STRETCH GOAL $10,000 If we reach $10,000, Rodi will write and include with all reward levels a “Beyond Function Machines” brochure (electronically for rewards less than $30). This will connect the Function Machines chapter already in the book to the story of how her middle-school-aged math circle participants (1) used Function Machines as a jumping-off point to engage in a visceral experience of deductive versus inductive reasoning, and then (2) moved into mathematical proof.
Math Renaissance is a book for teachers and parents of children ages seven and up. How can math experience be improved at home, school, and math circle? Learn from stories of Rodi Steinig’s experiences leading math circles and Rachel Steinig’s experiences as a school student and homeschooler.
In alternating chapters, Rodi tells stories about her math circle and exactly what happens there, while Rachel discusses why so many kids hate math, documents the ways math is taught in the classroom – and ways that it can be improved. We hope that the book will help to uplift humanity by shifting math education more toward inquiry, discovery, conceptual understanding, and lasting joy.
The book gives voice to many students, parents, teachers, and administrators. It is a grassroots effort to make people aware of problems in math education. In the book, you will find new approaches that can be implemented in your home or classroom. We invite you to take from the book what is most helpful to you: validation of your feelings, math circles know-how, acknowledgment of your struggles, techniques for making the best of a hard situation, and classroom investigations of specific mathematical concepts.
We’ve learned that everybody can access the beauty and joy in mathematics. Parents, teachers, and mathematicians all have a vision of math being taught in a way that’s collaborative, profound, and accessible to everybody, a Math Renaissance if you will. In our book we hope to repair damaged relationships with math and enhance good ones.
“Rachel’s is the voice of the silent majority of school students; it sounds authentic. This authenticity is the most important quality of her writing.”
- Alexandre Borovik, Professor of Pure Mathematics, University of Manchester
"Thought-provoking and entertaining. It opens up so many more possibilities for all of us experienced with traditional math instruction.”
- Paige Menton, parent and classroom teacher
“Empowering and eye-opening. It is exciting to think about math in this way! Rodi challenges assumptions about how math is taught and learned. Anyone who cares about math learning will find this book worthy of a good, hard, re-think session. Besides turning traditional math education on its head, Rodi also writes with a personal, humble and enjoyable voice, making it fun to read.”
- Melissa Church, parent and classroom teacher
“The truth can't be ringing more loudly about the struggles of students. It perfectly describes students' struggles during school while also providing solutions to the issues in classrooms. Everything that Rachel is saying is totally relatable, simply everything. Not only are her suggestions smart, her writing sneaks in small funny moments. However, the most admirable quality of her writing lies in her genuity and comfortable demeanor with the audience, which makes it a good read and enjoyable. The solutions that Rachel provides are definitely the best part. She offers realistic situations that can be used in the classroom and that will help not only you but others as well.”
- Amina Fong, high school student
Meet the Authors
We are so excited that this book that we’ve been pouring our hearts into for over three years is soon going to be made public!
Rachel Steinig is a high school student with a multitude of diverse math experiences. She wants kids to know what math really is and she wants adults to know what kids experience, in hopes of improving math education for everyone. Rachel has grown up on math circles as a participant, planner, and leader, and is passionate about learning math through inquiry. Her article "Stop Ruining Math! Reasons and Remedies for the Maladies of Mathematics Education" was published in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics. She is involved in body-positivity activism, peace work, and youth advocacy in government.
Rodi Steinig wants to awaken children’s inner mathematicians, to shepherd the unfolding of their abstract reasoning, and to disabuse them of the notion that math is about memorizing a bunch of facts and algorithms. She has led the Talking Stick Math Circle since 2011. She is a National Association of Math Circles Mentor, a prolific math blogger, and a homeschooling parent. She wrote about the role of mindfulness in math circles in the anthology Playing with Math. Rodi has B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a M. Ed. from Cabrini University. Her initial math circle training was through the gentle guidance of Bob and Ellen Kaplan of the Boston Math Circle. Her current field of interest is the philosophy of mathematics.
A Taste of Renaissance Math
What is in the book? Stories like this one. In the first hour of their math circle in the Compass Art chapter, students ages 9 to 11 go from hands-on, open play to reproducing a piece of art - and then, to posing a sophisticated question about the foundations of geometry. This is a typical ‘renaissance math’ sequence: play to craft to analysis, with rich discussions along the way:
The kids were eyeing some compasses in a box on the table, so I asked,
Would you like to use these compasses?
A resounding “Yes!” from the chorus. We played with them for a while, then looked more closely at the picture of the piece of jewelry. It was a gold “flower of life” pendant—a geometric design with history in many cultures and religions. The students struggled with how to draw it. They debated their own question:
Is the flower of life constructed with any straight lines?
Discourse and experimentation continued. J came very close, with a similar center, but a more rectangular outward flow, almost like a compass rose. We traded compasses so that everyone could try and critique each type. The students studied that photo of the necklace again and again, trying to come up with strategies on how to make the design.
