Explaining Math Like The Number Devil
Students in Extended Topics in Algebra and Geometry (ETAG), taught by Craig Ferraro, read Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s The Number Devil this month. The Number Devil is the story of a boy named Robert who hates math. Each night, the number devil appears to him in his dreams and explains a mathematical concept in a funny and original way that draws Robert, and the reader, into a deeper appreciation of the magic of numbers.
Craig asked his students to write and illustrate their own chapter to add to the book. While they had to mimic Enzenberger’s style, students could write about any math-related concept that they wished. ETAG is a class comprised of seventh and eighth graders who are advanced mathematical thinkers with previous exposure to both algebra 1 and geometry. “ETAG students are some of the most independent math learners in the school, so I knew that opening it up for them to write about a mathematical topic of their choice would yield some amazing results,” says Craig. In their chapter, students had to accurately explain their math concept using proper writing conventions, include three to four illustrations, replicate the writing style of The Number Devil, and most importantly, convey passion and joy for their topic.
Students wrote chapters explaining various concepts from game theory to the coordinate plane and how the angles of a triangle work. While ETAG students are strong mathematicians, this kind of project stretches their communication skills. “Some students can have a fixed mindset about what math is, and they are very good at looking at a problem and figuring out how to solve it,” says Craig. “A big focus in ETAG is getting the students to be more well rounded so that they can speak, write, listen, and communicate about math and a project like this gets them to explain and engage with math in a different way.”