Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Club Fall 17

One of the many fun parts about teaching our capstone course, the Nature of Modern Mathematics, is the reading. Instead of me mandating a book (most instructors choose the excellent Journey Through Genius, by William Dunham), the learners can choose a book. Comes a day, we then have a book club class where people get to discuss with others reading their book, then share with the class what they thought. I try to keep notes, demonstrating poor steno skills.

The possibles this year are on this Google doc, which gets revised year to year.

How to Bake π, Eugenia Cheng

Connected all our classes, abstracted ideas but then super concrete accessible examples. Everything came together. Author is a little scatter brained: 15 subsections in each chapter. Even the toughest of concepts can be broken down. Two parts: what is math? What is category theory? Good connections.

Is God a Mathematician?,

History of math, Newton, Aristotle, Descartes… not proving that God is a mathematician, but looks at the beliefs of all these people. How does math intertwine with science, physics, biology… Example, knot theory. Is math discovered or invented?

Journey through Genius, Dunham

Goes through theorem by theorem. Some was over my head, but the writer makes it very understandable. Example, quadrature of the lune. Most interesting was about Archimedes proof of the area of the circle.  Recommend it because it ties into a lot of things throughout our math classes, but you learn something.

The Teaching Gap

Compares German, Japanese and American lesson plans and how we teach. But mostly contrasting Japanese and American. In Japan they encourage more struggle. “US teachers are just not smart enough to teach the way researchers recommend.”

Joy of X, Steven Strogatz
Brian, Angel

Not especially challenging, written for a general audience. Longest chapter, 10 pages. Covers a lot of different areas of mathematics. Example, dating life. First half, playing the field, 2nd half find someone better than the first half… Snell’s law, ‘light behaves as if it was considering all possible paths … nature seems to know calculus.’ The focal points of the ellipse of Grand Central Station. Infinity. Is it odd or even? Recommend it. Even makes Hilbert’s Hotel understandable.

Fermat’s Enigma, Simon Singh
Proof of Fermat’s last theorem. Left so many conjectures, but the last one was a doozy. Made it as understandable as possible.

Genius at Play, Siobhan Roberts
Kelsey, Tony
More of a biography. He hasn’t published a lot, but his ideas are everywhere. He doesn’t like being known for the game of life. It’s hard to read, because the math problems are so hard. But you get to know his personality. See and say sequence from a student was frustrating, but then a source of great mathematics.

Quite Right, Norman Biggs
A history of time, … money. But 70% math. Start with caveman, then follow it forward. How to divide evenly, then follows through other cultures to modern math. Gives a sense of where math came from, but not all of it.

Finding Fibonacci, Keith Devlin

Story of Devlin finding the history of Leonardo of Pisa. Not recognized for his accomplishments. He didn’t really discover anything, but introduced real arithmetic and algebra. Son of a merchant. Really started a revolution. Only 14 copies of Liber Abaci in the world. Fibonacci sequence was just a puzzle in the book. Golden ratio, limit of the Fibonacci sequence. Does appear in nature, but not as much as people say.

e: the Story of a Number, Eli Maor
Most of the chapters don’t even mention e, but then it brings it back. Funny stories about many mathematicians (Bernoullis, Napier, …) Just a general  history, with some more focus on math. e is discovered, transcendental number…

Math Girls, Hiroshi Yuki
Math, but always in a story. Girls solve problems that have an easy access launch.  Someone who read this for a second book said it's mostly about the math content, but that content is deep and interesting.

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers
About Paul Erdös, an interesting, different, cool guy. Never owned many possessions, traveled from host to host working on mathematics. Took a lot of espresso and drugs, proved that he wasn’t an addict by stopping, but his math stopped, too. So he started back up. I really liked the prime number section.

I was able to entice a couple futute teachers to read José Vilson's This Is Not a Test for their 2nd book, and they were captivated, with strong recommendations.

...much time passes ...

I just now, in the next year, realize I never pushed send on this one! So >push<

Chris Emdin #HipHopEd

Last night I got to hear Christopher Emdin in my own back yard. He was brought in to GVSU by the Black Student Union for Black History Month, without the College of Education or science educators even knowing about it. This is not going to be as much a recap as a response. I overtweeted during it as I think about that as my note taking now. (Here's the thread.) Saying he is a dynamic speaker is an understatement. He's the best presenter I've ever seen. It's a performance, it's heightened prose, it's preaching. Here's his SXSW keynote if you want a sample. And you want a sample. (Also his book, of course.)

So my response?


This is my vision of education, expressed better than I ever could. It is about acceptance of all the varieties of giftedness and personhood and a chance for them to do deep, meaningful learning as themselves.

Dr. Emdin's emphasis on story telling as a way to share your own ratchetness and enter into your learners' world really resonates with me. David Coffey and I have been talking lately about just how can teachers share what they do. A Teach Off giving a lecture? No. Telling the story of what they do and why they do it and with whom they are doing it? Yes.

Part of making space for that story is accepting the pain of those rejected and making space for it and the healing. I love his idea of swag/cool/ratchet as the in-between of wound and healing. It makes sense to me and ties in to some pretty deep beliefs I have about redemption.

Chris warns against going into the hood (which can be anywhere that people are marginalized) armed only with the pedagogies of oppression. Dewey and Piaget and Vygotsky are still heroes to me, but that means we must contextualize them as well.

He offers no panacea, but inspiration. Progress is possible. Learning is local. And embrace your own ratchetness.