Friday, October 13, 2006

All time top ten maths textbooks

Well, if Channel 4 can get away with recycling endless variations on the theme of "top ten"this and thats, why can't this blog do the same? Many's the departmental meeting which has been enlivened by healthy debate, considered arguments and occasional fisticuffs concerning the topic. A sort of "Desert Island Textbooks", if you will.

First up, let's acknowledge the total domination of the Scottish market by a particular series of textbooks in the years 1970 to, well, the present for some, but let's say 1990 for argument's sake. Yes, I am talking about Blackie Chambers seminal tomes "Modern Mathematics for Schools", also known as "those ones with the cube on front". Man, what a textbook (sighs nostalgically)!

Nowadays the notion of "modern" maths is pretty quaint, with primary kids no longer required to draw Venn diagrams or wonder what the heck the Universal set was when it was at home (or, for that matter, why it was denoted by the letter E). But what was so great about these books - speaking from the heart - was the absolute rigour behind them all. These people knew their stuff. Nowadays textbooks are written by teachers rather than university lecturers, which makes sense I suppose, but they can contain some real howlers mathematically.

And, any attempts to put maths into context (a regular holy grail) were pretty reasonable, as opposed to the "stick a drawing in to keep them happy" approach we see now. I mean, does anyone really give a toss what the equation of a paperweight is? Puh-lease!

Oh, and another thing: questions. In abundance. These books had loads. We maths teachers love lots of questions. It's the equivalent of "silent reading" in English...

And finally, to finish this reverie: the books were small and well-nigh indestructible. Yup, after a nuclear war the world may well belong to the cockroaches, but they'll be crawling over MMFS books 1 to 9 when it does. Teachers have been known to kill for a complete set.

So do I have them still? You betcha.

(OK, I got carried away on these books, so the rest of the top ten will have to wait. And if asked to pick one from the series of 9, I'm going to be controversial and go for book 7. An under-rated classic with a strong ending.)

No comments: