Q&A #8835

Using stories at middle school

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From: Pat Ballew (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: May 30, 2002 at 02:17:13
Subject: Re: Using stories at middle school

>I am doing PhD research on using stories to help teach math in grade
>levels 5-7. I have seen a number of great lists of math-related story
>books, but most are for K-3 grades. Which stories / trade books would be
>applicable to grades 5-7?
>Thanks! --Yafa Ginosar
  I would like to add that you might wish to include the history of 
mathematical ideas and people in your reading assignments.  I personally 
think that one of the mistakes we make in math education is the failure to 
let students see the emergence of mathematical ideas and the personalities 
behind the mathematical minds.  Certainly Bell's Men of Mathematics is a 
wonderful source for students in your grade levels.  There are lots of 
internet resources about both the people and ideas of mathematics... 
When you cover the Fibonacci sequence, introduce them to the man... He wrote 
one of the most influential books in western mathematics, and it should be 
part of the mathematical culture of our young people... 
  Girls (and boys)  should be introduced to some of the Females who 
contributed to mathematics (Hypatia[probably the first known female 
mathematician, but her story has enough horror to interest even seventh 
grade boys], Marie Agnesi [I think the first curve named for a woman was 
the "witch of Agnesi", and the construction is NOT beyond grades 6-7], and 
certainly Grace Hooper [she invented the computer term "bug", was 
instrumental in creating the computer language COBOL and was the first woman 
to have a destroyer named after her.... and had she done nothing else, she 
should be remembered for the great quote "A ship in port is safe, but that 
is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things."... OH yeah, 
she had a clock in her office that ran counter-clockwise as a constant 
reminder that there was more than one way to do things. ].

I would hope that students who play the game of Hex, and it is great for 
middle school, will be able to connect it to Piet Hein and John Nash and 
know who they were (Piet Hein should be studied in school just because he 
did some of everything, and middle grade students can learn lots of math 
playing with his "Soma cubes", a wonderful toy, and he wrote some wonderful 
short poems called Grooks (hope I spelled that right).  My favorite, from 
memory so I may miss a word here or there ... 
   Problems worthy of attack
  Prove their worth by fighting back... 
That should be a mantra for problem solvers... 

Some of the names I mention are of the 20th century (and at least two I 
think are still alive) and it is important for students to know that math is 
NOT done, and great minds are still out there bending the borders... 
  John Conway, Persci Diaconis, and Ron Graham are people who should submit 
to computer searches with interesting results.  
  Anyway, I hope I said something that will make you consider trying to 
include the history, and culture of mathematics in your class.. 

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite topics.

 -Pat Ballew, for the T2T service

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