February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Check Out the Math: One Elementary School’s Library-Based Math Program

Last May, inspired by a library math project conceived by librarian and 2013 Library Journal Mover and Shaker Jennifer Lagarde, I decided to make the usage statistics of my library at the Ruth Borchardt Elementary School in Plano, TX, connect with classroom math in a fun way.

I developed a series of statistics-based math problems that I post each month at school and online. Unlike other schools where teachers feature a math problem of the week, my library has full ownership of this program—and the students clamor for it.

Now each month when I post our library statistics—such as how many books were checked out, how many books were overdue, which of the various genres were checked out, and so on—students also have a related Math Stats Challenge to look forward to, with questions tailored to each grade level. The word problems specifically reflect the kind of math each grade is learning at the time they are learning it, using the same language, types of numbers, and word problem formats they are studying.

For example, a Kindergarten math problem—probably one of the most fun for me to create because they often have pictorial representations—might look like this: Over the break, Mrs. Lambert read 10 books. She only liked 6 of them. How many books did Mrs. Lambert not like? Kindergarten students can draw a picture or use a manipulative to help them solve the problem.

A third-grade word problem might look like this: Mrs. Lambert is organizing some new books for a display. She has 12 shelves on her bookcase. She wants to have 9 picture books and 11 fiction books on each shelf. How many fiction books will she need altogether?

My first step in creating the program involved going to our fifth-grade math teacher for advice. She suggested I consult our district’s curriculum documents for each grade level in crafting my questions, which I used to model. I also double-check that my problems are consistent with what students are learning by running them by teachers in each grade level at our school. The teachers solve the problems and share with me different strategies students can use to tackle them.

To kick off the program, I asked our administration for one of the unloved bulletin boards in the cafeteria. I printed my world problems on a poster maker so that they’d be big enough for kids to see while eating lunch, and my library aide put up the posters for our inaugural display.

I also take photos of the problems and post them on my school library website, both on the main page and under the “programs” category, so that students can access the questions anywhere. Students can enter the challenge each month via forms that are available in the library, from teachers, and on our library site. I designed the forms to reflect the format of the worksheets students use in the classroom. Students can submit their entries directly to the library, where I have a designated shelf for them.

Some teachers have also created Library Math Stats Challenge stations in their classrooms where the kids can solve the problems; the teachers then return the problems to me at the end of the month. I don’t allow students to submit their entries online, however, since I need to see their work written out.

On the last day of each month, I pull all the entries, grade them, and record the student names into a Google Spreadsheet. Kids who solve the challenges receive a coupon worth an extra checkout in the library. My aide preps the coupons for students and puts them in their teachers’ boxes.

At the end of the year, I recognize students whose entries from five or more months were correct as “Math Stats Champions.” My “Ultimate Math Stats Champions” have solved every month’s problems correctly. I give out recognition of achievement certificates and, thanks to a generous donation from our local Jack in the Box restaurant, certificates for a free combo meal and shake.

A year in, my monthly Math Stats Challenge is a beloved aspect of our school. Not only does it make math part of the library, it fosters math skills among the dozens of students who dig in each month to solve the problems. Why? They’re fun.

There’s no pressure or requirement to do the problems, and maybe that’s part of the appeal. I love that I’m helping to boost math skills while also bringing kids into my library orbit. The program is a great way to connect the library with the math that’s happening in the classrooms. It cost next to nothing to create. Who knew that library stats and math could be so much fun?

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library JournalStronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.


  1. Leigh Sutherland says:

    Sounds like something that could be interesting. However, as usual SLJ has neglected to consider those school libraries operating without catalogs, working & reliable computers or any bit of technology! It would be nice if SLJ reached out to the school libraries most in need of help and published articles with ideas ALL could use. As it now stands, all SLJ is doing is creating a larger digital divide.

    • Hi Leigh,

      I am sorry for your frustration. However, the basis of this program is a bulletin board in the cafeteria and some half sheets of paper in the library. All kids really need to complete this program is a math problem, some paper, and a pencil. If there is something I can do to help you, please let me know!