Novel Studies for Math Classes

For a number of years I have been studying a novel with my students in my Pre-Algebra classes.  It has been a fantastic experience, and I think every math teacher should at least consider whether a novel study would enhance their students’ experiences in their math class.

Below are a collection of books that I think would be fabulous additions to any mathematics curriculum.  Books are included for a variety of age groups, and in two cases I have included a curriculum/book study that I have created for use in any math classroom.  Also, I have categorized certain blog posts that involve Literature and Mathematics.  You can check out those blog posts here:  Literature and Mathematics.  Additionally, here’s a curated list of “Mathematical Fiction” provided by Alex Kasman from the College of Charleston.  As I read books from the list I’ll try to include them below.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

From the publisher:  “Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.  This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.”

Appropriate for:  Upper Middle School/High School  Math Topics:  Number Theory, Algebra, Problem Solving

I have created a curriculum/novel study for use in my 7th grade Pre-Algebra classes.  You can download and use the curriculum at this link.  I am making this available for free, but please do not alter the curriculum (other than for your own classroom use), email the .pdf to anyone, or re-post this .pdf on any other websites.  Please direct all links back to this page if you wish to share this curriculum.  Thank you, and please email me with any questions.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa.

From The Publisher:  “He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem—ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.  She is an astute young Housekeeper—with a ten-year-old son—who is hired to care for the Professor.   And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities—like the Housekeeper’s shoe size—and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.”

Appropriate for:  High School  Math Topics:  Number Theory, Algebra, Proofs

I have not implemented this curriculum in a classroom setting yet, as I do not teach high school students.  I would be interested to hear if anyone gives this a try.  You can download and use the curriculum at this link.  I am making this available for free, but please do not alter the curriculum (other than for your own classroom use), email the .pdf to anyone, or re-post this .pdf on any other websites.  Please direct all links back to this page if you wish to share this curriculum.  Thank you, and please email me with any questions.

Other Novels that can be used in math classes:

I haven’t created any curriculum for these novels (due to time constraints), but think they would be wonderful additions at a variety of age levels.

Of course there are many other books that might be appropriate in a math classroom; these are just ones that I’ve read and can imagine how they might be implemented.  See these resources for other more general ideas: (Wikipedia, Goodreads)

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Summary from publisher:  “…an alternate universe where scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians live in seclusion behind ancient monastery walls until they are called back into the world to deal with a crisis of astronomical proportions.”

Appropriate For:  Upper high school/college  Math Topics:  Calculus, Proofs, Math History

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Summary from publisher:  “In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse—mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy—is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Waterhouse and Detachment 2702—commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe-is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the enemy’s fabled Enigma code. It is a game, a cryptographic chess match between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, translated into action by the gung-ho Shaftoe and his forces.”

Appropriate For:  Upper high school/college  Math Topics:  Cryptology, Problem Solving, Programming

The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzensburger

Summary from publisher:  “In twelve dreams, Robert, a boy who hates math, meets a Number Devil, who leads him to discover the amazing world of numbers: infinite numbers, prime numbers, Fibonacci numbers, numbers that magically appear in triangles, and numbers that expand without . As we dream with him, we are taken further and further into mathematical theory, where ideas eventually take flight, until everyone-from those who fumble over fractions to those who solve complex equations in their heads-winds up marveling at what numbers can do.”

Appropriate For:  Upper elementary/lower middle school  Math Topics:  Number Theory, Math History

The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World)

Summary from Publisher:  “In which Daniel Waterhouse, fearless thinker and courageous Puritan, pursues knowledge in the company of the greatest minds of Baroque-era Europe (note: including Newton and Leibniz) — in a chaotic world where reason wars with the bloody ambitions of the mighty, and where catastrophe, natural or otherwise, can alter the political landscape overnight.”

Appropriate for:  Upper High School/College  Math Topics:  Math History, Calculus, Algebra, Geometry, Problem Solving

Schrodinger’s Gat by Robert Kroese

From The Publisher:  “Schrodinger’s Gat is a quantum physics noir thriller. Paul Bayes has begun to feel like all of his actions are dictated by forces beyond his control. But when his suicide attempt is foiled by a mysterious young woman named Tali, Paul begins to wonder if the future is really as bleak as it seems. Tali possesses a strange power: the ability to predict tragedies and prevent them from happening. The possibility of breaking free from the grip of fate gives Paul hope. But when Tali disappears, Paul begins to realize that altering the future isn’t as easy as it seems: you can fight the future, but the future fights back.”

Appropriate for:  Advanced High School/College  Math Topics:  Physics, Quantum Theory, Math Philosophy

The Martian by Andy Weir

From The Publisher:  “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.  Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.  After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.   Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.  But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

Appropriate For:  Upper High School/College  Math Topics:  STEM, Problem Solving, Rate Conversion Problems, Physics

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 8.16.14 AM

From The Publisher:  “A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.  But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain…. A writer of dazzling genius and imaginative vision, Neal Stephenson combines science, philosophy, technology, psychology, and literature in a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable.”

Appropriate For:  High School/College  Math Topics:  STEM, Problem Solving, Rate Conversion Problems, Physics

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 8.20.06 AMFrom The Publisher:  “Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.”

Appropriate For:  High School/College  Math Topics:  Physics

Math Curse by Jon Scieszka

51uj2yLxRzLFrom The Publisher:  “Did you ever wake up to one of those days where everything is a problem? You have 10 things to do, but only 30 minutes till the bus leaves. Is there enough time? You have 3 shirts and 2 pairs of pants — can you make 1 good outfit? Don’t worry — it’s just the Math Curse striking! An amusing book about dealing with numbers in everyday life.”

Appropriate for:  Lower School, Middle School  Math Topics:  Arithmetic, Problem Solving, Math History, More

One thought on “Novel Studies for Math Classes

  1. Pingback: Back to School Special: The Housekeeper and the Professor | Bacon on the Bookshelf

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