What do math and reading have to do with each other? An Answer.

Inspired by an article “How Reading Novels in Math Class Can Strengthen Student Engagement,” several Lovett math teachers sat down last spring to brainstorm with Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs, Marsha Little.

They wondered what reading in math class might look like at Lovett, across the grade levels. Several teachers drew on their previous experience of incorporating literature into their math classes, and others committed to some personal summer reading of mathematically-inspired novels.

Sam Shah, a math teacher quoted in the article, says, “When I reflected upon what my goal was ... it wasn't to teach kids how to do close readings... The readings were picked to inspire kids to think, to have strong feelings about, to be curious about something mathematical that showed up, to see and think about math differently.”

Inspired by Shah’s words, Upper School teacher Dr. Mike Sanders quickly accepted the challenge to bring the written word into his math class. When his Advanced Placement Calculus AB students received the class syllabus on the first day of school, they saw the Isaac Newton: A Biography, by Estefania Wenger listed alongside their calculus textbook.

Wenger’s biography of Newton is a quick read, but it provides rich background to the calculus and physics that students study at Lovett, and it lends a human element to content that is often abstract and theoretical. Upon finishing the book, many students commented on Newton’s religious life and his efforts to understand the relationship between his Christian faith and his own scientific discoveries. Others reflected on the hardships Newton endured (including a period of significant mental illness), and his persistence even when his discoveries failed to bring fame or fortune.

In a spirited class conversation, students discussed how Newton’s background affects how we understand his work in math and science and debated whether it is better to be an intellectual trailblazer--but be wrong, as Newton sometimes was--or to build more conservatively off of others’ discoveries. And, of course, they spent some time discussing Newton’s hypothesis that the world will end in the year 2060!

This spring, AP Calculus students will read chapters from Steven Strogatz’s The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math from One to Infinity, a book described by one reviewer as “a delightful exploration of the fun of beauty and mathematics.” If you, too, are inclined to read some mathematically-inspired books, check out the list at www.mathicalbooks.org, with books for children ages 2 to 18.

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