At my current institution, “Mathematics for Elementary Teachers” is a one-semester course that meets for 6 hours per week, ostensibly divided into three hours of lecture and three of laboratory weekly. I have been teaching that course for many years — indeed, no one else currently in my department has taught it — and in that time, I have looked at many textbooks for that audience and that course. As is the case with many standard service courses, there seems to be considerable agreement on most of the topics to be covered, so I have developed my own core list of criteria for evaluating these books.
First, I hope that a math-for-elementary-teachers textbook will be a resource for future teachers — something they can keep with them as they move out of my class and into their first teaching position. On that score, Stein and Wallace have written a fine text. The emphasis is on the mathematics, and while the students’ goal to teach is not far from the surface, the content manages to dominate. Indeed, there is no laundry list of NCTM Standards to detract from the primacy of the mathematics. (I accept that others may regard this as a flaw.)
I also hope that students will find the mathematics they will use as professionals in their textbook, and so I look carefully for a full section explaining the normal distribution and the mathematics behind percentiles, which teachers will need when trying to interpret their students’ standardized test results. Unfortunately, no such section is present here, though there is a very brief mention of percentiles. While that is a flaw in my opinion, it’s one that can be easily filled in by those who feel it’s important.
That, however, is the only concern I have about this book. The standard topics are all here and covered in an unusual level of detail — which is to be expected when the book includes more than a year’s worth of material. A student armed with this book and with the experience of learning from it will be well-prepared, mathematically, for a career as an elementary school teacher.
Mark Bollman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is 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.