top of page

Math with Eric Carle

Literature brings purpose and joy to a mathematics classroom. As readers and listeners immerse themselves into the stories, they begin to see potential of the mathematics that is all around us every day in our world. Let's look at how one story engaged teachers of grades K-2 and allowed them to discuss how their youngest students might engage in worthwhile tasks.

Eric Carle's Roosters Off to See the World is a beautifully illustrated story of Rooster who is joined by many friends on a journey around the world. On the first night, the friends begin to question their choices as they wonder about food and shelter. Slowly, Rooster's companions make their way back home.

The story offers an obvious look into numbers, number sets, and addition that students can engage with. I wanted teachers to dig deeper and think about how they too have learners that are ready for different levels of challenge. By offering a more open task, tasks that have multiple solutions or ways to get there, teachers consider differentiation within their classrooms. Students at any level of understanding will have access to the problem.

Instead of counting the animals on each page, for example, I asked teachers to consider a different problem:

When Rooster stops for the night to camp, how many animal prints would be left on the ground?

In the illustration above, we see the various animals that joined Rooster on his journey: 2 cats, 3 frogs, 4 turtles, 5 fish (not pictured), and 10 fireflies. Teachers were asked to turn and talk with a partner about what their task was. This offered an opportunity for everyone in the room to make sense of the problem. Then, teachers were given 4-5 minutes to think individually about the problem. They were encouraged to model with color tiles, draw a sketch of their ideas, or use numbers to represent their thinking. Once each person had time to think on their own, teachers were then asked to work as a table group to determine how many animal prints would be left on the ground. The groups got to work right away and began sketching out ideas and organizing their information.

This group showed each group of animals and accounted for the fireflies

This group demonstrated the footprints at each stop along the way

Each group took a different approach to the task and considered different aspects for the problem. For example, one group represented the fish and fireflies but counted zero for the number of footprints. Another group imagined what the ground looked like at each stop along the way. In the beginning of the story, there were only Rooster's footprints and represented this as 2. Each time Rooster met a new animal, those prints were added to the group until the last step of the problem, where all prints from animals that joined the journey were accounted for. While it's not shown above, one group even counted the fireflies saying that at some point, they would land and leave tiny prints.

In looking at the work that teachers did to solve this problem, it can be easy to discount the detailed work as that of adults. How would students think about and solve this problem? With a task that is open and allows students to approach the problem in a variety of ways, it honors all students. Notice that each group ended up with a different answer, but the thinking, representation, and justification that went in to sharing their results far outweighed a single, final answer. Students may use a page from the book to model and count the footprints. The teacher can use prompts to guide students in their thinking such as, "On this page, there are 2 cats and 1 rooster. How could you tell how many feet there are?" The student then has a narrowed focus but still maintains the integrity of the problem.

Context for learning mathematics is key for our youngest learners, although I would argue that context supports all people in doing math. Marilyn Burns, a respected mathematics author and practitioner in the education field, advocates for using stories or familiar contexts as students solve math problems. When students see how mathematics is used in the world, how it's literally all around them, they become pattern finders, sense-makers, and active doers of math. A story context brings the students back into the pages as they seek to find answers to their problems.

I encourage you to read Rooster's Off to See the World and share this story with your students. How many footprints will they find?

Take care,


Carle, Eric. "Rooster's off to see the world." New York : Little Simon, 2002, 1972.

19 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page