Mathematician’s Lament…

I’m not sure how I didn’t know about this book already, but I’m glad I do now.  It’s called  A Mathematician’s Lament, and begins with the following quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

It’s not every day that a book about math, or anything about math for that matter, invokes… well, humanity.  That was my experience in reading through this excerpt.  If you’re someone who loves math, or dreads it, or worries how you’ll ever help your kids learn it, have a look at the excerpt and see if this one might be for you.

Friends with fractions

I know lots of kids who can tell you that the top number in a fraction is called the numerator and the bottom number is called the denominator. But they don’t understand how the two numbers function or relate to each other.  The words numerator and denominator do technically describe the functions of each number, but only if you happen to recognize all the Latin roots.  So in the absence of Latin fluency, this might help. Continue reading

What’s the point of algebra, anyway?

If you’re interested in exploring this question, there’s a book that can help: Family Math: the Middle School Years, Algebraic Reasoning and Number Sense. Two of the games I’ve found to be most popular with 9-14 year-olds happen to come from this book, but it’s the approach to algebra that makes it really stand out. I was never introduced to algebra until 9th grade, at which point I learned a series of rules and procedures. An approach like that can work  for those who happen to like learning math for its own sake, but I know a lot of young people who don’t. The algebra activities in this book offer a conceptual basis for the x’s and y’s of algebra that you can introduce to younger children.  When it’s time to attempt a more formal algebra program later on, they’ll have some idea as to what it’s all about. Using real-life situations (like a brother and sister taking stock of their music collections), the book offers ways to get why anyone would ever need algebra.

This book is not the kind of thing you can hand to a young person and send him or her off to use for independently learning. The activities require active engagement on the part of multiple parties. (For more independence-friendly algebra, I recommend Key to Algebra or Elementary Algebra.) I don’t recommend it for families who have a lot of strife swirling around their math lives. This is a book for supplementing whatever else you’re doing with math, and getting kids ready for algebra and more involved mathematical thinking.

Family Math: the Middle School Years… is available new or used at amazon…

Elementary Algebra

Harold Jacobs’ Elementary Algebra doesn’t look all that different from other algebra texts, but a quick glance through the chapters reveals a drastically different approach to teaching and learning math. Jacobs makes a point of connecting the concepts of algebra to the real world. The book offers more practice than most anyone could hope for (or stand). It’s a fantastic text for young people who are interested not only in getting through algebra but really getting it.