Books Every Math Teacher Should Read

This was originally posted at the Elevated Math blog, and I’m reposting it here.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this summer, and I’ve come across a few books in the past few months that I think every math educator should read.

A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart

I don’t see how it’s doing society any good to have its members walking around with vague memories of algebraic formulas and geometric diagrams, and clear memories of hating them.” ~ Paul Lockhart, p33

The original essay that inspired this book is still available online here, and if you can’t find the time to read all of Paul’s book, I recommend at least reading the essay. Paul talks passionately about some serious problems in mathematics education today, most notably that much of what is taught in schools is not actually mathematics itself, but a caricature of mathematics.

Mathematics Miseducation by Derek Stolp

[M]athematics, as it is taught, does not give children any view of reality, let alone a rational one.” ~ Derek Stolp, p33

Derek argues first that mathematics, as it is taught today, does not warrant inclusion in our curriculum, but then demonstrates some clear ways that mathematics education could be changed to make it viable again. He has the best argument for a constructivist approach to mathematics education I’ve read so far.

The Math Instinct by Keith Devlin

Overall, the shoppers’ performance was rated at an average 98 percent in the supermarket compared to a mere 59 percent average on the test.” ~ Keith Devlin, p187

Keith demonstrates how animals and nature have developed some amazing strategies for using mathematics in highly creative and important ways. He then suggests how this relates to our own ability to do mathematics, and shares some very compelling research on poorly we transfer math skills learned in school to our own lives, but use mathematical strategies nonetheless.

How Children Fail by John Holt

I asked Monica the other day how many thirds were in a whole. She said, ‘It depends on how big the whole is.’ If we could look into the minds of our students, in how many would we find that thought?” ~ John Holt

While this book is not specifically about mathematics education per say, John does have some insights into the difficulties learners experience. He often has useful anecdotes taken from his own teaching of mathematics about the frustrations and problems learners have in this area. John also talks about the disconnection between what kids learn and the world, the problems with reward and punishment systems, homework, and a host of other issues in education talked about in depth by other educators.

What’s Math Got To Do With It? by Jo Baoler

I just read “What’s Math Got To Do With It?” by Jo Baoler, and I would actually move it to the top of the list. It’s a must read for math educators, not because it has the most eloquent argument against our current form of mathematics, but because it has some actual solutions that educators can implement right now in their existing practice that will make a difference. Jo also does a fabulous job of avoiding pointing fingers, reflecting on research that has been done, and grounding her observations in improving practice in easy to read anecdotes that everyone can understand. I’d also strongly recommend her book for parents who are concerned about math education as well.

Some other books which I have not yet read, but which are on my to read list are:

  • From Reading to Math: How best practices in literacy can make you a better math teacher by Maggie Siena
  • Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic: Implications of Piaget’s Theory by Constance Kamii Young
  • Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics by Liping Ma
  • Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos

What books are on your “must read” list for every math educator?

Update: On the original post Grace ( @msokeeffe ) added Seymour Papert (Mindstorms, The Children’s Machine) and Robert P. Moses’ Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project.

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