However, when I talked to my math colleagues about my change in career, they often commented that they had never been offered support by any librarian. Unfortunately, that experience is all too common among math teachers, and this is a history and perception that is on us as librarians to correct.

As we know, all staff and students are learners and deserve to feel seen, respected, and supported by the library. The teachers of math are no different, even if the content can seem intimidating to some. However, for a variety of reasons, the math department is one of the least frequent users of the school library. How can we establish effective collaboration between the library and math classrooms to ensure that all staff feel adequately supported by the library?

One of the most difficult aspects of beginning to collaborate with math teachers is the perceived gap between the two; both sides tend to assume that the librarian has nothing to offer the math classroom. Now that I have been on both sides of that equation, I can attest that there is tremendous potential for librarians to collaborate with math teachers just as often as with other subjects; it might take some patience and creative thinking to make it a reality.

Here are some of my recommendations for technology tools, books, social media, and other resources librarians can use to help initiate or refresh collaborations with their secondary math teachers.

Technology Tools

A significant portion of math teachers have been conditioned that books, literacy, and the library have nothing to do with their content and their classrooms. Because of this, you may need to find a stepping stone to help you gain entry to your school's math world that does not come off as too bookish at the start. Technology can often be that entry point, since many teachers already have experience asking for technology help. As more teachers incorporate flipped classroom and blended learning, librarians can support math classrooms with technology tools that connect to math curricula before attempting to branch out into other collaborations. Here are a few of my favorite (free!) tech tools you can use to strengthen math instruction in your school.

Books

Contrary to popular belief, many math teachers do indeed need and want books in their classrooms. For those teachers, be sure you are ready with titles to recommend to them and to their students that support and celebrate a love of math. Below are some of my favorite titles that incorporate math content in interesting ways to help you expand your recommendations.

The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, in conjunction with the Children's Book Council, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, also highlights books with math content by awarding the Mathical Book Prize annually to books in PreK, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 categories. Find out more about the Mathical Book Award and find a list of past winners and honor books at http://www.mathicalbooks.org.

Middle School

  • Genius series: The Game, The Con, and The Revolution by Leopoldo Gout (science fiction). Three techie teens try to expose worldwide corruption.
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty (realistic fiction). Can a math genius survive middle school?
  • How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit on a Plane?: Answers to Your Most Clever Math Questions by Laura Overdeck (nonfiction). Author of the popular "Bedtime Math" series for younger children also wrote this title full of fun real-world mathematical questions.
  • Secret Coders series by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel). Three middle-schoolers solve mysteries with computer coding and programming.

High School

  • Nearly Boswell series--Nearly Gone and Nearly Found by Elle Cosimano (mystery fiction). Can a math genius stop a serial killer?
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (realistic fiction). Can an equation show where love went wrong? Don't forget about this modern classic as you work with your higher-math teachers.
  • This Story Is a Lie by Tom Pollock (mystery fiction). A teen math genius who suffers from debilitating panic attacks must find the person(s) responsible for the assassination attempt on his mother.
  • We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story by Josh Sundquist (nonfiction memoir). The author dissects his past relationships with lots of graphs and venn diagrams.

All Grades

  • Which One Doesn't Belong?: A Shapes Book by Christopher Danielson (picture book). Do not let the title or the format fool you. This title encourages higher-level mathematical thinking and can be used in grades K-12.
  • Various titles by Danica McKellar (nonfiction). Child-star-turned-mathematician McKellar has written several excellent books that run the gamut from Pre–K picture books to higher-level math.
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (nonfiction). This story has been adapted into several editions, so you are sure to find one that matches your students.

Social Media

Math teachers, like librarians, can often feel isolated. Though they most likely work as part of a team of some kind, it can be difficult for them to find new and innovative ideas. This is where social media shines! Pick a platform of your choice, and you can connect with other educators around the world to share stories, ideas, and resources. Twitter, especially, has been embraced by educators, and math teachers have joined in the fun. A group of math teachers from around the world have created what has come to be called the Math Twitter Blog-o-sphere (MTBoS), a community of thousands of math teachers online who share ideas through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other online platforms. This group is a wealth of information and resources, and so being aware of the basics of the MTBoS will help you connect math teachers to other resources when they are looking for support. Also, don't be afraid to wade into the waters yourself; the more resources you become familiar with, the better equipped you will be to help your teachers when they need it.

The Math Twitter Blog-o-sphere

There are several websites that give a good overview of the MTBoS and how to get involved. Check out the Math Ed wiki page (http://mathed.net/wiki/Mathematics_educators_on_Twitter), the how-to-join-MTBoS page (http://mathtwitterblogosphere.weebly.com), the MTBoS overview website (https://exploremtbos.wordpress.com), and the MTBoS blog (https://mtbos.org), which also has directories of math educators, blogs, and classroom activities ready to use.

