Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Books on the Shelf.

What's in my classroom? Well, I like books and there was money in the budget, so ... someone had to do it. I ordered with this philosophy: if the book was an easy read, I tried to get a class set which could be lent around the department. If not, I got maybe 3 or 6 which I could lend to individual students.

Here are a couple of the easy reads:

Short Circuits.
One-Minute Mysteries: These are really easy but a good way to while away a few minutes of TA or homeroom. They are one- or two-paragraph mini-mysteries in which the criminal makes one mistake or one misstatement that shows his guilt. "How could he have known the victim was killed with a potato peeler if he wasn't there?" A similar book is Two Minute Mysteries, which is more of those "outside the box thinking" or "lateral thinking" puzzles. These can take a while because the kids have to come up with reasons that aren't readily seen or intuited. Some reasons fall into the category of "WTF? How are we supposed to know that?"

Huff's How to Lie with Statistics is a classic. I use at least some of the ideas in every class from consumer math through Pre-calculus. I also make the speech before the students start their science fair projects. See also "How to Lie with Maps."

From the guys who brought you Klutz's Guide to Juggling comes Cartoon Guide to Statistics. It's great. In fact, when I unpacked the books, the other math teacher instantly borrowed it. Gotta be a good sign! Witty and fun, it's still got the STUFF. The cartoons are quite descriptive and the math is all there, even if the 'toon of Galileo is goofy.

If you haven't read it ... Freakonomics (and the sequel, Super Freakonomics) is a really good collection of statistical stories and case studies. Leavitt is a good writer and he analyses his work in engaging and easy-to-read chapters. "Why Do Drug Dealers Live with Their Mothers?" and "Why is the KuKluxKlan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?" You'll want an entire Saturday for it.

The Number Devil is a good book for starting kids reading about math topics without slapping them silly. Easy to read but not pandering either. Probably the best explanation for the Fibonacci sequence I've seen.

Loosely organized book of trivia and generally "neat stuff" is Brain Fuel. Engaging reads of one or two pages each that aren't particularly mathematical but I was able to buy them, so there! Kind of "Ripley Believe it or Not".

If it's a math class, it has to have Flatland & Sphereland in it. Misogynistic? Yes. Satire? Yes. Still, it's an exploration of geometry you shouldn't be without. Available online for free (long out of copyright), but you'll want tangible books. Fortunately, they're cheap.

SAT Prep
For my SAT Review class, I was able to score some $3 versions of Prince by Machiavelli and Sun Tzu's Art of War. These are used as essay topics. I'll take a paragraph almost at random (they're that good for this kind of thing) and make a question about it. Instant Essay topics.

For the same course, I got - and this is no shit - a copy of Specerian Penmanship. The students are fascinated by my ability to write cursive. Probably 50% can write poorly in cursive, the other half not at all. I, of course, had Mrs. R. to teach me this some 50ish years ago. So I lend out the workbooks with the stern instruction to use a piece of paper placed over top. SO far, no writing in the books. A couple girls have really worked on it. So funny. One texted this fact to her friend - proud she was teaching herself to write cursive. The irony escaped her.

Drafting is important.
How to Read/make Mechanical Drawings and Popular Science's The Art of Mechanical Drawing are good source books for orthographic projections and for general work. I feel it very important that students learn the basics of drafting. The art department is getting swamped and stamped and cut these days and the technical centers are becoming more exclusively for "tech kids" - where's the generally good student to learn this stuff? ME!

I can't say anything yet about 100 essential things because it's backordered.

That's a part. I'll talk about some of the rest tomorrow: the tough reads, the ones that I bought only 3 or 6 copies of.

caio for now.


  1. Might I recommend Sherman Stein's How The Other Half Thinks, which explains very interesting mathematical concepts to poets and others like them.

  2. I forgot about that book. It got placed on the wrong bookshelf at home - in the education stuff rather than the math stuff - and I didn't consider it when I ordered.

    I'll have to read it again and see if I can get some.

  3. great list. here's more by
    the "cartoon guide" guy
    (a great cartoonist and scholar).

    link if blogger works the way i think.