Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a 12-year-old girl. Thus I am not part of the target audience for Math Doesn’t Suck.
And that, by itself, may explain why, on first reading, this book felt to me like someone had tossed a prealgebra textbook into a blender with a copy of Seventeen magazine. Upon further reading, though, I found MDS to be an imaginative look at middle school mathematics that shows every sign of success in its declared quest to help a reader “survive middle school math without losing your mind or breaking a nail”.
MDS pulls no punches in its use of standard mathematical terminology — there is enough alternate jargon (“copycat fractions”, “multiplying monkeys”, “birthday cake method”) to draw in and hold the intended audience, but the accepted mathematical terms for these ideas are present and carefully connected to the book’s language. In that respect, this is certainly not a dumbing down of mathematics. McKellar has put together an engaging look at elementary mathematics that gives appropriate respect to the complexity of the ideas involved and the interests of her audience.
This book deserves to be read by a much wider audience than young girls. Middle school math teachers, in particular, are sure to find something worth importing to their classrooms — for both girls and boys.
There will be those observers who claim that the book’s heavy reliance on what might be called stereotypical elements of girlhood — friendship bracelets, crushes, makeup, and so on — diminishes it. One thing I think we all can agree on, though, is that there are fewer students ready for advanced math classes in high school and college than we would like, or than we have classroom capacity for. On a practical level, then, I believe that anything that has the potential to interest students in further mathematical study is worth a try — and Math Doesn’t Suck does an excellent job of testing this particular approach.
But if the final anecdote in the book, which is entitled “Bikini Wax Bliss”, genuinely resonates with middle school girls, I really don’t need to know about it.
Mark Bollman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor of mathematics at Albion College in Michigan. His mathematical interests include number theory, probability, and geometry. His claim to be the only Project NExT fellow (Forest dot, 2002) who has taught both English composition and organic chemistry to college students has not, to his knowledge, been successfully contradicted. If it ever is, he is sure that his experience teaching introductory geology will break the deadlock.