About the stories – overview and inspirations

In memory of Sameer

Sameer Grover (April 13, 1980 – January 17, 2011) taught Mathematics and English to high school students.  He had an interest in using stories to entice students.  He and a drama teacher even had students do a play to get the students interested in fractions.  These stories are in his memory.

SMILE program has also been started in some high schools in his memory. SMILE is Sameer’s Math Integration Literacy Exploration. Students submit original Math related entries (stories, poems, artwork, videos…) which are judged by their teachers. Top entries receive recognition. The entries remain intellectual properties of the students, and as a result none of them appear on mathstories4u.com.

Overview

          In the opinion of the author, everyone is capable of learning Math.  May be they can be exposed to it through stories to generate and enhance this interest.  I am not delusional to think that reading this book will convert  a student into a Math genius.  This work would serve its purpose if even a fraction of the readers of these stories get more interested in learning Math. It is not an accident that  the main characters in these stories are females.  It was done to challenge the odd notion that Math is not for girls.

Arithmetic stories

Arithmetic stories revolve around Tanya and her rival friends.  They are written with the Indian culture in mind and with Tanya being raised in a joint family. Tanya believes that girls can achieve anything that boys can, and scorns you if you deny it. The stories start with the 3 year old Tanya learning that she has two eyes and one tummy, and end with the 14 year old using combinatrics. These stories may happen at her home with love of the family, while playing with her friends, and also in school.  Oh yes, there are several stories related to cricket – a sport popular in India. 

Geometry stories

In some geometry stories, the lead character is Ms. Rania Ali.  She teaches in a school located in a slum.  Most students come there because they have to.  Their parents get a certain amount of living support from the government if their children are in school.  The kids have at best marginal interest in learning.  The great teacher finds new ways to get the attention of her students.

Trigonometry,  algebra and calculus stories

Trigonometry stories were started with the idea of high school romance.  Actually, all the other stories were written afterwards. This idea also dominated the stories in Algebra and  Calculus.  After all, rebellion and romance are hall marks of the teen years.  These stories  revolve around a smart math whiz named Sara and her boyfriend Johnny. She comes whenever her sweetheart calls because she always wants to be with him. Sara and Johnny are fictitious but the high school romance is real.  Although they are written in the North American culture, Sara is the daughter of Indian immigrant parents settled in U.S.A. and is raised in large part by her grandma whom she calls Nana.

The romance is still there by the time they are 18 and doing calculus.  The inspiration for these stories comes from Calculus By and For Young People -Worksheets© by Don Cohen (ISBN 09621674-5-2). I bought this book for my son when he was in primary school. He enjoyed the book and I was impressed how this author had conveyed the concepts.

At the end of a story there may be Challenge. Usually, it is a word problem for emphasis or to bring out a related concept.

About Individual  Stories

 Sara loves Nana and Posters and Ice cream

When my younger son started to learn Algebra he was confused.  He was interested in baseball cards and their prices. So we talked about prices of the cards of different players.   Subsequently, I wrote the player’s initials instead of full names and made an equation for the total price of two different cards.  He was okay with it. Then we wrote only the first letter of the name and repeated the process. After that he just started writing equations with x and y instead of the player’s names.   That is what Tanya and Sara do here.

Battle of the Nerds

I have had conversations with colleagues from Japan, Germany and Ukraine who are proud that math standards in their countries are better than in Canada and USA. I ask them to prove the algebraic expression (a+b)(a-b) = a2-b2 using geometry and they fell apart.  This story emphasizes that the concepts in different branches of math are related.

Trip To Langley Park

While I was a university student, I tutored a high  school student in Math.  In the first session, the student decided to test the tutor.  He gave me a problem with a grin.  I looked at him and solved the problem and then explained the rationale.

One day, my younger son,  when 10 year old, asked me what a geometric mean was. I gave him the definition.  Immediately, he blurted out “So the geometric mean of two positive numbers can never be greater than their arithmetic mean.”  Obviously, we had a longer conversation about it.

Nana’s Bedtime Story

It is based on a Silo story that I used to tell my son when he was in junior kindergarten.  There was a silo filled with grains.  A sparrow found a hole in it and flew away with one grain in its beak.  It came back with a friend to get the grains. Next time, both the sparrows brought friends so that there were four of them now.  The numbers kept doubling, and the kid would fall asleep when there were 32 birds or so. He must have been doing calculations in his dreams.  By the age 8, he used to continue the doubling process mentally to get to 16384.

Cheerleader’s Sweet Tooth

I used these ideas in my pharmacology lectures to explain the difference between the zero and the first order rates of clearance of drugs from the body.

Can Smart Phone Use Enhance Academic Performance?

Thanks for this story to a high school teacher whom I met at Tim Horton’s – a coffee shop.  He was frustrated because the students were busy during his class on smart phones when he was teaching the rather dry subject of quadratic equations.  No one in the class was listening to him. The story deals with a possible meaning of two solutions of a quadratic equation.  The wise teacher the uses this and other interests of the students in this and the next two stories.

Priya’s Geography Project

I came from India to Canada in 1968 speaking English with a heavy accent, and not knowing the Canadian jargon.  As a result, many of my friends did not think much of me  – no, the idea of the Indians being expert in IT had not developed yet. Sitting in the cafeteria, I was talking to a friend who was doing a master’s degree in geography.  He had collected data for his project and was frustrated because he could not make any sense of it. He had gone to a particular bar and asked every one the question, “where were you just before you came to the bar?”  He expected that there would be more people coming from nearby and fewer from not so nearby, and that should be the end of it.  No luck. I knew the location of the bar and and him to draw a graph in polar co-ordinates.  Everything fitted well now because of a river near the bar and the bridge being a good 3 kilometers away. Eventually, being a geography student he figured everything out.  From then onward he considered me a genius rather than another dumb Indian.  This nearly 50 year old incident was the inspiration for this story.

The Fashion Show

Mrs. C wanted everyone in her grade 7 class to read at least 100 pages of a book each month.  It did not matter what they read but it had to be outside the class reading material, and they had to give her a one page book report.  My younger son chose a Trigonometry book.  His book report consisted of two graphs – one of them was flower drawn from Trig function in polar co-ordinates.  I still have the picture.

The dinner date and the Mountwin Park

There was an intern who ended up dropping out of the university because he had failed his first calculus course.   I was surprised and asked him about derivatives of some of the functions. He said that he could not memorise them.   I asked him why he just did not draw graphs for some of them and take the slopes, he said, “What? Nobody taught us that”.  Frankly, I was not impressed.  So I decided to do this in these stories.