I finished five books this month:
My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor was the first one I read — and definitely the best. Sotomayor does a wonderful job of telling the story of her early life, leaving the reader before she is appointed to the Supreme Court. I was really impressed.
Dust by Martha Grimes was a hard read for me for some reason. My husband would say that it was because Grimes in British, but I don’t think that was it. It was more that I am starting not to like her detective, Richard Jury. The mystery was OK, though.
The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis is one I have been going to read for a couple years now, and I am glad I finally got around to it. Tregillis’ first novel, Bitter Seeds, was a very dark book — very unlike Tregillis himself, and it took a lot to read. this book, the sequel, was not nearly as dark, and I think it told a more interesting story. It is an alternate World War II-based Cold War novel. Tregillis dida great job with it.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris was almost too much for me. His humor is great much of the time but sometimes reaches a point I don’t find funny. I especially like #2 to Go, a story of food in China. It was, as my husband said, almost too accurate.
Dark Currents by Lindsay Buroker is the second Emperor’s Edge book. I loved it. When I read these I find myself unsure about when they are supposed to be taking place, but it is never enough to put me off the story. I got the first book free, and gladly paid for this one. I will be buying the others soon. It’s fantasy but not so complicated that I get lost. (I am sure that says more about me than about fantasy books!) I think you’ll enjoy these books if you give them a try.
So, I didn’t get my six books read this month. Let’s see about December!
The second talk I watched today, Scott Kim: The art of the puzzle, was fun. Kim defines a puzzle like this:
…what do I mean by puzzle? A puzzle is a problem that is fun to solve and has a right answer.
Kim’s puzzles are maybe more art than mathematical, but that is OK with me. It goes along with what Benjamin said about studying math in order to learn how to think. Puzzles require you to think. And that is why we use them in math class. They may ask you to match the percent and its equivalent fraction to create a hexagon or to use four numbers and the order of operations to come up with the numbers 1 to 25 or something else, but you can always learn. And I think you learn faster this way than from a “lesson”.
We did a puzzle the other day where groups of students used six clues to find a number from 1 to 100. Then they went on and did bigger numbers, which required more complicated clues. One of the students, a young man who is smart but has trouble focusing, was fascinated. As his group worked through several puzzles, I saw him take on a progressively larger role in the deliberations. When it was all over, he told me, “And I actually learned something!” And he had. If nothing else, he had learned how to think about numbers in a new way. The lesson was a success in my mind.
Puzzles are fun. And if we use them in math classes, they might even convince students that math can be fun. Of course, not everyone will respond that way, but if we catch a few of them, I’ll be happy!
I haven’t been blogging about much of anything for a while, and I certainly haven’t been blogging much about the TED talks I’ve been watching. Could be because I haven’t been watching them. Oh well… Today I will start to make up for that.
I actually watched two TED talks today, both of them about mathematics. The first one, Arthur Benjamin: The Magic of Fibonacci Numbers, starts off with a statement that really resonated with me:
So why do we learn mathematics? Essentially, for three reasons: calculation, application, and last, and unfortunately least in terms of the time we give it, inspiration.
Math is, in my opinion, a fascinating field of study. I do find inspiration in it — even at the very low level of math at which I function. Benjamin goes on to add:
Mathematics is the science of patterns, and we study it to learn how to think logically, critically and creatively, but too much of the mathematics that we learn in school is not effectively motivated, and when our students ask, “Why are we learning this?” then they often hear that they’ll need it in an upcoming math class or on a future test.
At the school where I work, we try very hard to inspire kids to learn math, to think beyond the test. Some days and with some students we are more successful than others, of course, but at least we are trying. It is easy to see, though, that the students have not have this kind of math instruction earlier in their academic careers. They do not see math as being beautiful or fascinating at all. It is a real struggle to get them to really open themselves up to math.
Benjamin concludes his talk with this:
We spend lots of time learning about calculation, but let’s not forget about application, including, perhaps, the most important application of all, learning how to think.
If I could summarize this in one sentence, it would be this: Mathematics is not just solving for x, it’s also figuring out why.
