Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
The idea of throwing away a classic textbook is enough to make any educator cringe.
“My university library was going to just throw this out!“
“This,” it turns out, is the first edition of a classic math book, “Winning Ways: for your mathematical plays (Volume 1)” written by Elwyn R. Berlekamp, John Horton Conway and Richard K. Guy (published by Academic Press in 1982, with a second edition published 2001-2004 by A.K. Peters, Ltd). The book is a compendium of information on mathematical games originally published in two volumes:
“The first volume introduces combinatorial game theory and its foundation in the surreal numbers; partizan and impartial games; Sprague–Grundy theory and misère games. The second volume applies the theorems of the first volume to many games, including nim, sprouts, dots and boxes, Sylver coinage, philosopher’s football, fox and geese. A final section on puzzles analyzes the Soma cube, Rubik’s Cube, peg solitaire, and Conway’s game of life.” — Wikipedia
In the over 30-years since it was first published, the book has gained quite the loyal following. A thorough, technical review of the 1982 first-edition of the book, written by Donald E. Sarason (University of California, Berkley), does not mince words in its praise for the textbook. The first paragraph of the book review begins with:
“Winning Ways is a masterpiece. We should have been disappointed were it anything less. Fifteen years in the preparation, and representing the collaboration of three mathematicians of extraordinary talent, the result is the most compelling and comprehensive treatment of mathematical games to appear in this century.”
Read Sarason’s full review HERE.
On Amazon, where you can find both the first edition-book and second-edition reprints, the text is given predominately five-star glowing reviews:
“Surely, no other books on this subject can be better than this series by Berlekamp and Conway, both are masters of the field! There is no doubt to this.” — Physicsmind
“This is the most difficult collection of puns that I have ever read…Berklekamp and company have created a classic work that is a must read if you want to understand game-like behavior. While not easy, it is some of the most worthwhile material that you will ever read. I read the first edition several years ago and found the going just as interesting the second time!” — Charles Ashbacher (Journal of Recreational Mathematics)
“This book is dazzling. It can be pretty tough going but it is well worth the effort. You can always tell the work of a genius because it illuminates the landscape and shows us things we have never seen before. I design games for a living and this book rocks!” — Mark R. Roop-kharasch
Meanwhile, back on the Math subReddit, teachers expressed outrage and dismay that their beloved, math textbook was being given the heave-ho by a University library. Others shared nostalgic stories about how the textbook made a lasting impact on their education:
“That’s an absolute classic. Shame on the library!” — HilbertsProgramme
“Why is this book famous? Yes, the authors are famous, and it establishes combinatorial game theory, but there’s so much more. They’re quite clever, love puns, and the game theory principles are incredibly fun to play with. They build a number system from games, which has been dubbed “surreal numbers.” The field of “nimbers” is developed. It’s definitely something to look into for fun applications. Because it establishes a big chunk of combinatorial game theory.” — ColdStainlessNail
“Score! i have fond memories of borrowing that book from my college library.” — zem
“I wanted so bad to get these several years ago, but the originals were out of print and expensive. Then I saw that they were coming out in four separate volumes. I anticipated these like others got ready for the Harry Potter books. I loved reading through them even though the stuff is quite challenging at times.” — ColdStainlessNail
“I took game theory over ten years ago now (graduated in 2004) and still have my version of this book from the class!” — mandie72
“Good save!” — DevFRus
Luckily, physicsdood managed to save this math textbook and underscored our ideas in a previous post on the power of Reddit for educators (How to Use Reddit to Pump Up Your STEM Classroom and PLN). But, more than that, physicsdood’s subReddit post and impassioned comments by teachers, shows that textbooks can resonate with on a deep and meaningful level, long after leaving school.
Textbook Love Is Real Ya’ll!
Contrary to what many may think, teachers aren’t the only ones who passionately and fondly recall their favorite textbooks. This past year, we heard from a number of former students (now adults with successful careers) who have shared their personal stories of textbook-love.
Rex Moribe (an accomplished engineer and entrepreneur), went on a desperate quest last year to find the high school math textbook that he credits with changing his life and helping him to become a critical thinker. After putting out a call for help on Twitter, not only did Rex connect with IAT (publishers of the textbook) and successfully acquire the original, 1997 edition of the book (Interactive Mathematics Program, IMP), but he gained so much more in the process, and so did IAT staff (see photo below). How and why did a this textbook leave such a lasting impact with Rex? Read his inspiring story, Engineering Superheroes: How a Math Program Turned a Surfer Kid Into a 21st Century Problem-Solving Whiz, and find out.
And Leslie Myint (second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) wrote a blog post, Perspectives on the Interactive Mathematics Program, on her website where she explains in detail how her high school math textbook was a game-changer for her and how she longs for something similar in college. We reposted her original blog post on EDUCATION INSIDER. Check out Leslie’s textbook-love HERE.
Across the country, the heated debates over common core and the perceived difficulty of the curriculum for students continues. In stark contrast, the students and teachers we’ve highlighted in this post, who reminisce fondly about their high school math textbooks, have noted that these much beloved books were, actually, quite difficult. But, according to them, it made them appreciate the textbooks all-the-more!
In describingWinning Ways, the teachers on Reddit who were taught using the book called it “tough” and “difficult.” Rex Moribe admitted that his math book was quite challenging but worth it. And Leslie Myint admits that, at times, her IMP math book made her want to “pull my hair out.” And yet, not only did the textbooks help these students to learn effectively, but it connected with them on a personal and emotional level that resonates decades after graduating.
In the coming months, as we here at EDUCATION INSIDER continue to explore how educators can “make STEM stick” with students, and we continue to hear inspiring stories from teachers and students professing their math textbook-love, we will explore the following questions:
- What textbook did you connect with the most in school — so much so that it has impacted how you think and engage with the world today? Why has it stuck with you?
- As a teacher, which of the textbooks you are currently using with your students, will leave a powerful and lasting impact on them 30 years from now, the way Winning Ways and Interactive Mathematics Program has with teachers and students?
- Is challenging curriculum a key component to making STEM stick with students?
Let us know the answers to any of the questions in the comments below or tweet us at @ItsAboutTimeEDU. Download a FREE PDF version of Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Ways below.
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