Rossdavidh's Reviews > Math with Bad Drawings

Math with Bad Drawings by Ben Orlin
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First off, the title is not quite accurate. There is, in fact, a good deal of math (although not that many equations), but the drawings aren't really "bad". They are, to be sure, stick-drawings or the equivalent. But, given that their purpose is to make more clear the math which is being discussed, and given that they succeed at doing that rather well, I think they are more "crude but effective" than "bad". "Math With Crude Drawings" might not have been as snappy a title.

I may not have been the right audience for this book, as I already knew nearly all of the math discussed. It was, as far as I can tell, an easily understandable treatment of it all, but probably someone who does not already know most of the math should judge that. Maybe I could have my daughter read it this summer. "A math book for my summer? Papa, you shouldn't have! No really, you shouldn't have."

The author's basic point is that existing math education (primary and secondary in particular) is more or less like mistaking scales for music, or mistaking syntax for programming, or mistaking grammar for literature. Math, he believes, should be more like puzzle solving, and less like rote drudgery; something challenging but fun. It is a common refrain from those who love math, and I'm not exactly sure why we have not as a society managed to come up with a better curriculum, especially given the ubiquity of computing devices. Every smartphone can do multiplication for you, but it cannot do higher level thinking for you, and that is exactly what is missing from the current public school standard. Certainly it takes some cleverness to teach math in a non-boring way, but not if the curriculum is already developed by someone else who was clever, and you would think it would have happened by now.

It may be that the problem is, good clever discussions of math happen in books like this, not in textbooks. What would happen if we made textbooks like we make open source software, with a working prototype developed by one author, and then many different authors helping to incrementally improve the curriculum until it was funny and clear and engaging from start to finish? I fear, we will never find out. The way we pay for textbooks, and authorial work generally, is not set up to create ever-better textbooks. So here we are, several centuries after we started offering math education to most children in the developed world, still stuck with textbooks that are, shall we say, not inspiring.

It is a depressing state of affairs. But, you know what isn't depressing? This book.

It's funny, it's light-hearted, it's informative, it's a page-turner. It's full of math (and crude but effective drawings). Enjoy!
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Reading Progress

January 1, 2020 – Started Reading
January 1, 2020 – Shelved
January 7, 2020 – Shelved as: blue
January 7, 2020 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Greta (new)

Greta Your daughter must be the luckiest girl in the world! Lol

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