An excellent book for 4th – 5th graders but one I would recommend for all teachers and students. Written as an interlaced, first-person account of two young girls – Aphrodite, who is a math prodigy and Mindy, who doesn’t quite understand the fuss about mathematics. Aphrodite is discovered early to have an IQ of 204 and speeds through school, ending up as a 13-year old Harvard math graduate student (frequently working on concepts like Navier-Stokes equations over lunch). Mindy has her own strengths, even in math (where she’s good at word problems) and is a chamionship-level baton-twirler. An unlikely alliance gets struck between them when Aphrodite decides to become a supplemental remedial math teacher at her old school. She has this theory that anyone can become “a math wiz…or at least math wizish” if only they are taught in a personalize way (her formula: E + C = MW; Effort + Confidence = Math Wiz). To prove this, she starts working with a group of students weak in math. From this premise, the novel goes on to explore her struggle to be an effective teacher and establish respect amongst students who are her peers, Mindy’s conflicting desires to “fit in” with her fashion-savvy friends and her new-found atttraction to math, their growing but awkward friendship, the self-confidence of the “boneheads” in the class, etc, all of which culminate in a rousing inter-school “Great Math Showdown” competition. Very sensitively written (with expected but needed contrivances and cliches); I’m sure many will find some amount of inspiration in the book.
Two small excerpts:
“When you think about it, Math is like a foreign language, and I’m not bilingual so it’s not my fault I stink at it”
“I have been so focused on showing off my math skills that I’m afraid I haven’t been a very good teacher. Instead of earning their respect, I’ve bored them into such stupor they don’t have the energy to complain” [She had started off with high-flying rhetoric which completely flummoxed her students: “Mathematics is finite and infinite. It forces us to ask why and how, which gives meaning and depth to our lives. It is the only learned discipline where one can achieve absolute truth. We’ll begin with an analysis of Lakatos’s philosophy of mathematics”, to which a student said, “All I want to know is enough to pass eighth grade. You ever teach fractions?”. Her earnest talk about “the heart and soul of mathematics” serves only to alienate the students further.]