While sifting through piles of old math books, I came across the book below. The cover image coupled with the title bothered me.
Women experience mathematics too! Opening the book, I hoped to see at least one female mathematician inside. I did not. 61 images, all male.
Images are important. In the words of Annie Perkins “Mathematicians are not just white dudes.”
And most mathematicians I know don’t wear lab coats.
I’d like to share two more images with you, mathematician Sasha Fradkin and quantitative researcher Allison Bishop.
Fradkin and Bishop are co-authors of this week’s magical math book. Below is my interview with them. They share a bit about their book, the math they’ve weaved subtlety into a story about a curious land called Funville, and the magic their book has inspired.
Funville Adventures is a math-inspired fantasy book, where functions come to life as magical beings. After 9-year old Emmy and her 5-year old brother Leo go down an abandoned dilapidated slide, they are magically transported into Funville: a land inhabited by ordinary looking beings, each with a unique power to transform objects. (From the Natural Math website)
Aside from being kidslit authors, please share a bit about your day jobs.
Sasha: I currently work in a small, academically rigorous K-8 private school in Pennsylvania. My official title is the Dean of Mathematics, Science and Technology, but whereas I oversee all three areas I only teach (Grades 1-4) and develop the curriculum for the math classes. I have a PhD in mathematics from Princeton and I worked as a research mathematician for 5 years before becoming a teacher.
Allison: I am a quantitative researcher at IEX, a stock exchange for US equities. I am also a computer science professor at Columbia University, where I teach cryptography and algorithms to undergraduate and graduate students.
Who is the audience for your book?
The target audience for the book is elementary school children, ages 6-11. However, we have witnessed a number of 5-year-olds enjoying the story and heard anecdotes of older children and adults playing with and investigating the deeper mathematical concepts in the book.
What are some of the ways that your book has been shared? Are there any unexpected ways your book has been shared?
A number of children of different ages have read the book on their own. We also heard of many instances where parents read the book aloud to their children. Sasha and some of her teacher friends have read the whole book or parts of it aloud with their classes. Some follow-up activities included solving who-done-it style puzzles, playing “guess my power/function” games, students creating their own Funvillians.
Perhaps not completely unexpected, but the sharing that I find most exciting is when it is initiated by children. For example, a former colleague of mine told me that his daughter started reading the book and was so excited by it that she told her friends in school about it. And immediately her friends had a ton of questions about the story and wanted to read the book as well.
Which character is your favorite and why?
Sasha: My favorite character is Ida because her power, to keep things the same, is the most mysterious and doesn’t seem like a power at all. Perhaps for that reason she is the most empathetic Funvillian.
Allison: I like Constance, who turns everything into an elephant. Despite being a “constant” function, she presents a convenient way to inject a sense of whimsy in the Funville landscape.
How did the idea to write a math-fantasy about functions come about? Why functions?
Sasha: The idea to write a math-inspired fantasy came about from doing playful math with my older daughter, Katie. From an early age, she wanted to turn everything into a story and picked up concepts much better if they were presented in this form. Functions was a topic that we had particular fun with when she was 4 and 5. We’d take turns coming up with personified functions and would discuss whether they’re invertible (if so, what is the inverse?), what are the domain and range?, is it periodic?, etc.
One day, after playing like this with Katie, I sat down and wrote a short story about two siblings with inverse powers. I did not know then that it was the beginning of a great journey and collaboration (which started shortly after that). This was a bit more than 4 years ago.
Different metaphors are used to teach the properties and characteristics of functions. The most popular being a machine.
I love the metaphor for function that you chose to use, function-as-magical-power. How did you choose this function-as- magical-power metaphor and what power(s) does this metaphor have for introducing students to functions?
We wanted there to be “magic” in the story, but we also wanted it to follow certain rules. Powers based on functions naturally came up as something that fit both criteria. There is a moment in the story when Emmy perfectly captures this idea by saying, “It is magical alright, but now the magic makes sense.”
Could you share some magic moments that you have witnessed firsthand or that have been shared with you by readers/teachers/ parents about how your book has inspired math book magic?
Here are some magical quotes from children who have read the book:
“I know why it is called Funville; because they don’t have to do any chores!”
“Funvillians are all young because Ida used her power on them, which means that they will live forever!”
“Funville is one of those books, which if you start to read it you can’t stop and you forget about yourself.”
I (Sasha) also had a class of second and third graders come up with their own Funvillians and pictures of three of my favorites are attached.
We are currently working on a book in which we introduce children to the concepts of periodicity and modular arithmetic. The story will still follow Emmy and Leo but the world they visit will be very different from Funville.
Thanks Sasha and Allison for sharing this math book magic. Looking forward to your next book!
Have a magical math book you’d like share? Please go to the Shared booklist to find out how. If you’d like to receive these magical math book posts every other Monday, be sure to follow this blog in the side bar of this page.
Thanks and see you in two weeks! #mathbookmagic