Published in Trends &
Issues: The Publication of the Florida Council for the Social Studies,
Volume 12 (Summer 2000), pp. 22-24.
Literature to Link Mathematics and Social Studies:
A Multicultural Exploration with Bread
Denisse R. Thompson
University of South Florida
College of Education, EDU 162
Tampa, FL 33620
University of South Florida (student)
1236 Horsemint Lane
Wesley Chapel, FL 33543
is a mathematics educator at the University of South Florida. She is
interested in using literature to integrate mathematics with other content
Kendra Holyoke is an undergraduate student majoring in elementary education
at the University of South Florida. She became interested in using multicultural
literature with mathematics while completing an independent study project
with Dr. Thompson.
Using Childrens Literature to Link Mathematics and Social Studies:
A Multicultural Exploration with Bread
high stakes assessment environment in Florida, with an emphasis on reading,
writing, and mathematics, has placed pressure on teachers to find time
to teach social studies. One way to maintain social studies in the elementary
curriculum is to integrate the content with the teaching of mathematics
and language arts. Elementary teachers may naturally think of the social
studies and language arts connections, through the reading of books
with a multicultural connection; however, they may overlook the mathematics
connections that are possible with those same books.
The purpose of this article is to illustrate
how mathematics and social studies connections can be made by considering
a unit that uses several childrens books with a bread theme. By
focusing on bread and its relationship to cultures throughout the world,
natural social studies connections can be made to economics, geography,
cultural values and traditions, and history. Such connections incorporate
the cultural diversity recommended in the national standards for social
studies (National Council for the Social Studies, 1997) and also relate
to the geography of people, places, and environments recommended in
Floridas Social Studies Curriculum Framework (1996). Simultaneously,
each of the five mathematics strands in the Florida Mathematics Curriculum
Framework (number and operations, geometry, measurement, algebraic thinking,
and data analysis & probability) can be incorporated with the same
Summary of Several Bread-Themed Books
Bread Is for Eating (Gershator
and Gershator, 1995) provides a brief story about how the grain for
bread is grown and harvested, and incorporates Spanish songs for each
stage from planting the seeds to eating the bread. Tonys Bread
(dePaola, 1989) tells the story of a young man who wants to become the
most famous bread maker in northern Italy. For a look at different breads
associated with various cultures, Everybody Bakes Bread (Dooley,
1996) provides a nice complement to Tonys Bread. As a young
girl visits neighbors to find a three-handled rolling pin, she samples
breads made by her ethnic neighbors. Pancakes for Breakfast (dePaola,
1978) tells a story, through pictures only, of all the processes needed
to make pancakes, from mixing flour, to collecting eggs from the chickens,
to milking the cows, to churning butter, to collecting syrup from the
Two non-fiction books that provide information
complementary to the story books are Pass the Bread (Badt, 1995)
and Bread Around the World (Rothman, 1994). The first of these
describes different types of bread, how they are made, and the cultures
where the breads are found. The second book is a large picture book
illustrating a cultural variety of breads and occasions where special
breads are used.
1: A Class Bakery
class bakery can be established by having teachers and children collect
or make a variety of breads from different cultures. Ethnic grocery
stores in many cities provide a good source for obtaining such breads.
Local bakeries might donate bread if notified that the class needs breads
for a lesson exploration.
With the bread, the class can establish
a class bakery at which children can take turns role-playing the baker
and the customer. In displaying the breads, children can sort the breads
using attributes such as size, color, and shape (geometry), arrange
the breads in patterns (algebraic thinking), and indicate different
costs (number & operations as well as economics). Breads can also
be arranged by geographic location, with children using a map or globe
to locate the country or culture from which the bread originates (geography).
Children can role-play purchasing bread
for their family. Variations on price are possible by offering discounts
for purchasing multiple loaves, by offering special purchases on certain
days of the week, or by calculating sales tax. As children purchase
breads, the baker can make change using paper money and coins. If only
certain denominations are available on a given day, the baker will have
to consider the relationships between money quantities; for instance,
if nickels and pennies are the only coins available on Monday, the baker
must make all the change with these coins.
Children can also explore the different
currencies used throughout the world and relate these currencies to
U.S. dollars (number computations and economics). Daily newspapers usually
carry the current exchange rate. In fact, children can plot the fluctuations
in the exchange rate on a daily or weekly basis (data analysis), possibly
relating any major changes to economic or political events occurring
in the various countries.
If a wide variety of breads are collected for the class bakery, groups
of children can work together to research information about the country.
For instance, children can find the average yearly consumption of breads
in the country and the average amount spent in the country on this staple,
with the results compared across countries.
Activity 2: Exploring Breads
Children can measure and weigh whole loaves
of bread, exploring the differences between light and dense breads (measurement).
The comparative weights of the loaves can provide benchmarks or referents
for children when dealing with customary or metric units of measure.
For instance, how many loaves are needed to approximate 10 pounds or
15 kilograms? In addition, how many loaves of pita bread are needed
to weigh about the same as a loaf of sandwich bread?
