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Math in literature?

GoodOmensGoodOmens Registered User regular
edited October 2010 in Help / Advice Forum
I'm planning on collaborating with a colleague to teach a unit on math in literature. This would be for high achieving high-school seniors (a few juniors) for the 2 weeks or so after the AP exams at the end of the school year. I bring the math, she brings the English, we both bring the awesome. Or that's the plan.

I only thought about doing this yesterday, so I haven't had time to think things through very well yet. My thoughts immediately sprang to Flatland, and she suggested Alice in Wonderland. I plan to do some research in the next few days to find a work or works to look at, but I throw it before the collective wisdom...any ideas? Something super-deep wouldn't work (we only have a short time, and they'll be looking for a bit of a break after the AP's), but I'd like it to be challenging and interesting.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts.

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  • The_Glad_HatterThe_Glad_Hatter Rogue Jpeg Jockey Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    The curious incident about the dog in the nighttime had some math in it i believe.. (story about a kid with asperger's). Seems colourful enough for HS students. Don't know about the level though.

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  • GoodOmensGoodOmens Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    Thanks, I'll look into it. I read that one a few years back, it should be appropriate for them. I need to double-check the math content.

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  • JHunzJHunz Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    The first thing I thought of seeing the title was the short story The Cold Equations. Despite the name, there's not much math in it at all except for the basic premise. But I guarantee you it would spark a discussion.
    It's available online here.

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  • AriviaArivia Registered User
    edited October 2010
    The Number Devil's very good, but your students will likely know the math; from the lit side there's a ton to chew on, though.

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  • ceresceres Just your problem OoSuper Moderator, Moderator mod
    edited October 2010
    If you do Alice in Wonderland, you can actually talk about Alice universes. They are my favorite math-related topic I will never understand, and are named for the character in the book. Wikipedia has a nice little section of a section of an article about them; they're pretty cool.

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  • KarnackKarnack Registered User
    edited October 2010
    Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad

    there is no topping the poem about math that the poetry computer pumps out. that it is still genius in translation is a testament to both lem and the jerk who put it into english.

    besides that it's some amusing sci fi mixed with math stuff

    it isn't horribly complicated but it is entirely able to be analyzed in more than one way

  • TastyfishTastyfish Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    Neal Stevenson's Anathem? Pretty big book though so it depends if you mind having just sections. Cryptonomicon has a lot as well I think.

  • GoodOmensGoodOmens Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    The Number Devil looks interesting, if perhaps a little too easy. I'll check it out.

    Cryptonomicon and Anathem are good ideas, I think, but they're going to be too long. And I found Anathem hugely boring, so I'll avoid that.

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  • GoodOmensGoodOmens Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    I just reread my last comment and realized it probably sounded more assholish than I intended. Sorry about that. I appreciate everyone's input.

    I'm really leaning toward Alice (Wonderland and/or Looking Glass) at least in part because I've never read them and it gives me a good excuse to do so.

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  • HachfaceHachface Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    Proof is a good (Pulitzer-winning) play about a mathematician, but I don't think it contains a ton of actual math.

  • HachfaceHachface Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    The curious incident about the dog in the nighttime had some math in it i believe.. (story about a kid with asperger's). Seems colourful enough for HS students. Don't know about the level though.

    This is a good suggestion. The book contains a pretty good explanation of the Monty Haul problem, at the very least.

  • TastyfishTastyfish Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    GoodOmens wrote: »
    I just reread my last comment and realized it probably sounded more assholish than I intended. Sorry about that. I appreciate everyone's input.

    I'm really leaning toward Alice (Wonderland and/or Looking Glass) at least in part because I've never read them and it gives me a good excuse to do so.

    No problem, I can certainly see how it leans more towards Maths than literature. Didn't think Cryptonomicon was that long though? Same sort of paperback size as the Curious Incident etc.

    What sort of angle are you thinking for your course? A book that involves maths, or more how maths is portrayed etc?

  • illigillig Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    I'm reading " how to live safely in a science functional universe" right now and it has a decent amount of math.

  • P10P10 Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    Gödel, Escher, Bach is fantastic. So fantastic.

    In my BC Calc class we read it after the AP exam, I think pretty much everyone thought it was great.

  • Acebgd12Acebgd12 Registered User
    edited October 2010
    Gödel, Escher, Bach is fantastic. So fantastic.

    In my BC Calc class we read it after the AP exam, I think pretty much everyone thought it was great.

    This is definitely one of the best books I've ever read (okay, tried to read. It is really intricate and complex). It intertwines a lot of interesting topics with mathematics and computation.

  • ducknerdducknerd Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    I definitely second GEB. Many of its ideas bleed into literary theory and semiotics, though its perspective is almost always mathematical. It's also a very fun read, and best appreciated when your brain is running on all cylinders as your post-test students' brains presumably will be.

  • TDawgTDawg Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    More on the easy/casual rather than challenging side, but An Abundance of Katherines (John Green) is a fun "young-adult" novel. As part of the central plot-line, the main character tries to make a formula that would, with the input of appropriate variables dependent on the target persons, accurately describe the outcome of a relationship.

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  • GoodOmensGoodOmens Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    I'd love to do GEB, but first I'd have to read and understand it, and I'm not sure I have the time to delve into it enough to develop a meaningful unit of study. Worth a shot, for sure. I'll hit up the bookstore and grab it and Alice today and see what I can do.

    Thanks for the input, everyone!

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  • SarksusSarksus Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    I read GEB when I was younger and had a real difficult time understanding it. I wanted to try it again after reading this thread so I searched around:

    http://ocw.mit.edu/high-school/courses/godel-escher-bach/syllabus/

    MIT has an opencourseware on parts of the book that might make it easier to digest. I think you can actually use the materials in your class, too, if I am understanding the FAQ correctly.

  • Raiden333Raiden333 Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    Stephenson's Anathem is the first thing that popped into my mind when I read the thread title.

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  • Forbe!Forbe! Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
  • Dyrwen66Dyrwen66 Registered User regular
    edited October 2010
    The Conversions by Harry Matthews comes from the Oulipo school of literature, which you might want to look into, a lot of math/structure based writing that essentially can come off as just fiction, but if you read it with math in mind you see all the little patterns and styles chosen behind the text. The heaviest math/structure book I'd imagine is Only Revolutions by Danielewski, which is 360 pages, two separate stories written on opposite sides of the page that works in a cycle every 8 pages. It's more of a "hey, look at this book and why it does this" than "Hey, read this, understand it, and tell me about it" which is a good thing for classes definitely. Having something to see on the extreme like that can really elucidate the potential immersion math can take in writing.

    The recommendations for Cryptonomicon are probably better than Anathem, since the former actually discusses statistics, programming, and logic theory pretty heavily, whereas Anathem tends towards more Philosophical logic than mathematic.

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