Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Pi Collection : 50 maths enrichment books for your school libary

A little project I've been working on for the last year with my school librarians: we call it "The Pi Collection".  

We've built a carefully selected collection of around 50 books with maths themes - fiction and non-fiction, in an effort to entice our students to engage with mathematics beyond their regular classroom work.

Officially our idea is to encourage students to read more widely and deepen connections between maths and other subjects, but in truth, we just love having these great books available to share with our students. So, when, for example, we're exploring extra dimensions, we can ask "What if someone built a house in four dimensions?" - and point at the classic Robert Heinlein short story "And he built a crooked house" which just happens to be the library waiting for you to read.  Or when we're talking about equations, and wondering if we could use them to describe everything - point students at the wonderful Isaac Asimov "Foundation" series - every thirteen-year old nerdy boy's dream of running the universe through maths.   Or perhaps someone thinks girls don't math? Well have we got several books in the Pi Collection to show you otherwise!

Along the journey of building the collection, we've discovered books about people who think differently ("Born on a Blue Day"), a terrific manga-style book questioning the inner truth of logic in mathematics ("Logicomix") and short stories about what could happen if you were allowed to divide by zero ("Stories of your life"). And who could forget that the answer to the meaning of life is 42 ("Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy") - a book which also has great fun exploring probability - remember the "Improbability Drive"?  Doing permutations and combinations? Well that's just begging for a reference to Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Nine Billion Names of God".

Nothing however quite had the impact of "The Cold Equations" - this flew off the shelf as soon as we posted it up:

Maths tells our hero he needs to eject his stowaway into space.
His heart tells him otherwise. What decision will he make? 

I was a little worried about the unsubtle appeal  to baser instincts - but hey - anything to get the students reading! And it turns out our English faculty teaches Science Fiction in Year 7 and The Detective Novel in Year 8 - so we made sure to select books in these genres that also had a maths element.  As we expand the collection, we're finding more connections to Geography, History, Science and Art.

We've also included maths extension and enrichment books for curious students who want to go beyond the official high school curriculum. Collections of classic puzzle books, short articles on maths topics as well as some more challenging books. We even snuck in a few that might encourage some students to consider a teaching career (thank your Mr Lockhart!).

The full list is available here. Do you know of any books we should add?

Looking for more maths themed books?  An invaluable resource is Alex Kasman's collation of titles. Some care is required though, because not every book here is suitable for high school students.

Updated: 2015 Semester 1 Pi Collection