Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Avoid Hard Work: A Friendly Book of Problem Solving Strategies

Another Natural Math book just came out.  It's called Avoid Hard Work... And Other Encouraging Problem-Solving Tips for the Young, the Very Young, and the Young at Heart.  What is it?

First of all, it contains a lot of tips about how to do math with your kids - there are dedicated Q&A sections at the beginning, middle, and end of the book.  It's aimed at parents who don't necessary feel super confident about mathematics themselves and so makes a big effort to be non-intimidating and easy to use.

The heart of the book is ten chapters, each of which introduces a new problem-solving technique and guides you through a few problems using it.  They even talk about how to adapt the problems to toddlers! While most of the techniques and problems were ones I'd seen before, I was really impressed with the accessible and inviting way they were presented.

The thing that struck me most about this book was that the first step listed in solving each of the problems was "react emotionally to the problem". I've been taking an improv class where the big focus is on reacting emotionally to everything your partner says or does, but I've never before heard that phrase in the context of mathematics.  But mathematicians totally have emotional reactions to mathematics.  There are results and proofs that we find beautiful and ugly.  We develop mathematical tastes, just like musical tastes.  Doing mathematics is like an emotional rollercoaster - there are moments of frustration, sadness, confusion, and hopelessness, but also joy, hope, excitement, and satisfaction.  The high that comes with finally figuring out something that's evaded you for weeks, months, or years is amazing.

You can find another review of the book here. I highly recommend it for parents who want to do mathematics with their children aged 3 - 10 and beyond! It's also great for teachers and math circle leaders.  I plan on using this book to make a "Problem Solving Strategy of the Week" as part of the warmup for my middle school math circle.

Avoid Hard Work