living math

Some of Our Favorite Living Math Books for Tweens and Teens

Some of Our Favorite Living Math Books

Lewis Carroll. Thomas Pynchon. David Foster Wallace. They’re best known now as writers, but all of them started out as mathematicians — a fact that delightfully dismantles a piece of the divide between “math people” and “book people.”

In fact, math and literature have more in common than you might realize. One of the first novels about math was written more than a century ago. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott, published in 1184, is both an exploration of the nature of geometry and dimensions and a satirical analysis of Victorian social structure. Abbott’s story — about a Square whose world view expands when he meets a Sphere from three-dimensional Spaceland — inspired several similar works, including Flatterland by Ian Stewart and The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster.

Bloomsbury offered a $1 million prize to the first person who could prove Goldbach’s Conjecture within two years of the publication of Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, a novel by the Greek writer and mathematician Apostolos Doxiadis. No one claimed the prize, which is no real surprise since the life-shaking difficulty of the conjecture (which postulates that every even number is the sum of two primes) and its affect on one mathematician’s life is one of the key points of the book.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series posits a system of mathematical sociology that can predict the future. Mathematical sociology — also called psychohistory — works a little like economics and can only be used to predict large-scale events. Thanks to mathematical sociology, the mathematician Hari Seldon is able to predict the collapse of the Galactic Empire and the Dark Ages that will follow it — and to safeguard human culture and scientific achievement.

In John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, former math prodigy Colin Singleton is obsessed with proving his theorem, a formula that predicts which of two members of a romantic relationship will be the one to end the relationship. Colin grapples with the challenge that confronts many kids whose early giftedness does not clearly manifest itself as genius as they get older and with the mathematical mindset that failure is just as likely — and ultimately just as important — as success when it comes to proving mathematical theories. Similarly, the autistic narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime uses mathematics to make sense of his world. But making sense doesn’t mean making simple, as Christopher explains in one chapter-long rumination on the Monty Hall program, a probability logic puzzle that baffles even some professional mathematicians.

Colin Adams — you may know him from the Mathematically Bent column in the Mathematical Intelligencer (and if you don’t, perhaps you should) — has collected some of his funniest math stories in Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories. In “The Deprogrammer’s Tale,” families seek help from a professional when their children are tempted to major in mathematics. In “A Killer Theorem,” a detective investigates a series of murders committed via an irresistible proof method for an unsolvable theorem.

This list is excerpted from an article in the winter 2015 issue of HSL.



Beast Academy: A Fun Math Curriculum for Kids Who Like Math

Review of Beast Academy for homeschool math. The gist: This is a smart, think-y elementary/early middle math curriculum for kids who like math. (With bonus comic strips!)

Math has never been my thing. In school I went to ridiculous lengths to avoid the subject and since then my attitude hasn’t much improved. Six years ago, when I began homeschooling my oldest son, I vowed he would never feel that same dread for any subject that he studied—especially math! 

From the start I was stunned by my little boy’s enthusiasm and desire to go deeper into the world of numbers, tables, formulas, and graphs. Finding a math curriculum to satisfy his curiosity was difficult. Frankly, the first few years were a disaster, and, despite my best intentions, my son began to share my dread of math. Thankfully, I discovered Beast Academy—a curriculum that could both excite and satiate my math-loving son.

The moment we opened up the new math books we knew that we’d stumbled onto something special. Full of colorful comic book-style pages, the Beast Academy Guides tell the story of four lovable “beasts”—Lizzie, Alex, Grogg, and Winnie. Loaded with appealing kid-humor, the Guides follow the four young beasts as they attend math classes and attempt to solve challenging equations, puzzles, and games.

Replacing the textbooks found in most traditional math curriculums, the soft-cover Guides are divided into three long chapters, with each chapter further divided into shorter sections. The Guides rely on lots of visual representation to explore concepts and to inspire analytical thinking.

Corresponding black-and-white Practice books accompany the Guides. Though not nearly as colorful as the Guides, the beasts make plenty of appearances here as well, and the text is pleasing and easy to follow. These Practice books contain more than one hundred problems to solve. Each page presents questions ranging from easier to double-starred and triple-starred problems requiring multiple steps.

My son enjoyed the fact that each practice page contained far fewer problems than he was accustomed to in his old math workbooks.  Rather than repetitive drills, Beast Academy provides fewer but more complex problems requiring the application of the newly acquired skills. “Mathy” kids are likely to view these exercises as games and will find them far more rewarding than repetitive drills.

