Monday, May 11, 2015

All About Math

For the past couple weeks, Ben has been interested in books about numbers and math.  He can't always sit down and focus on actual math problems, but for now he seems to have a fascination about numbers, how they work, and why people find them so fun.  Here are a few books we've been reading in this area:

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman:  In general, I am a fan of children's biographies.  I think they're a really fun way to teach kids about real people doing real amazing things with their lives.  While Ben, like most kids, enjoys regular children's fiction, he always seems to get a kick out of knowing that we're reading about a "real person."  This book is the story of the mathematician Paul Erdős who I had actually never heard of before.  Young Paul loves math and numbers, but he hates school - he can't abide by the rules and so he convinces his mother to allow him to stay home and learn on his own.  He devotes hours and hours each day to learning about math, and grows into an eccentric world-traveling mathematician.  In addition to just learning about someone who followed their passion, I liked the emphasis on non-school learning.  It also seems that Paul's mother did a lot for him - so much so that in the book when Paul goes abroad at the age of 21 he isn't even quite sure how to butter his own bread.  He lacks basic social interaction skills, but still manages to make and develop incredible relationships.  It's a nice tribute to marching to your own drummer but still finding a way to contribute and fit in.  Ben was interested in the introduction of negative numbers in the book and the concept of an Erdős number, which describes a person's degree of separation from Erdős himself, based on their collaboration with him, or with another who has their own Erdős number (kind of similar to the Kevin Bacon Six-Degrees-of-Separation game).  

Zero the Hero by Joan Holub: in this cute story about the number zero, Zero fancies himself somewhat of a superhero.  Unfortunately, the other numbers don't value him quite as much.  They see him as kind of pointless when it comes to addition and subtraction, and they're terrified of him when it comes to multiplication.  But, when the numbers find themselves taken over by Roman Numerals, it's Zero who comes to the rescue.  Ben enjoyed the part where the Roman Numerals (with their spears) force the other numbers into a gladiator ring, and then use the word "skedaddle" when Zero comes to chase them off.  While I think the concept of placeholders was over his head, I still liked being able to introduce him to the idea through this very fun book - perfect for any kid (like Ben) who is currently in their superhero phase of development.

One by Kathryn Otoshi:  This author has several books based on numbers - all with beautiful brush painting illustrations.  In One, colors are a bit of a focus with hot-headed red bullying the calm and collected blue, until the number 1 comes along and teaches them how to stand up for themselves.  I appreciated the focus on the colors and numbers, while also telling a wonderful story about speaking up and standing tall.

There are a lot of other fun books out there that get kids doing math problems in fun and creative ways - one we've been recommended often and enjoy is Bedtime Math.  But, sometimes, I think it's great to just ruminate and live in the numbers - and that's why I like the books I've mentioned here.  They aren't about doing problems or solving anything - just about appreciating numbers and introducing kids to all the wonderful things we can do with them.

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