Children can describe the breads in terms
of geometric shapes; in particular, sandwich breads are approximately
rectangular prisms, French bread is roughly a cylinder, and some bakery
breads (e.g., Polish rye bread) are roughly hemispheres. Children can
conjecture the shape of the cross section when the bread is cut in a
particular way and then test their conjecture (spatial reasoning).
Children can also compare the number of
slices per loaf and the number of sandwiches to be made per loaf (number
operations and estimation). Given this information and the different
costs for each type of bread, children can determine the most economical
bread for their family.
Another economics and mathematics extension
is to have children budget $20 to purchase bread for a week. Given costs
of several types of breads, they can determine the type and number of
loaves to buy with their $20. If children record their results in a
table and look for patterns, they are engaging in some informal algebraic
If kitchen facilities exist or if a bread-making
machine is available, children can explore making their own breads,
dealing with recipes and adjusting the amounts to make enough for the
class (measurement and number operations). Children can make loaves
in different shapes and can cut breads in various designs for sandwiches
or small party hors d'oeuvres (spatial sense).
Activity 3: Collecting Data about Themselves and Bread
Children can taste different breads, record
their favorite bread and then graph the results of the taste test as
a class. In addition, children can develop a survey to rate each of
the breads on features of interest to them, such as taste (sweet, plain,
sour), use for the bread (sandwich, main meal, dessert), number of bites
needed to eat a slice, etc. This information then becomes the basis
for further graphing or number work. For instance, the class can determine
the mean, median, or modal number of bites needed to eat a slice of
a particular type of bread; these results can be compared for different
types of breads (data analysis).
For a week, children can be asked to record
the amount and type of bread that they eat each day. The class can tabulate
these results and then graph them, estimate the amount of bread eaten
in a month or year for the family or the class, and approximate the
cost to purchase that much bread. The children can even investigate
the amount of bread purchased by the school cafeteria each week, consider
the amount of storage space needed for this amount of bread, and estimate
the cost to the school each year for bread. Children can write word
problems using the information they have collected, with the word problems
recorded on index cards and placed at learning centers for children
to solve during mathematics class time.
Many additional resources exist on the
Internet to supplement further social studies connections. For instance,
one website provides a timeline of food, indicating that bread was introduced
about 10 000 B.C. (http://www.gti.net/mocolib1/kid/food.html). Another
website provides a history of bread, suggesting that the invention of
bread was an accident (http://www.breadworld.com/yeast/history.asp).
A government website charts grain usage over time, along with comparisons
of the amounts of different foods that Americans eat (http://www.usda.gov/news/pubs/fbook98/ch1a.htm).
Websites such as these can provide an
endless exploration in social studies and mathematics. With the technology
available to todays students and teachers via the Internet, in-depth
research can be done on individual countries involved, their populations
over time, and the change in lifestyles. Children can take a virtual
tour of a bakery. They can even discuss the unit with classes in other
parts of the world via teleconferencing on Internet II or communicating
A thematic unit, such as a unit on bread,
provides a perfect opportunity to explore cultures. The recommendations
from the National Council for the Social Studies include a thematic
strand devoted to culture and cultural diversity, stating that culture
helps them [children] comprehend and make sense of themselves as individuals
and members of various groups (NCSS, 1997, p. 14). It is important,
especially in the elementary grades, for children to discuss different
cultural customs and beliefs and to realize that all people should be
treated equally, regardless of culture or skin color. The NCSS recommends
that teachers help children consider the strengths and advantages
that this diversity offers to the society in general, and to their own
growth as a human being in particular (p. 15). For societies with
a belief in democracy and the value of human rights, it is especially
important for children to appreciate cultural diversity.
As illustrated in this article, mathematics,
social studies, and literature can be easily and effectively integrated
to give students realistic and meaningful explorations of a wide variety
of topics. The activities suggested here, in the context of a unit on
bread, can be applied to many other areas of study. Todays elementary
teacher must take advantage of every opportunity to make social studies
and mathematics as real-world as possible. With the increased demand
for performance on standardized and state-level tests, social studies
often receives less priority in the curriculum because it is not the
focus of such tests. Integration with other subject areas can guarantee
that the social studies curriculum continues to be taught.
Badt, Karin Luisa. Pass the Bread.
Chicago: Childrens Press, 1995.
dePaola, Tomie. Tonys Bread.
New York: Putnam & Grosset Group, 1989.
dePaola, Tomie. Pancakes for Breakfast.
San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1978.
Dooley, Norah. Everybody Bakes Bread.
Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1996.
Florida Department of Education. Florida
Curriculum Frameworks: Mathematics. Tallahassee, FL: Florida Department
of Education, 1996.
Florida Department of Education. Florida
Curriculum Frameworks: Social Studies.Tallahassee, FL: Florida Department
of Education, 1996.
Gershator, David, and Gershator, Phillis.
Bread Is For Eating. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995.
National Council for the Social Studies.
National Standards for Social Studies Teachers. Washington, D.C.:
National Council for the Social Studies, 1997.
Rothman, Cynthia. Bread Around the
World. New York: Newbridge Educational Publishing, 1994.