Author adds up NSA fans

Published 10:02 pm Monday, January 20, 2014

Lower- and middle-school students at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy experienced a whole new way of thinking about math during an author visit Wednesday.

Award-winning children’s author David M. Schwartz, author of “How Much is a Million?” and almost 50 other popular titles, had students laughing and thinking as he used props including a live frog and a huge bag of popcorn to illustrate how math can relate to everyday life.

“Would you like to be able to hop like that?” Schwartz asked a group of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, after explaining how frogs can travel 20 times their length in a single hop.

Email newsletter signup

“There’s a special reason I’d like to be able to hop like that. It has to do with a sport I used to play. In what sport is 90 feet an important distance?”

Surfacing from the audience, the answer of “Major League Baseball” hit the nail on the head, 90 feet being the distance between the points of the bases, and Schwartz explained how his ambition of playing in the Major League was foiled by “one little problem,” his inability to ever make it even to first base.

“I figured out one day, if I could hop like a frog and had of hit a ground ball, I’d have no problem,” he said.

Schwartz’ visage has never appeared on a baseball card, but it’s not all bad. “How Much is a Million?” has become a children’s mathematical literature classic, featuring on PBS’s “Reading Rainbow” and inspiring schools across America to undertake projects based on the number 1,000,000.

Presenting to the NSA lower-school group, Schwartz drove home how exponential numbers work with the aid of popcorn.

“The bad news is I wouldn’t want to eat it – I popped it in 1985,” Schwartz said about his big bag of popcorn, which he used to demonstrate how – for instance – 10,000 can more easily be written as 104 –which actually means 10x10x10x10, not 10×4.

“What’s shorter to write, 10 with four zeros, or 10 with a little four?” he asked. “That’s why the professors like to count that way.”

Schwartz says students can get excited about math when they see how numbers connect to their everyday lives.

The author is a New York native and graduate of Cornell University and now lives in Oakland, Calif.

As well as the three presentations at NSA, he also led selected fifth-graders in a writing workshop.