The most active segment of the MTBoS is on Twitter, but you don't have to have a Twitter account to benefit from the MTBoS. On the main Twitter page, search for any of the following hashtags and you will find excellent math instruction happening around the globe.

  • #mathchat: A general math education hashtag for tweets from around the globe
  • #mtbos: The first hashtag devoted to math education in the US that started in 2015
  • #iteachmath: A newer hashtag that is interchangeable, and often used with, #mtbos
  • #mathart: A hashtag for tweets about where math and art intersect
  • #edtechmath: A hashtag for a Twitter chat that occurs live on Thursdays at 8pm EST about educational technology in math classrooms (You do not have to follow the chat as it is happening. Search for the hashtag at any time to see what others posted during the chat.)

Other Ways to Support Math

Sometimes establishing library collaboration with math can require some pretty creative thinking. Most math teachers don't feel they have time for research, and databases that coincide nicely with middle- and high-school math content simply do not exist yet. Because of this, try to initiate collaboration in a different way. Here are a few other ideas to get the collaboration flowing.

Literacy

If your school has a focus on textual literacy and/or text sets, why not help the math teachers visualize what that may look like in their classrooms? Try Turner's Graph of the Week (https://www.turnersgraphoftheweek.com) and Newsela (https://newsela.com/text-sets/#/tag/mathematics), among other text-set providers, to help get your foot in the door.

Collection

What might you be able to add to your library collection for student checkout to help support math instruction in your building? Talk to the leaders of the math department about their needs, including calculators and other math tools. Also, if you have (or are considering adding) breakout boxes in your collection for teacher use, don't forget to promote them to your math department. This was, by far, my most successful resource when I began outreach to my school's math teachers during my first year. Check the BreakoutEDU website (https://www.breakoutedu.com) and Michelle Matz s Library of Digital Breakouts (https://matzmathmadness.weebly.com/digital-breakouts.html) for ideas of how to use the boxes with math content.

Programming

Remember your math classes when planning programs and instruction in the library. Why not try Geometry Mini-Golf in the library? It is an excellent activity for design thinking and angle measurement for grades 8-10; see the resources from TeachEngineering (https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_geotools_lesson01_activity1) and GeometryCoach (https://geometrycoach.com/measuring-angles-putt-putt-course) for more information. Also, March 14th is celebrated by many STEM teachers as Pi Day, not just because the date (as written in the U.S.) matches the first few digits of pi (3.14) but also because it just happens to be Albert Einstein's birthday. Bring some of the celebrating into the library by hosting your own Pi Day activities. Check out Matt Davis'sEdutopia article (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/pi-day-lesson-plans-matthew-davis) for some ideas.

Makerspace

If your library has a makerspace, there are also fun ways to utilize the space and materials for your math teachers. Consider hosting an Hour of Code session in your library and invite your math teachers to take part. If robots such as Ozobots, Spheros, etc., are included in your makerspace,, check the manufacturer's website for your type of robot; the companies frequently have classroom activities, including math, available for free online. Any building materials you have, such as Legos, Keva Planks, etc., can be used to support 3D geometry concepts in grades 7-10. Also, regardless of whether you have access to a 3D printer, you can use free CAD modeling software, such as TinkerCAD (https://www.tinkercad.com) to support design thinking, technological literacy, and geometry concepts in all grades. For teachers who would like to push their students in engineering and design, see TryEngineering (https://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/) for lesson plans that can be utilized by the classroom teacher and the librarian to extend students' learning.

Conclusion

There are plenty of ways the library can support math teachers in their classrooms, just some of which I have touched on here. Don't be afraid to start small; simply offering your teachers the library space for a math activity that cannot be accommodated in their classrooms or offering help with new technology with which they are unfamiliar can go a long way in establishing the kind of relationship you need for collaboration to flourish. There is no need to worry if you don't feel strong in the math content; I assure you most math teachers don't expect anyone but other math teachers to understand their math jargon and concepts. Instead focus on being seen by all staff, including math teachers, as a reliable resource for instruction and support. They, and their students, need you. So go out, be brave, and make some connections!

About the Author

Stacy Gilbert, MSEd, is a 7-12 school librarian in Fairfax County Public Schools in VA. Gilbert was a classroom math teacher for nine years before finding her true calling in the library. She received the Dickinson Award from the Virginia Association of School Librarians as well as the Library Graduate of the Year Award from Old Dominion University. When not reading young adult books, she enjoys traveling to new places and generally nerding out. Find her on Twitter at @MamaGilbsLib and through email at segilbert@fcps.edu.

MLA Citation Gilbert, Stacy. "Forging a Path into Math: Resources for Collaborating with Secondary Math Teachers ." School Library Connection, December 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2235469.

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