Monthly Archives: March 2013

Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith


Math Curse 

by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

This entertaining picture book addresses a condition suffered by many kids and adults alike – math anxiety – specifically anxiety about word problems. Math Curse tells the story of a child who believes she has been put under a curse by her (his?) math teacher, Mrs. Fibonacci. One morning, Mrs. Fibonacci says, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.” The next day, everything our main character sees becomes a math problem. She can’t escape!

The imaginative dream-like illustrations and the silly “math problems” make this a fun read. My 8-year old son was laughing all the way home from the library and kept insisting on reading passages to me.  He asked that I include his favorite passage in this review:

“I try to get on the bus without thinking about anything, but there are 5 kids already on the bus, 5 kids get on at my stop, 5 more get on at the next stop, and 5 more get on at the last stop. True or False: What’s the bus driver’s name?”

You’re child won’t actually learn to do math problems from this book, but it introduces many math topics like  fractions, charts, base systems, and unit conversion. And, in the end, the main character overcomes her math phobia and is doing word problems like a champ.

Girls Want a Rematch

Researchers at BYU found that while boys tend to do better in the first round of math competitions, girls do just as well or better than the boys in subsequent rounds. Maybe girls just need a little more time to get warmed up and comfortable. Most school math competitions consist of one round, but this study was based on the results at 24 elementary schools that changed the format of their math competitions to 5 rounds.

Read more at ScienceDaily: Gender Gap Disappears in School Math Competitions

Paul Erdös

erdosYesterday would have been Paul Erdös’s 100th birthday. (It’s pronounced air-dish). Not only was Erdös an extremely prolific mathematician (he published over 1,500 papers), he was a fascinating and somewhat eccentric man. For the last few years of his life, he did not have a home; he travelled around and stayed with collaborators while working with them. He was a terrible houseguest, but his hosts were so honored to be working with him that they didn’t mind. Mathematicians sometimes refer to their Erdös number (sort of like a Kevin Bacon number for math). If you co-authored a paper with Erdös, you have an Erdös number of 1. If you co-authored a paper with someone who co-authored a paper with Erdös, you have an Erdös number of 2, and so on.

To learn more about this amazing man, I refer you to a Scientific American article, a segment from Radiolab, and a book (which the Scientific American and Radiolab stories use as the primary source).

Scientific American: An Arbitrary Number of Years Since Mathematician Paul Erdös’s Birth

Radiolab: From Benford to Erdös

Paul Hoffman: The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdös and the Search for Mathematical Truth

Pre-School Number Sense Important for Later Math Success

IMG_0217A couple of studies from University of Missouri shed new light on the importance of counting and number sense in early childhood to later math success.

In one study, data from more than 3,000 children from low-income households were analyzed. The researchers found that students who could count to 20 in preschool had the highest math scores in first grade. Read more at ScienceDaily: Preschooler’s Counting Abilities Relate to Future Math Performance, Researcher Says

In another study, researchers tested 180 kids and found that the ones struggling with number sense in first grade were the same ones who were having trouble in math seventh grade. Number sense is defined as “an intuitive understanding of numbers, their magnitude, relationships, and how they are affected by operations.” So in addition to reciting numbers in order, children need to understand what those numbers mean and how they relate to one another. Read more at Early number sense plays role in later math skills