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Comic Books That Teach Fractions!

Error or Teachable Moment?


I was preparing a workshop for the regional NCTM conference in Indianapolis on how to teach lessons with my math comic books when I couldn’t believe my eyes. I found an error in my graphic novel.

Certainly, we reassure our students, “Making a mistake means we are learning.” And yet, I always struggle with internalizing such a positive outlook when my stomach churns and my imposter syndrome flares.

Imagine my horror when I opened a digital page of my graphic novel and realized an error snuck its way into a drawing!  Certainly, I didn’t send this one to the printer. I crossed the room, picked up the hard copy of my novel, and flipped quickly to the page. My heart sunk. There it was next to the brilliant color of the art. The error. I had sent the wrong digital file to the printer.  The math was wrong!!

Who would make such a mistake?  I needed to be precise.  I was a fraction genius? Right?!?

My husband, an avid comic book collector, heard my exasperation and colorful language as I made the discovery. When I told him about the error, he was thrilled!  “Everyone loves to spot an error in comic books! Those are the best to collect!”  I felt little consolation. My masterpiece was ruined!

Should I get a sharpie out and correct each one of the graphic novels that were printed?  

Or is the error a teachable moment? 

Can you find the error on this page?  

An error in my graphic novel.

At the NCTM conference, surrounded by over 50 math teachers in my session, I decided to pose the question, “There’s an error on this page. Can you find it?”   Silence. A long silence. The session time was running out, so I told them where the error was and asked them what they thought I should do about it.

The consensus among the audience was to keep it as is. They suggested it would be fun for students not only try to find the error, but also to explain why it was mathematically incorrect. Could students discover what our heroes were thinking? What should they have written? This error could be a teachable moment.

Still. How could this happen!?!

In an early draft of the art for issue No. 3, I saw the error. The artist brilliantly drew our three heroes talking about the math problem under their covers with a flashlight. 

I was so excited to see it come to life.   I remember asking the artist to depict the children’s mathematical thinking on a piece of paper, as well.  On page 18, Ben was explaining that 2 was the same as 16-eighths, and the artist needed to create a drawing similar to the art on page 6.

Quint and Theo discuss the pattern on page 6 of issue No. 3.

We just needed to recolor the circles to represent three-eighths and replace all of the 2’s in the drawing with 16-eighths  He must have heard that he should replace the “2’s” with “16’s” instead. When I received the error on page 18, I chuckled and told the artist. He immediately sent me a new, corrected digital file, and told me to delete the old one. The art we printed for issue No. 3 was perfect. Why did I keep the old file? I should have listened to him.

Our heroes discover the common denominator method on Page 18 of issue No. 3.

Although the perfectionist inside me was tempted to correct the error in the graphic novel, I decided to put away the sharpies and embrace growth mindset.  When we make mistakes, we can learn from them.

So, I decided to write a new lesson just about this error to make it a teachable moment.

What else did I learn? To stop hording digital copies of bad files!!  Now, I’m off to delete that old errant file and replace it with the correct one from issue No. 3!