Guest Blogger

Math as a Tool for Giving Youth a Voice

Since the election, many of us in the profession have been asking ourselves the same question: “What can I do to help young people find their voice in today’s world?” Now more than ever before, I feel compelled to help young people feel appreciated and important to our community, but how can I do that in a way that is authentic to me?


I’m not a scream-it-from-the-rooftops kind of girl. I sincerely admire those that organize large events, marches, protests, or other community forums. Sadly, that is not a skill-set I possess. I’m the kind of girl you would find in the back of the school library reading the latest banned book or hiding in the physics lab trying to break the gender-norms of small town society before STEM made female scientists cool. My form of protest, and therefore how I use my voice, is more understated.

The library is a place for discourse. It’s a place where we can encourage youth to express themselves. An unconventional way to help kids find their voice and express themselves is with mathematics. Try putting up an interactive bulletin board asking students to add their opinions to a graph of some kind. Beginning with Kindergarten Common Core Mathematics Standards, students are asked to begin classifying objects and sorting them into categories. This analysis of data continues throughout the grades increasing in complexity each year. By asking a simple question such as “What is your Favorite Color?” or “What is your Favorite Sport?” and giving students the opportunity to add their choice to the board (using a sticker, sticky-note, cut-out shape, etc) you are providing youth with the opportunity to express themselves, showing them that everyone’s opinions are allowed, and reinforcing the idea that every single person in the community can contribute to the whole. You are also teaching math (data analysis and graphing) in an authentic way.

Vote for your favorite theme

While the example above is a passive program, you can also use these concepts in a story time setting. Every time I share Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! By Mo Willems with preschoolers I extend the story by having children decide whether they would let the pigeon drive the bus and then vote their answer on a piece of chart paper. We discuss the idea of voting (popular vote… not the electoral college!), the pros and cons of specific actions (“if we let the pigeon drive the bus he’ll run over my toes because he can’t see over the steering wheel!”—my daughter, Amelia Jane, after we read the story), and how we cast a vote. After everyone adds their stickers to our two-column chart, we count the votes as a group and create a bar graph.

Try this out in your library and share your results in the comments! I’d love to see!


“Mathematics may not teach us how to add love or how to minus hate. But it gives us every reason to hope that every problem has a solution.” – Unknown


Photo courtesy guest blogger

Today’s guest blogger is JoAnna Schofield. JoAnna is the Youth Programming Coordinator for the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio. She is currently reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov,  Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe,  Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff, and The David Foster Wallace Reader by David Foster Wallace. (Yes, she’s one of those people who has a book open in every room that she is currently reading.)

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *