Explorations In Math

What’s Math Got to do with it?

Published on February 15 2012

This isn’t a rhetorical question but, rather, the title of a ‘must read’ math book, whether you’re a parent (or other caregiver) or working in a classroom with students in math. The first thing you need to know about the book is that it is not a dry, scholarly work full of theories and equations. Quite the contrary. What’s Math Got to do with it is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The author, Stanford mathematics education professor Jo Boaler, followed the progress of middle- and high-school students over a number of years, observing teachers who could engage their students in math and just how they did it. She also observed classes where the students were not engaged and in her book points out the differences between those who do engage their classes and those who do not.

What she found should be required reading for all of us. A partial list of chapters is indicative of how much ground she covers: What’s Going Wrong in Classrooms? Stuck in the Slow Lane. Paying the Price for Sugar and Spice. Giving Children the Best Mathematical Start.

She provides many enlightening examples of how children think about math and there are math puzzles and problems (and solutions!) for the reader to solve. For example:

Given a 5-liter jar and a 3-liter jar and an unlimited supply of water, how can you measure out exactly 4 liters of water?

Or this one:

Race to Twenty is a game for two people. Play starts at 0, Player 1 adds either 1 or 2 to 0 and announces the sum. Player 2 adds either 1 or 2 to that sum and announces the new sum. Play continues this way. Whoever gets to 20 is the winner.

Check out the book here.

BTW, don’t be put off by the fact that she followed middle- and high-schoolers. Just about everything in her book applies equally to elementary students as well.

Dave Gardner, Mathematician in Residence

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