August 13, 2009

Review of Algebra Unplugged

Algebra Unplugged coverAlgebra Unplugged by Kenn Amdahl and Jim Loats is not a textbook, nor does it have any exercises. Instead, it is filled with verbose, often humorous explanations of algebra 1 concepts for those who would rather hear or read math explained in many words, instead of in a few symbols.

Algebra Unplugged also often explains the reasons behind some peculiar mathematical notations or terminology, and in general, tells the students WHY things are done the way they are done in your "Real Algebra Book".

Note: the cover image doesn't directly have to do with the contents of the book... the book is not about music, nor graffitis. I think it's just conveying the idea that just like musicians might "jam" freely after the practice, with this book you'll get to experience algebra "freely" after the class.

Excerpt:

The Associative Principle

Organizing your singers into sections won't affect how many are in your choir. Grouping them is creating associations. The associate law recognizes the benefits of confining your tenors to one easy-to-patrol area. Fifteen tenors in a corner is no different from fifteen scattered throughout room. It's just safer.

If all you're doing to a series of numbers is adding them, you can add them one at a time, or you can put them in groups, then add the totals of each group.

I certainly enjoyed reading through the book, and feel it can be very helpful for algebra students who feel "lost" and want to understand more thoroughly how to navigate in the maze of rules, symbols, terminology, and unknowns.

Here's another fun little excerpt to get you a "taste":

Why They Make You Factor

Factoring is, on the surface, a foolish waste of time. You will read many books and factor many polynomials before you have a clue why you are doing it. The next sentence in this book will save you two months of confusion.

We factor to take advantage of some neat properties of zero.

In addition and subtraction problems, zero is powerless. You can add or subtract zero to a number for the rest of your life and you won't change the number at all. But zero become an all-powerful super-hero once you move into the domain of multiplication.

When you multiply any number by zero, you get zero. A million times zero equals zero.

When you divide zero by any number, you get zero. Zero divided by a million equals zero.

But you can't multiply any other two numbers together and get zero. And you can't divide any other number by anything and get zero. If the answer to a multiplication problem is zero, one of the numbers you multiplied must also be zero. And, if the answer to a division problem is zero, your original numerator was zero.

That's why we factor.

By all means, click to Amazon and "click to look inside" the book to read some more and see if you like the style. I did - but I never know if others do, or if teenagers do.

The authors have definitely succeeded in keeping the conversation on a lighthearted level. They make light of mathematicians and mathematics and tenors (of course, some might not like that). The book often uses apples, bananas, rats, kangaroos, catbox, jabberwocky, etc. as variables, instead of always resorting to x, y, and z. The authors let Little Weenie Numbers show us the way when things get complicated (these are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and other small, easy-to-handle numbers).

The only complaint I have is that the book could have given a bit more attention to graphing with more graphs and actual visual illustrations. The author Kenn Amdah confesses he is not a visual person, so that is why.

Check also for used copies. The book is listed at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Calculus for Cats coverThe same authors have also written Calculus for Cats, a clear and entertaining introduction to the mysteries of calculus. It is written with similar goals in mind. It doesn't contain exercises. For some reason, the analogies to the world of cats didn't quite "jibe" with me as well as the writing in the algebra book. This doesn't mean that that book is not useful; it can be tremendously useful for people who feel intimidated or even dismayed by calculus. It just didn't feel quite as fun to read as the algebra book to me.

This book is also listed at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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