Teaching Math with Life of Fred

By Jeff Gorman

When I learned that I would be teaching math this summer to kids in Grades 3-5, I knew it was time to call on our friend Fred.

“Life of Fred” is a series of math books written by Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph.D.  The books tell the story of Fred, a 5-year-old math genius who is a college professor in Kansas.

Fred sees math problems everywhere he looks, and the students enjoy his life story while stopping from time to time to work on math problems.

The first three books are called “Apples,” “Butterflies” and “Cats.” Figuring those were for Grades K-2, I read “Dogs” to my third-graders, “Edgewood” to my fourth-graders and “Farming” to my fifth-graders.

I read them two chapters a day, stopping the story when it was time to do a math problem on the board. I squeezed in an extra chapter at the end of Week 2 to finish the book.

With one week left, I started each class on the next book, with the fifth-graders moving on to “Goldfish.” So I read about 1½ “Life of Fred” books to each of my classes.

I also incorporated  Fred’s image into the class. I drew him on the board each day with some math problems for students to work on when they entered class. I called it “Fred’s Early Bird Challenge.”

I was going to call the final day’s test “Fred and Kingie’s Super Early Bird Challenge,” adding a drawing of Fred’s doll, Kingie.

However, one of my kids asked, “Does that mean we have to show up super early?”

So I changed it to “Fred and Kingie’s Early Bird Super Challenge.”

I also tried to keep the students entertained by stopping to show them Kingie’s beautiful oil paintings and asking them if they could find the hidden mouse on Fred’s bus trip to Edgewood.

I also gave Fred a squeaky Mickey Mouse voice, Kingie a snobby butler voice and Alexander an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice because he’s so big and strong.

In the future, I would give my students more challenging Fred books, because Schmidt did not write the books to be read once a year. Some of the addition and multiplication facts were too easy for my students, so I had to go online to find them more challenging problems.

But still, the kids learned a lot from Fred and were very entertained. When I asked on the test what was their favorite part of class, many of them said “Life of Fred.”