Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Understanding the Derivative via Strogatz

If you've never read Steven Strogatz's book The Joy of x, you should put it on your reading list.  Strogatz, in my opinion, is able to sell and teach the development of mathematics to a general audience--which is no easy task.  He's a brilliant teacher in this book and can be appreciated by both "math people" and "non-math people," educators and non-educators alike.

I have a class set of his books, and I got to put them to use for the first time this week.  I had my calculus students read the beginning of the chapter entitled "Change We Can Believe In."  Strogatz does such a great job explaining the value of a derivative in this chapter.  I gave my students an anticipation guide and explained the value of anticipating where an author is going with the material...before you read the actual material.  I think this is especially true in mathematics:  it took me a looooong time as a student to realize math textbooks could be used for more than just the problem sets.  But, when I did start to fully appreciate math texts for their entire content, I was invested in the material because I would make predictions about the proofs before reading.  If I could get through the proof without the help of the author, wohoo! (rare, but wohoo nonetheless).  If not, I had invested enough time and energy into the problem that, by golly, I was going to figure it now.  Which meant I needed to READ.

I digress.  This wasn't supposed to be a post on the value of this literacy strategy.  But there you have it anyway.

Here's the AG I gave the kids.  They did argue through a few of the statements, which is exactly what I'd hoped for.

Students asked when they would get to read from the book again and where they could their own copy of the I count this as a success.

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