Hot Off the Press: Zero the Hero

More Math MAYhem…
The test of a story is this: Can it be read over and over and still bring insight and entertainment to its audience?  If so, then it is good literature, no matter what the age or genre.  For parents, this means your child asks you to read it to you so many times that you about have it memorized!  For teachers, this means the kids love the picture book you used in your mini-lesson in September, and you see potential to re-read parts of the book to support other subjects throughout the year.  This can save time while providing meaningful connections and common prior knowledge to build upon.

With this in mind, I’d recommend this next book hot off the presses in 2012 for your personal or classroom collection.  Please refer to my “teachable moment” ideas below and adapt them to the classroom or home.

Zero the Hero

by Joan Holub
Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Price new $16.99

Age Range
With adult interaction: 5-8 years old (grades Kindergarten-2nd)
Independent reading:  8-10 years old (grades 3rd -4th)
Ideal for year-long teacher mini-lessons: 2nd and 3rd grades

This entertaining book revolves around a comic book kind of hero with high-action illustrations and captions to accompany (and even add further humor) to the text of the story.  It is a great underdog story that shows the value of the individual (and teaches some GREAT math ideas).  The solution to this tale involves an unpredictable group of characters that march in with their own layer of humor and teachable moments.

Teachable Moments (Note: Text from actual story is in quotation marks.)

Who are some of the heroes in your life: real and fiction?  What do you admire about them?  In what ways are you like them and in what ways are you different?  How can you be seen as someone else’s hero?  This could also tie in to Social Studies when you study community, leadership, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, etc…

Synonyms: Search for all the words that mean the same as “zero” in this story: nothing,

Place value prompt: Zero’s spot in a number makes a big difference.  What would happen without him?  Brainstorm places that would crumble into disorder: banks, maps, street signs, grocery stores, books, etc…

Making Connections:  What other story has a similar character? Problem? (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one that immediately came to my mind, but there are MANY that have this same underdog theme.)

Setting: Does this story have a setting (place, time)?  What would happen if these numbers lived in a big city?  Or out in the country?

Plot: What was the problem?  Solution?  Can you think of a different way to solve the problem and end the story?

Character feelings: How did Zero feel when _______ happened?  What clues (words, actions, body language) made you think he felt that way?

Reflect on Our Choices: put downs or name-calling like “Zero”; bullies; including versus excluding.  Can you connect with how Zero felt?  Have you ever seen someone being treated this way?  You’re a kid…what can YOU do about it?  (Ask them to come play with you and walk away with them.  Tell an adult if it continues.)

I’ve done a great demonstration with an apple when discussing this topic of name-calling.

  1. Take a red apple and tell students this apple has skin on the outside, just like us.  Review what name-calling is and how it feels.
  2. Drop the apple on the floor once, saying something age-appropriate like “Someone just said my glasses looked dumb.”
  3. Then drop it again  “Someone just told me they hated my haircut.”
  4. Repeat about 10 times.
  5. Have kids look at apple.  It should look pretty much the same as it did before the drops (in other words, don’t throw it to the ground with all your might).
  6. Then cut it open and show the kids the brown and tell them that’s bruising.  You couldn’t see it from the outside, and sometimes we can’t see with our eyes how people really feel on the inside.

I also found a great website that ranges in simple topics to more complex topics like cliques, stress, excluding, getting out of bad relationships, etc…

Counting (or natural) numbers vs. whole numbers (The wholes are just the naturals with zero thrown in.): “left out of counting games” (compare to Rudolph story); can’t count a zero number of things; “In order to count, he had to stand in shadow of others more glamorous than he was.”

Place value: Zero’s spot in a number makes a big difference.  What would happen without him?  Brainstorm places that would crumble into disorder: banks, maps, street signs, grocery stores, books, etc…  In this story, sums need Zero because of place value: 5 + 2 + 3 = 1??  Also can’t round numbers without zero.

Odd and Even Numbers: How does the digit zero affect these types of numbers?  List a bunch of odd numbers.  Then take out the zero.  What do they turn into?  List a bunch of even numbers.  Then take out the zero.  What do they turn into?  “Odd numbers felt so ODD without zero.” Even numbers miss him too.

Properties of Addition (
Commutative property: When two numbers are added, the sum is the same regardless of the order of the addends. For example 4 + 2 = 2 + 4 Zero tries to go first, but it doesn’t change anything.
Additive Identity Property: The sum of any number and zero is the original number. For example 5 + 0 = 5. How did this make him feel? “When it came to addition, he was virtually invisible.  Other numbers seemed to pass right through him.  Almost like magic. ‘This is getting embarrassing.’  ‘I got nothin.’”

Properties of Subtraction:
Identity: Same as Additive identity. 0+(-N) = -N , where N is positive.
“The same thing happened with subtraction.  In their frustration, some numbers were unkind.”

Properties of Division:  Website has videos, too!
Divisive Identity: Any number divided by 1 will stay same. 14 ÷ 1 = 1
Zero property of division: The zero property of division have two rules. Rule1– If you divide zero by any number the answer will be zero. You have nothing to divide. Rule2– If any number is divided by zero, then the problem cannot be solved. You cannot divide by nothing.
“Turns out, Zero stunk even more at division.  So badly in fact that other numbers simply refused to be divided by him at all.”

Properties of Multiplication:
Commutative property:  You can multiply two numbers in any order and the product will be the same. Example 4 x 3 = 12 and 3 x 4  = 12
Property of zero: any number multiplied by zero will be zero. The number can be in any order. 12 x 0 = 0       6 x 0 = 0
“Still his belief in his wonderfulness persisted. Then one day, during multiplication, it was discovered that any number times Zero equals—you guessed it!-Zero. Fearing extinction, the others ran from him.  Who could blame them? A real superhero wouldn’t multiply his friends into nothingness.  That’s the kind of stuff only an evil villain would do.  Could it be that he wasn’t a hero at all? The thought gave Zero a hollow feeling inside.  He rolled away.”

Roman Numerals: The Roman soldiers take them to the Emperor.  X (ten) looks like x; V (five) = V
Discuss differences, advantages and disadvantages of each. “We could teach you math using the ones, tens, hundreds.”—say the digits. “We don’t do math.  We just count.”—say the Roman numerals.  Roman Numeral humor 8= VIII “So it takes four of you to do my job?”


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