As everyone worked, we looked more at the work of Islamic artist Zarah Hussain. I told of her mathematical studies, of the goals of her art (to understand her religion), and of the great influence of mathematics on Islamic culture and religion. I mentioned that in this culture, the circle was once used as a unit of measure. The students were curious:
How could a circle be used as a unit of measure?
J suggested that perhaps a rope was used. I replied that his comment reminded me of a photo I had printed out: a dog tied on a rope in a yard, producing a circular pattern pressed into the grass as it ran. This discussion led into Euclidean constructions, also called “compass and straightedge constructions,” geometric figures that are constructed solely with a compass and a straightedge (no ruler!). Everyone wondered,
Is it possible to make every geometric figure with a compass and straightedge?
The level of detail and sophistication grew with each meeting. We are skipping several pages in the chapter; here is a quote about the fifth week of the same math circle. Note more challenging constructions and more formal discussions:
We returned to our weekly challenge of attempting to define geometric terms.
What is a spiral?
Several children gave definitions which I wrote on the board. Then I read to them a formal, authoritative definition, which contained elements of each concept that was on the board. Smiles appeared on faces as M proclaimed proudly, “We really got it!”
Since P was visiting, we took a few minutes to show her some of the compass art we had been making at Math Circle and at home. As I was paging through my sketchbook, a few students noticed the Baravelle spirals I had made at home and said, “I want to make that!” (To make one, you construct a polygon, then use the midpoint of each side as the vertex of the next polygon to create an infinite series of inward spirals.)
“Show us how to make that!” demanded G.
Do you all want to make Baravelle Spirals?
I asked the group, and heard a resounding, “Yes!”
The group studied my Baravelle spirals. I explained how I had been attempting these spirals without a ruler, which is tricky since every line segment must be bisected. I told them that it doesn’t matter to me how they did theirs. It was interesting to see the purists in the group engaging in the Euclidean method:
Can you construct a Baravelle Spiral using Euclidean constructions?
These students had come up with their own accessible mystery, and set to work. Others attempted their own challenges; some used rulers, and yet others eyeballed.
Our discussion returned to the pros and cons of each method. I mentioned how artists for ages have attempted to draw a perfect circle freehand. I also told of how I had filled years of boredom in school attempting this, unsuccessfully, on my own—and of how I spent years combing the beach for the perfectly circular stone. I did find one once, I thought, but was always afraid to check it with a compass in case it wasn’t perfect. The kids begged me to bring the rock to Math Circle next week. I said I would look for it in my basement, as long as they promised to lie to me and say it’s perfect even if it isn’t.
By the end of the chapter, and other chapters devoted to topics such as mathematical logic and functions, readers trace how children’s understanding grows. So do their math vocabulary, construction skills, and confidence. Yet they keep playing - together with their leader, in the light-hearted tradition of artisans, engineers, and philosophers of every age.
You can help us finance producing and printing of the book, and to spread the word about the renaissance approach to mathematics education. Crowdfunding will help us to gauge which people and groups find the book appealing. If you want to support sustainable change in mathematics education, please consider supporting us.
The money raised by this campaign will cover production costs: illustrations, editing, paperback layout, and ebook design. There are also expenses once the book is produced: ISBN numbers and bookstore registration fees, printing paperback books, and shipping them to you!
Want a Sneak Peek?
Click to download drafts of sample book chapters. Try the activities, feel the passion, and get inspired!
The Unicorn Problem, a chapter where Rodi puts a very difficult folkloric math problem into a modern pop-culture context, and the kids doggedly struggle with it for six weeks.
Human Rights and Math, a chapter where Rachel reviews fundamentals of health, dignity, and well-being in the context of learning mathematics. It begins, “Janet is a student in a large public high school. In her math class, she isn’t always allowed to use the bathroom. Apparently she had asked to use the bathroom too many times…“
Math Maker Community
Natural Math has developed a unique publishing process to ensure that our books will add rich and beautiful math to your child’s life. A quality book takes professional artists, editors, and designers, but it starts with dedicated authors who care enough to spend dozens of hours improving each aspect of the book and related activities by testing it with many children, families, and classes.
Natural Math invites beta readers – brave community volunteers who field-test the draft in their own families and classes, without the authors on-scene to help. Our beta readers are new parents and veteran homeschoolers, principals and classroom teachers, leaders of math playgroups and math circles. They come from all learning backgrounds and all continents (except Antarctica). Their input is how Natural Math books become so real.
Math Renaissance will be published under a Creative Commons license. It means that people all over the world will be able to access its content, translate it into different languages – and share their ideas based on the book.
Risks and challenges
Risks for "Math Renaissance" are low. Our author support community Natural Math has a lot of combined publishing, education, and creative experience. We have done much of the work upfront: the book is fully drafted and most of the art is done.
The book drafts went through multiple rounds of beta reader testing with dozens of teachers, parents, students, and math circle leaders. Their comments have improved the book through multiple revisions. We are confident the book is helpful, and hope it will be discovered by a wider audience.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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