In the fall, sixth grade students read the novel The Phantom Tollbooth in their English classes. In the novel, the main character, Milo, journeys through different lands on a quest to save two princesses, Rhyme and Reason. One of the lands he explores is Digitopolis, where all of the characters and themes are based off of mathematical ideas. The first character Milo meets is the Dodecahedon. This character has twelve different personalities, as the geometric solid has 12 pentagons for its faces. Although the author uses these mathematical ideas figuratively, the sixth grade math team decided to explore the meaning of these topics in their math classes for a week in early December.

Students explore mathematical themes in The Phantom Tollbooth.

Students explore mathematical themes in The Phantom Tollbooth.

Students were broken up into five groups and were asked to read excerpts from The Phantom Tollbooth that introduced different mathematical ideas. For example, Milo meets a child named .58. He was named .58 because he is part of an average size family having 2.58 children. Students assigned this passage were challenged to explore the concept of mean, median and mode and to create a presentation that explained why the average amount of children per family is reported as 2.58, instead of 2 or 3. They also explored other situations where averages were used to consolidate information. Lastly, this group surveyed the Avenues middle grades students and performed their own analysis of the average family size in our community.

Other groups explored the idea of the biggest and smallest numbers, the concept of infinity, measurement, unit conversion and scale models. They created games, three-dimensional models and presentations to share their findings with their classmates.

Having fun while making connections between math and English.

Having fun while making connections between math and English.

A few students were inspired by the author’s creation of mathematical characters in the land of Digitopolis, so they wrote their own scenes based on mathematical concepts they learned in their math classes this year. This was truly an example of authentic assessment, as teachers were able to evaluate students’ understanding of the content though their writing. For example, a group of three students introduced twins to the novel named Positive and Negative and playfully demonstrated their understanding by describing how their personalities neutralized each other. They even created a short movie trailer introducing their characters.

Students were truly engaged in this learning experience, making clear connections between mathematical concepts and the work they were doing in their English classes. Diving deeper into the mathematical content through this project allowed students to better understand the text they were reading, and gave the math teachers an opportunity for students to explore mathematical ideas through practical applications.