Interview: Beth Skipper, Beth’s Bookshelf

June 20, 2011 at 8:24 am Leave a comment

Although Beth Skipper doesn’t know if there is a particular math joke that kids like best, she does know that the cornier the joke, the better. She recently used an elementary joke as the title of a post on Beth’s Bookshelf, a blog that connects children’s literature and math concepts with teaching strategies.

The post What Ten Things Can You Always Count On? Your Fingers! referenced books containing math jokes, riddles and puns, including Riddle-Iculous Math by Joan Holub and Arithme-Tickle by J. Patrick Lewis.

Beth is the editor of Teaching Children Mathematics, a journal for elementary teachers published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Though she jokes that she is a crime-fighting superhero when not in the office, the truth is that she dedicates much of her free time to creating content for her blog. “Staying abreast of new titles as they are published is an ongoing challenge,” she noted, and she spends a fair amount of time monitoring announcements of new releases from publishers and scanning books that Amazon recommends. She also pores over fan mail. “I love it when my readers send me an e‑mail about a new book that they’ve come across,” she said.

I recently interviewed Beth to find out more about Beth’s Bookshelf.

Okay, an obligatory first question: What is your favorite math joke?

I like visual jokes. There is a shirt on Mental Floss that cracks me up. The text is “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” the classic mnemonic device to help remember the order of operations, and the text is juxtaposed with an image of a woman that appears with her hair in curlers and a cigarette hanging out the corner of her mouth. Doesn’t everyone have a crazy, old “Aunt Sally” hidden somewhere amongst the branches of their family tree?

PEMDAS Aunt Sally t-shirt

Why did you start blogging?

When I deliver professional development to teachers, I always include examples of children’s literature that are effective tools for teaching various math concepts. I don’t just give the audience a list of titles; I also try to include related teaching tips. Invariably, I get asked for more titles and tips that connect to mathematical ideas beyond the scope of the presentation. Following a recent event, I decided to search for sources that I could share. While I discovered many sites that post extensive lists of books, the sites did not go the next step and include teaching suggestions or links to related resources. I realized I could meet a need and share what I know about math and literature via a blog.

Who are your favorite children’s book authors?

In no particular order: Jon Scieszka, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, A. A. Milne, Shel Silverstein, Beatrix Potter, …

There are so many.

Which children’s book is your personal favorite?

My all-time favorites are Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

When you were in the classroom, what is the best tip you received?

Always be prepared, but don’t let those ‘teachable moments’ slip away.

What is your best tip for an elementary teacher who wants to integrate math and literature?

Follow my blog, of course! 

Who are the most interesting people you’ve met while working on your blog?

I have been fortunate to meet authors Greg Tang (The Grapes of Math) and Joseph D’Agnese (Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci).

If folks are only able to read one item that you’re written, which one would you want them to read? 

[Ed. Note: Shameless plug approaching.] It would have to be the one that included Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks.

And what about you? When not reading book for kids, which books do you like to read? Any favorite authors?

I’m very eclectic and usually juggle reading several different books at one time. For example, I just finished The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer, and I am in the middle of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Yesterday, I began reading Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick.

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About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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