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Common Sense Mathematics

Ethan D. Bolker and Maura B. Mast


Common Sense Mathematics is a text for a one semester college-level course in quantitative literacy. The text emphasizes common sense and common knowledge in approaching real problems  through popular news items and finding useful mathematical tools and frames with which to address those questions.

We asked ourselves what we hoped our students would remember about this course in ten year’s time. From that ten year perspective thoughts about syllabus—“what topics should we cover?"—seemed much too narrow. What matters more is our wish to change the way our students' minds work—the way they approach a problem, or, more generally, the way they approach the world. Most people “skip the numbers" in newspapers, magazines, on the web and (more importantly) even in financial information. We hope that in ten years our students will follow the news, confident in their ability to make sense of the numbers they find there and in their daily lives.

Most quantitative reasoning texts are arranged by mathematical topics to be mastered. Since the mathematics is only a part of what we hope students learn, we've chosen another strategy. We look at real life stories that can be best understood with careful reading and a little mathematics.

Sample stories involve:

  • Back of an envelope estimation
  • Discounts, inflation and compound interest
  • Income distribution in the United States
  • Electricity bills
  • The graduated income tax
  • The economics of credit cards
  • Paying off a mortgage or a student loan
  • Lotteries, gambling, insurance and the house advantage
  • False positives and the prosecutor's fallacy

We augment common sense and some mathematics with instruction on critical use of spreadsheets and the internet, providing students with more tools that that they will take beyond the classroom.

* As a textbook, Common Sense Mathematics does have DRM. Our DRM protected PDFs can be downloaded to three computers. iOS tablets can open secure PDFs using the AWReader app (available in the App Store). The iOS app uses the native iPad PDF reader so it is a very basic reader, no frills. Linux is not supported at this time for our secure PDFs.

Teacher Resources

328 pages



Electronic ISBN: 9781614446217

Print ISBN: 9781939512109


  PDF Price  
Common Sense Mathematics $30.00

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