I was very excited when I received W. D. Wallis’s Mathematics in the Real World to review. The previous evening, I had attended a gathering with a friend that teaches high school social studies. At one point in the night, he declared, “No offense, Kara, but I don’t use algebra in my daily life and I don’t see the point of my students having to learn it.” I argued that it was okay to study a subject that you don’t use in your daily life. Studying algebra helped students look for patterns, think logically, and communicate in a clear, concise manner. I also agreed with my friend to some extent, however, and suggested that more students would benefit from studying mathematical topics that were directly applicable in the real world. This textbook contains a treasure trove of such topics, such as sampling, cryptography, voting, and probability.
While Mathematics in the Real World is intended for students with a minimal background in mathematics, the mathematics in the textbook is not dumbed down. The student will be performing calculations, using formulas, and drawing graphs.
In each chapter, Wallis includes a set of multiple choice questions, as well as a set of exercises. As a teacher, I really like the option of being able to choose from both types of questions. I do have two small complaints about the problem sets. Wallis has included answers to all of the exercises, even and odd. I would prefer that only the odd exercises had answers. There are times when I want to see what my students can do, without the aid of an answer key. My other complaint is that most of his problems are fairly straightforward. If the students diligently read the chapter, then they should be able to complete the exercises. I wish that the author had written a few challenge exercises (and marked them with an asterisk), so that teachers could assign problems where students have a chance to do some original critical thinking. One or two challenges in each chapter would suffice. Perhaps in the next edition?
All in all, I think Wallis has written a wonderful text. He has chosen exciting topics and explained them in a straightforward manner. I enjoyed reviewing it and I wonder if my social studies friend would enjoy it as well.
Kara Shane Colley teaches math at Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon. She also leads a math circle at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).