BookTalk: Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries

By Sharon Kane

casebook-of-mathematical-mysteriesSome of your students might like reading mysteries. Some might like literary allusions and parodies. Others might be fans of Sherlock Holmes, delighting in the original stories and/or recent adaptations in print and film. A wonderful addition to your classroom library—of interest to all these students—would be Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries (2014, Basic Books), by mathematician Ian Stewart. Readers are introduced to Soames and Dr. Watsup, who live in Victorian England, across the street from a famous detective pair, and take on cases that require mathematical solutions. The book contains enough puzzles to carry a teacher through an entire school year. Students will race to enter the classroom to see the title of their next case. Will it be “The Riddle of the Golden Rhombus”? “The Puzzle of the Purloined Papers”? “Jigsaw Paradox”? “The Soup Plate Trick”? If they have ever wondered about the shape of an orange peel or the history of Sudoku, how to measure the height of a tree, why birthdays are good for you, or how to win the lottery, they should join Soames and Dr. Watsup as they share data, conjectures, figures, formulas, hypotheses, evidence, and epiphanies. There will be laughter, along with some groans, along the way. In the spirit of this book, students can create their own problems and scenarios for classmates and teachers to solve.

Now for our problem: Where should this book be most appropriately housed? In the English classroom? Math classroom? Somewhere else? Collaborate with your colleagues to come up with a solution based on mathematical input and principles. Maybe division will be required. Students could encounter “Fermat’s Last Limerick” and “Mathematical Haiku” in English/language arts; “How to Stop Unwanted Echoes” in physics; “Bargain with the Devil” in philosophy; “The Adventure of the Rowing Men” and “The Hound of the Basketballs” in physical education; “Square Leftovers” in Home and Careers; “Polygons Forever” in math; “Mussel Power” in biology; “Random Harmonic Series” in music; “Why Do My Friends Have More Friends than I Do?” and “Narcissistic Numbers” in psychology; “Proof that the World Is Round” in history; “The Affair of the Above-Average Driver” in driver education, and so on. This book contains mysteries for every discipline.

Appropriate for high school

math, ELA



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