Beast Academy’s curriculum does not come with a teacher’s guide, but I was (very) relieved to find that both the Guide and the Practice books provide some support for parents. At the front of each Practice book appears a recommended sequence briefly explaining how to use the Guides and the Practice books intermittently. The Practice books include an answer key at the back of the book and I won’t lie—I refer to it constantly!  Hints are also provided at the back of Practice books to help get kids started on the trickier starred and double-starred challenge problems.

‘I have more tools now, mom,’ he told me the other day. ‘I have more ways to think about numbers and more ways to solve problems.’

Beast Academy’s materials are eye-catching and fun, but this is also an accelerated, ambitious math program. Among the things my son has appreciated most about this curriculum is that he is learning to approach math in new ways.  “I have more tools now, mom,” he told me the other day.  “I have more ways to think about numbers and more ways to solve problems.”

Subject matter is covered earlier here than in other math programs. While working through a different curriculum, my son was using a program several years ahead of his actual grade level and was quite bored. When it came time to take the free assessment test provided on Beast Academy’s website, he came out at grade level. Although he did wind up reviewing skills he’d already acquired, we were both pleased to see all of the new ways that he learned to approach these familiar concepts.

Beast Academy is a comprehensive program and does not require any supplementation. The company accurately states that “Beast Academy is loosely based on the Common Core standards. However, it covers the key grade-level standards but in greater depth and with more opportunities for problem-solving and logical thinking than other curricula.” 

Beast Academy is for enthusiastic math students. It is for children who are sailing through traditional math courses and yearn to go deeper. It will reengage students who have grown frustrated and bored with repetitive drills.

Aside from being familiar with the concepts being studied, very little preparation is required from parents. Just be aware that the problems on the bottom of the workbook pages are far more complex than those at the beginning. I find that sitting beside my son helps him to stay focused and to maintain patience as the problems grow more difficult.

If I had one suggestion for Beast Academy’s publishers, it would be to develop a teacher’s guide.  I am fortunate in that my oldest son prefers working independently on math and, for the most part, is able to do so. If my son needed more help from me, a teacher’s guide would be very handy and almost essential as the teaching methods used by Beast Academy are so different than those most of us grew up with.

A fairly new curriculum, Beast Academy is not yet completed. Eventually the program will cover grades 2 to 5 with four guides and four practice books per level. For now grades three and four are available and a portion of the fifth grade set is completed as well. The rest of the fifth grade books should be available by the winter of 2016/17 and the full curriculum will be available by fall of 2018.  A complete year-long curriculum containing four guide books and four practice books sells for $108. Each book can be purchased separately as well.

I highly recommend the Beast Academy program for children with a fondness for math and the antics of funny furry beasts. I can tell you from personal experience that even the most math-phobic parents among us will find much to enjoy in this unique resource.


Monday Pep Talk No. 10

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

Another week, another dose of Monday inspiration to help make it a great one.

3 fun things to do this week

Take advantage of Museum Day on Saturday, when you can get free admission to participating museums across the country. (Find the participating museums near you here.)

Celebrate the autumnal equinox (it falls on the 23rd this year) by exploring the relationship between the sun and the seasons with this National Geographic video.

Celebrate Math Story Telling Day (Sept. 23) with some of our favorite living math books.

 

3 ideas for this week’s dinners

Apparently, National Great American Pot Pie Day (Wednesday) is a thing, but even if it weren’t, how can you resist a beef bourguignonne pot pie?

This Greek flatbread pizza looks delicious — and it’s gluten-free! (You could definitely add some leftover grilled lamb if you had it hanging out in the fridge.)

For a twist on the spaghetti-and-sauce standby, make spaghetti with parmesan and rosemary pork sauce. It’s pretty much the same process you’d normally use to make spaghetti but with a totally different flavor result.

 

one great readaloud

The Hobbit
By J. R. R. Tolkien
 

Celebrate Hobbit Day on September 22 with a readaloud of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. (It’s so, so, so much better than the movie.)

 

one thought to ponder

in case of emergency {because sometimes you need something stronger than inspiration} 

homemade milano cookies


Stuff We Like :: 8.21.15

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Shelli's taking a break from her busy week of birthday fun to round up some of the things that are making her homeschool life happy right now.  

at home

I’m in the midst of planning my soon-to-be-6-year-old’s birthday party, and I thought this nature-themed party I found online was adorable.