It is this idea of learning how to think that seems to be at the root of the problem. The students are used to doing what they have to in order to pass the test. They don’t want to learn alternate ways of doing something in hopes of finding the one that makes the most sense to them; they want the answer. They want a mechanical way to approach the problem that will give them the answer this time and every other time they see a similar problem. And I can’t blame them. We all want answers to the problems. But the benefit of getting the answer is short-lived while the benefit of learning how to think about the problem will last a lifetime.
What did I learn from this talk? I actually learned a little about Fibonacci numbers. And I learned that what we are trying to do at school is important and that we cannot abandon it just because many of the students complain and don’t want to participate.
Our efforts as teaching application uses, among other things, Dan Meyer‘s Three Act Math activities, which can be accessed from a link on his blog. These activities, and puzzles completed by groups of students, seem to be the most well-received. And that leads me to the next talk I watched, Scott Kim The Art of Puzzles. More about that in another post.
I managed to finish seven books this month.
- In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George was an old book by one of my favorite authors. I always enjoy her books. It was another Inspector Lynley novel. There are few better mystery writers, in my opinion, than Elizabeth George
- Everyone Dies by Michael McGarrity was a fun read. McGarrity lives in and writes about New Mexico, and I really enjoy his books. This one was especially fun because I knew the places he was talking about. His main character is a cop, now Police Chief in Santa Fe.
- Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. What more do I need to say. Hiaasen is hilarious! I really enjoyed this book.
- Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton was a book I have intended to read for a long time and just now finally got around to it. I used to read Wheaton’s blog and knew I would enjoy the book. It is, as far as I can tell anyway, very honest. If you haven’t read it, please do.
- The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander was interesting to me because it provided more information about a subject I was already very interested in: Shackleton’s trip to the Antarctic. The author used journals of the men who accompanied Shackleton, providing more insight into the man and the trip. I recommend it if you are interested in the topic at all.
- Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a quick, easy read. I haven’t read a lot of Sherlock Holmes, and I enjoyed this set of stories.
- Roads Not Taken edited by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt was a series of alternate history short stories. A lot of alternate history seems to focus on war, and this collection was no exception. I enjoyed the other stories more just because I am not into reading about World War II.
It was, as I had hoped, a good month for reading. I have finished my first November book already and can’t wait to start on another one!
This has been a very good month for reading so far. Between assisting with testing at school for four days where all I had to do was escort students to the restroom and now a four-day weekend, I have managed to finish four books. Kinda cool…
I only managed to finish four books this month:
- Winter Study by Nevada Barr was a good read. I like Barr’s heroine, Anna Pigeon. She works in National Parks, often in parts of the country I am familiar with. This story was not one of my favorites — perhaps because it took place in winter in Lake Superior — but it was definitely worth a read.
- Changer of Worlds by David Weber is actually a short fiction, not all of it by Weber. But once I really got it through my head that the stories took place in Honor Harrington’s world but did not all involve her, I really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed getting to know more about the tree cat culture.
- Fate of the Kinunir by Robert E. Vardeman was a good read. I wrote about it previously. The characters in this book were what really attracted me to it. The story was good, too, of course.
- Due Justice by Diane Capri was a good read, but I found it is bit implausible. Or maybe I was just jealous. The main character, Willa Carson, is a federal judge. Her husband, a “retired” investment banker now owns and runs a fancy restaurant in the home he inherited on an island in Tampa Bay. The story was good, though. I had not read anything by Capri prior to this, but I probably will read more of her stuff.
Even though it doesn’t look like it, I almost read the six books I wanted to get read this month. Actually, I read four and two halves. I have been reading a book at work and another at home. I’ve already finished one of those halves, so maybe October will be a better month for reading!
I know that normally I only report on my reading on a monthly basis, but I wanted to talk a little about the book I just finished: Fate of the Kinunir by Robert E. Vardeman. I am not a huge fan of space stories, but Mr. Vardeman was nice enough to send me a proof copy of the book after Bubonicon, so I read it. And I have to say I enjoyed it. The characters were interesting, and the story kept me guessing. Right up to the end. So if you are into this type of book, I recommend you go out and get it.
Vardeman sent to book to people who attended his talk on epublishing at the con. It was the second time I had heard him talk about this topic, and I learned a lot from him both times. He published traditionally and electronically, so I feel like he knows what he is talking about. I only hope that someday before too long, my son and I will be ready to think about actually publishing our book.