Numerical Data in Library Resources

I had the best thing happen recently. A teacher requested that I collaborate with her on a math project. I admit that I haven’t integrated much math into library as there are probably possibilities, so I was super excited. We wanted students to dig into resources to collect numerical data. In math class they are organizing data from least to greatest, finding the range, median, mode, etc. Then they will be graphing the data.

There is a lot of numerical data available in library resources so I brainstormed a few choices. In the end we went in two directions.

I pulled two series of animal books from the shelves and set them in large stacks at our library tables. Students came into the library and we got started with a whole-group introduction. I displayed the cover of one of the books and asked, “what kind of numerical information do you think we’ll find in this text about the zebra?”

Students brainstormed several possibilities and they all stunned me just a little bit. “How many of them there are in the United States.” “How many of them in the world.” “How many are endangered.” “How tall they are.” “How many stripes they have.” “How old they are.”

Then we used the table of contents to see if there was an easy way to find numerical data. In the series I started with there really wasn’t. The chapter titles were all very creatively phrased and less formulaic. We started going page by page skimming for numbers. We found them very quickly! “500” appeared in the context of “500 million years ago, zebras…” And then we found “two” in the context of the number of zebra species (I think.) We located the weight of the male zebra in a caption and then a few other pieces of numerical data.

We asked students to think about what kind of data they wanted to collect: size, life span, speed, etc. I demonstrated how to keep track of their data on a chart. Students went to tables and started browsing through the books. Some students did have to revise their research focus because they weren’t able to find enough similar pieces of data in multiple books. Other students had great success! One student started looking for the number of species and found a lot of great examples. One student started looking at wingspan of birds and insects. Another searched for what he labeled “perimeter” but was really the square mileage of their habitat range.

We passed stacks of books from table to table and it was about 30 minutes of chatter. Really productive chatter–I loved it!

I can’t wait to see what the final result is!

The other piece of the project is for a small group to use a pathfinder (I’m planning to create) to research the height of famous buildings and landmarks. This was one of our original ideas, but we just don’t have the resources to tackle it as a whole class. Instead, the animal books with the formulaic layout worked best for the whole class.

I recommend this project to anyone–it was a fantastic opportunity of collaboration outside the traditional science and social studies or author study realms of library research. And a wonderful opportunity to use library resources, but (honestly), not to monopolize a huge chuck of library time with the entire research process.

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