New Textbook for the Math Department?

Today’s post starts in the kitchen. Like most normal people, I hate doing dishes. It’s gross and I’ve fought (and failed) for years to convince my husband and kids that their definition of “clean” is slacking…I mean, lacking. Hey, the job isn’t done until you’ve also wiped down the stove top, amIright?

The result is that I’m the one who does the bulk of dirty dishes because apparently the one who cares the most cleans the most. The only thing that makes my surrender to KP duty tolerable is that I’m able to plug into podcasts as I scrape and scrub. Lately, I’ve been enjoying a nightly date with Class Dismissed, a podcast that covers a wide range of education topics and features a journalist, a software guy, and a Mississippi elementary teacher with the cutest accent ever chatting in a virtual teachers’ lounge. (Thanks, Nick O., for letting me know about this!) This week, they included an interview with Joel Bezaire, a middle school math teacher in Nashville who uses literature with his pre-algebra 7th graders.

Wait…literature in math class? As a student who took a “math” class in college where we learned about gambling probabilities and wrote biographies of famous statisticians (yes, merciful STAT 345, a.k.a. “Math for Lit. Majors,” I’m talkin’ about you), I was intrigued.

Bezaire includes a novel study of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon in his curriculum to help students develop critical reasoning skills (it’s a murder mystery…sort of) and play with various mathematical ideas introduced in the book, such as the Monty Hall Problem and the game of Conway’s Soldiers. I also use the book but only as an SSR suggestion when analytical kids struggle to find a novel they enjoy. If you aren’t familiar with it, the book is a quick read, a mystery told from the perspective of Christopher, a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum who works to figure out who killed his neighbor’s dog. He’s also really, really good at math – or “maths.” He’s British.

What makes Bezaire’s interview so useful to us, English teacher friends, is that he shares his curriculum for free on his website. If you have a homebound math-minded English student who needs an independent work assignment, Bezaire is there. Or maybe you’re looking for a low-resistance way to convince our math department friends to help us meet some reading and writing standards. Bam! Bezaire’s already done the prep.

Warning: Haddon’s novel does include some adult language. Bezaire prepares his students and parent community for this ahead of time and uses analysis of the language as a tool of characterization. He also agrees that 7th grade is the youngest level where he’d use the book.

After requests came in to build a novel study aimed at older students, Bezaire created materials to accompany The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, a book I haven’t yet read – and I stress the “yet” because it looks pretty good. He suggests this high school curriculum would best fit an algebra 2 or pre-calc class.

Finally, he’s also built a list of other novels that would be useful in a variety of math and science levels, including Schrodinger’s Gat by Robert Kroese to teach physics and quantum theory and The Martian by Andy Weir to teach rate conversions and physics. You can check out his full list by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom of that page.

I realize we likely won’t use these tools in our classes – What the heck is quantum theory, anyway? – but I love the idea of giving students a bridge between our departments. Similarly, I’ve seen anatomy classes enjoy Mary Roach’s Gulp (click here for curriculum) and biology classes study Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (click here for curriculum).

Now, let’s list more books we could recommend to colleagues in other departments. We’re all reading teachers, right? Leave a reply below with the title of a book you think kids would like and the discipline it would complement. Teach on, everyone!

20 thoughts on “New Textbook for the Math Department?

  1. You. Just. Made. My. UNIVERSE.

    My 17 year old homeschools but goes to school for math and science. And she needs to do some pre-calc.

    And she is a reader. And all of this is just THE BOMB.


  2. HAPPINESS, Karrie! So glad I could spread the word about Joel’s great work. 🙂

  3. This is fantastic! And omg, think of all the books that could work in a variety of history/social studies courses! Maus (I and II) in particular comes to mind because of its brevity (there’s already *so much* curriculum to cover in those classes!), and Sinclair’s The Jungle because a former colleague used to teach excerpts of it in her grade 8 American History from 1865 with great success…

  4. Great suggestions, Heather! History teachers, are you listening? 😉

  5. stacey gridley says:

    Why couldn’t Tuesdays with Morrie be used for a Medical studies class? Just a thought…

    By the way, the idea of a math class using a literature book is delicious…I love it.

    My mind is just blown with the possibilities….

  6. Oh, I like that, Stacey – “delicious.” I’m also thinking Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture would fit into your Morrie/health curriculum. Keep ’em coming, everyone!

  7. Denise P Beasley says:

    Yoko Ogawa’s writing is fantastic — it’s a shame we lost her so very soon. I highly recommend her book containing three novellas called, The Diving Pool. Her stories contain quirky characters and odd plot lines. My sophomores and seniors love her complex writing and attention to detail!

  8. Thanks, Denise, for the input. Ogawa is a new-to-me writer; I’ll try to find a copy of The Diving Pool at the library. Sounds like a nice way to ease into her world. Also, as I’m learning more about her, it seems she’s alive and well and (maybe?) still writing. I also found this heralded piece in The New Yorker: It’s a bit quiet for my classes, but I do like her style.

  9. kcunnien09 says:

    I love this post! Thanks for the connections…some of my favorites:
    Biology and Genetics “Brave New World” Huxley
    Psychology “Picture of Dorian Gray” Wilde
    Math “Then Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure” Enzensberger
    Math “The Phantom Tollbooth” Juster
    Film Study for Biology and Chemistry “Gattaca” Columbia Pictures Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, Uma Thurman
    Biological sciences “Demon in the Freezer” & “The Hot Zone” Preston
    For logical and higher order thinking:
    “To Say Nothing of the Dog” “Passage” “Doomsday Book” Willis
    Also…John Twelve Hawks anything…
    Thanks for keeping this topic alive…we all need to do more to get great books into classrooms and kids hands!

  10. I just built an entire unit for this book. I teach low-level 9th grade ESL kids in France at a bilingual school. They’re awesome and I was able to use Atypical from Netflix, a documentary about Asperger’s, webquests, and descriptive writing about the London tube (We live only 1.5 hours away from London.) Thanks for these additional resources and ideas for next year!

  11. A treasure trove of suggestions, Karen! You just made my day – and gave me a lot to dig into this weekend. 😉

  12. That unit sounds awesome, Dana. And I really enjoyed Atypical, too. I even attended a silent rave a month ago that made me think of that show.

  13. I teach 8th grade: All of the Above by Shelley Pearsall. I haven’t taught it myself, but some very smart teacher educator family of mine recommended it. It is a fun read and involves geometry.

  14. Sweet, Alison! Thanks for sharing the recommendation.

  15. Becky Jackson says:

    Rocket Boys by Homer Hickman for Physics, Earth Science or STEM. I read excerpts (chosen due to time constraints and minor inappropriate language) to my 8th grade Earth Science students during our unit on space. They loved it!

  16. Awesome tip, Becky! Sounds like a fun supplement. 🙂

  17. Silent Raves are the best!

  18. Diane Keyes says:

    I was given a birthday present of weekly historical letters. The company was called Letterjoy. Two of my favs were correspondence between Upton Sinclair and Teddy Roosevelt discussing the scandals at Armour Inc. The letters would be fascinating with a study of The Jungle.

  19. Thanks for the tip, Diane! That sounds like a perfect addition to our APUSHistory teachers’ study of The Jungle. I might even chop it up and take pieces (Ha! See what I did there?) for my American Lit. class. Love this!

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