Sunday, March 13, 2011

Counting on Monsters

You can Count on Monsters is a completely novel children's book by Richard Schwartz. It is a little hard to describe by NPR does a great job here. Schwartz is a mathematics professor and his goal was to teach young kids deeply about prime numbers. That requires a lot of knowledge -- particularly, of multiplication and division as well as the notion of an integer. My 10 year old read the book with my 6 year old. They both loved it. I think the notion of monsters being able to eat one another in a hierarchical fashion did the trick in a sort of 'circle of life' way. The 10 year old even mastered the 'advanced theorems' at the end of the proof including Euclid's proof that there are an infinite number of primes. To say that this might make a great iPad app is an understatement. The book was in the Top 5 best-sellers on the NYT's a few weeks back but I gather they have had supply issues.
While I am on the subject of learning maths, I thought I'd point to a program all of my kids have been doing for the past year here in Boston: The Math Circle. I gather it is offered at other places around the country as well. Basically, they teach kids from age 5 maths using 'chalk and talk.' This is not some dressed up maths or times tables but principles of geometry, topology and real analysis. And it works and is the most engaging learning experience our kids have ever had. The Harvard professors at the heart of this program -- Robert and Ellen Kaplan -- were on NPR this week talking about their new book.