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Book Review: Math Curse

As a former middle school math teacher and a man whose wife lovingly calls a “math nerd,” my enjoyment of Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (Viking Press, New York, 1995) should come as no surprise. Yet you don’t have to be a math aficionado to love the book’s hands-on approach and connection to everyday life.

Math Curse starts with every math teachers’ favorite phrase, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.” The statement, made by the heroine’s math teacher Mrs. Fibonacci (a little math humor there), sets the heroine off on a journey where she begins to see everything in her life as math. With questions like “What is the next number in the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13?” and “Which tastes greater? a) 1/2 a pizza b) 1/2 an apple pie,” the book has problems for the whole family, introducing algebra, logic, and everyone’s favorites, fractions.The Math Curse succeeds where so many math textbooks have failed, connecting the math content to daily experiences younger readers recognize and older readers recall. Unfortunately, teaching math from a children’s book is not possible…or is it?

For my eighth grade students, the real-life applications of the book inspired a project on sustainability called, “Little things make a Big difference”. We looked at how a small change in our daily or weekly routine can have a big impact over the course of a year. Some students timed themselves in the shower, then calculated how many gallons of water they could save if they took shorter showers. Other students considered how much energy would be saved if their television were plugged into an electrical strip that could be switched off every night. From spending habits to energy consumption students found a variety of ways to make a difference. Math Curse pushed my students to consider all aspects of their lives, converting them into believers that, “You can think of almost everything as a math problem.”

The message behind the Math Curse is important for math students of every age. Trying to avoid math now only gets you into more trouble later. Instead, tackle those math problems head-on, even if you’re not sure how to find the solution, because the best math student is not the one who finds the answer the quickest, but the student who works the hardest. So pick up Math Curse and a pencil and conquer a few math problems this summer.

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