Shel Silverstein and Math

23 Jan


Shel Silverstein poems are always fun, and many of his works can be used during math instruction.  A few years ago I asked the class how much money the boy lost in the poem “Smart.”  One student painstakingly worked out the exchanges of dollars to quarters to dimes to nickels to pennies, adding the cents together and then subtracting the decimals with agonized groans.  At least that’s how I remember it.

At the end of class, as everyone shared their work, he heard a fellow student say, “all I really had to do was stop and think that he started with a dollar and ended with 5 pennies, which is a difference of 95 cents.”  When he realized the difference in their strategies, I thought his head would explode.  But he did learn a good lesson: stopping to think before you jump in to calculating can save you a lot of pain in the end. As a teacher I can’t help but think, “that was a lot of good math practice he had, too!”

Here are some questions you can use with poems to spark some great math thinking.

Shel Silverstein Math and Poetry

These problems vary a lot in difficulty.  Some would be fine for upper-elementary students, some are probably more at the middle school level.  You can modify them as you see fit, but they give you an idea of the kinds of questions you can ask.

I would have students work on these problems in pairs or small groups (and I would probably have done some lessons with one of the poems whole class, to model some strategies for attacking the problems.)  I can also imagine this being an activity that would look great as  a presentation, with the poem on a poster and the students showing with pictures, numbers, and words, how they solved the problems.

The Illuminations website also has a lesson relating Silverstein’s “Shape” poem to a math lesson.

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