Thursday, July 07, 2005

Algebra through literature

When learning algebra gets too tiring, you can always brighten up your day through fun literature. Here is ENC with a slew of suggestions but will this make kids more proficient?

Exploring math outside the "math textbook box" can make math interesting and different in charming ways for students and teachers. This is fairly easy to do in the elementary grades. There are a number of excellent books for younger students (two favorites come to mind immediately--Sir Cumference and the Round Table and Counting on Frank), and students love them. But obvious curriculum links with literature get slimmer in mathematics in later grades even though literature is still a good way to engage student interest and expand learning. Here we are highlighting books with mathematics that should be accessible to students who are studying either algebra or geometry--there is no higher math to scare students! Our goal is to offer ideas for teaching mathematics using books and stories that should interest young teens.
I am all in favor of fun and making connections but I am afraid there is no substitute for hard work.

The fiction and nonfiction books we feature offer a different approach to thinking about mathematics. The books explore mathematics as part of today's world and as part of history. A literature approach can offer ways to look at current issues (see 200% of Nothing) or to explore a little math history (see the reprinted 1919 classic Number Stories of Long Ago).

We also suggest three literary works that may seem unusual for a math class, but they were selected for their easy-to-find mathematics and an enjoyable story to read. You can access them online--the latest format for these classic stories:

"The Priory School," The Return of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle--available in book form and on the web:
"The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson--available in book form and on the web:
Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift--available in book form and on the web:


WichitaBoy said...

One word: copout.

Anonymous said...

It makes me sad to think that proponents of making math more accessible use language such as "no higher math to scare kids". If these people think higher math is scary, then how are they going to keep from transmitting this fear to their wards?

This idea about accessing math through literature is just plain absurd. Let the kids who have a knack for reading do their own reading, and let everyone else just do math and not have to worry about books and reading and literature. Not everyone gets pleasure from literary pursuits. And as you point out, Mr. Instructivist, how is this exposure to literature going to help anyone get proficient in math?You are right on the money.

How are we to break up the progressive education cult?

Catherine Johnson said...

The Lottery?

Catherine Johnson said...'s a lottery?

And that would be......probability?

Speaking of which, I learned from, I think, MATH AND TEXT, that the reason no one ever says 'dice' in math textbooks is that dice are associated with gambling.

You have to call them number cubes.

Carolyn (Johnston) pointed out that an understanding of probability is exactly what a person needs to know that gambling is a bad idea.

Meanwhile I thought 'number cube' was the official, formal term for dice.

I thought 'dice' was just the word non-math-experts like me used.

TeachPassion said...

Well, I looked at the four books that are suggested in this post and none of them seemed to really be useful at all in getting kids interested in math. I continued to do research and asked around. I found this amazing book called

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans M. Enzensberger

It is geared towards middle school kids or above. I have even heard of it being used in senior calc classes. It goes through really cool number theory that will definitely interest students if used in conjunction with similar classwork.
I hope you all find this more useful then those other random suggestions!