We just finished a short “staycation” of sorts, and we renewed our love of taking day trips to places we’ve never been before. We took three within a week and a half, and it was very relaxing to come home, sleep in our own beds, do minimal preparations for the trips, yet we have a handful of new memories to cherish. If you need some inspiration to take your own day trips, see Seven Reasons You Should Take a Day Trip.

I’m not much of a cook, but finding Alton Brown’s salsa recipe has given me another feather in my chef’s cap. (But I use only one jalapeno, 2 garlic cloves, 1 Tablespoon of dried ancho chili powder instead of fresh ancho chiles, and cilantro is always a must.) And that salsa made this Crockpot Mexican Tortilla Lasagna from weelicious.com even tastier.

 

at home/school/life

on the blog: I think these Gold Rush readalouds all look great.

on instagram: I love this quote.

from the magazine: There is so much practical inspiration for planning your homeschool year in this excerpt from our first issue.

 

documentaries

We are still making our way through Wildest Africa Series 1 and Series 2, and I don’t think we ever watch it without saying, “This is so good,” and “I never knew that place existed,” and “Other documentaries about Africa never show you this.”

We also began our first documentary about human history with a docudrama about the history of archaeology and ancient history in Egypt. Egypt is fascinating, and it’s so well acted that it feels like watching a movie.I’m happy to say that my eight-year-old is enjoying it, and up until now, he’s had little interest in history that didn’t have to do with animals. It’s probably a little hard for my five-year-old to understand, but since watching documentaries is a daily ritual for us, he’s patiently watching it too.

 

in our homeschool

I finally managed to get Mathematicians are People Too, Volume 1, from the library, and now I understand why everyone wants to check out this book. My 8-year-old and I are thoroughly enjoying these mini-biographies of famous mathematicians.

One of my goals this coming school year is to get my 8-year-old to start reading silently to himself by finding books he’ll really love to read. Well, my husband took care of that by buying him several vintage comic books for $1 each in some antique stores we shopped at while on our day trips. I would have never guessed that all the cartoons I grew up with – Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck and others– would someday motivate my son to sit down and read without being asked! So check in some antique stores, if you’re looking for some fun comics. (But be sure to check their prices. Some vintage comics can be quite pricey!)

My 5-year-old is all about birds lately, and I’ve been delighted to spend every evening with him perusing our iBird app in lieu of reading a bedtime story.

 

reading list

I'm thoroughly enjoying reading, for the first time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum to my eight-year-old. I watched the movie multiple times as a child, and though the book is different, it's proving to be just as delightful.

I'm a little jealous that my husband snatched the first Harry Potter book to read to my son. I wanted to read it to him! Oh well. From their glowing reviews, I can tell I'll enjoy it whenever I get the chance.

As for me, I recently finished reading the adult novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, and I loved it. It had been on my bookshelf for only 15 years. Why did I wait so long?

Speaking of neglected books, I'm determined to read those other books that have been on my bookshelf awhile, so I just picked up Lalita Tademy's Cane River, another adult novel that is fiction yet rooted in extensive research of Tademy's family history. It’s a family saga of four generations of women born into slavery in Louisiana.


Monday Pep Talk No. 5

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

Here are a few ideas to make this week of your homeschool life a little more fun.  

3 fun things to do this week

Hit your local thrift shop on Monday, and you might find some extra-bargain prices in celebration of National Thrift Shop Day.

Make your own set of magnetic building blocks. (These are so cool!)

Play math with Alexandria Jones. (Even math-reluctant kids will get into solving mysteries with the homeschooling detective.) Her first adventure is here if you want to go chronologically.

 

3 ideas for this week’s dinners

Sweet corn and bacon fritters would be great on their own with a salad or as a side for grilled meat.

Soup may seem out of place in August, but this easy roasted tomato BLT soup tastes like the essence of summer. (Plus, it’s customizable for pickier eaters.)

Enlist a little help from your sous chefs to prep the veggies for this bún vermicelli bowl — you’ll have to do a lot of slicing and dicing to get it table-ready, but the result is delicious.

 

one great readaloud

Celebrate Ray Bradbury’s birthday on Saturday by reading aloud The Martian Chronicles.

 

one thought to ponder

in case of emergency {because sometimes you need something stronger than inspiration} 

campari granita