Laura Randazzo – Solutions for the Secondary Classroom

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!

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