# Masters of Math

Masters of Math

Excerpt:

Mathematics All Around Us

Mathematics is a powerful tool that allows us to measure the world around us. From simple systems of counting, early mathematicians developed techniques such as arithmetic, algebra, and geometry to create calendars, keep trade records, or calculate taxes. Today, mathematicians use complex systems to dig into the deepest mysteries of the universe.

Counting bases we usually count in a number system known as base 10, or the decimal system, with one digit for each of our fingers and thumbs.

Sometimes we count in bases other than base 10. For example, to count time, we use base 60. Called the sexagesimal system it divides an hour into 60 minutes and a minute into 60 seconds. This system was used by the ancient Babylonians, 4000 years ago. Base 60 is useful because 60 is the smallest number that can be divided by 2,3,4,5, and 6 (as well as 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30). This makes it easy to divide an hour into equal parts.

STEM has become a buzz acronym for the importance of studying in those areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) throughout school. This series seems to want to capitalize on this to try to entice readers into these studies using the historical and biographical background and the scientific benefits of the topics. Rob Colson has combined all of these on almost every page of every book in the series in an interesting and compelling way. The tone of each book is different in a manner that emphasizes the topic in a completely appropriate way. Although the point is not to teach the subject, each book tries to present the topic in an appealing fashion so that readers can see that there are benefits to pursuing the subjects that will lead to an interesting career in a science field of some kind.

Each book is laid out in two-page spreads with each on a different colour background. The information is presented in small pieces with many illustrations, some photographs and other types to show historical figures, demonstrate a scientific principle or add to the allure of the subject. There is enough similarity to make the books easy to read and enough variation to keep them interesting. Even the covers are designed to draw readers into the books. The titles are all alliterative, the front covers are in bright colours with illustrations of two or more typical scientific topics, and the back cover includes three of the people who are included in the text. There is, by necessity, some overlap in the topics between and among the books, a benefit as the repetition reinforces the material.

As you would expect to find in a nonfiction book, there is a glossary and an index. In addition, there are several suggested problems throughout the text with answers at the back. Although there are no specific references, the information included can certainly lead readers to search for further details from other sources on any topic that interests them.

*Masters of Math* takes readers to the M of STEM, the often-dreaded mathematics. The author has done a good job of presenting some of the most interesting parts of the topic. There is a lovely demonstration of approximating the value of pi (3.141592…) with another as a project where you deconstruct a circle into an almost rectangle. Another page is about fractals, always beautiful and interesting and also pictured on the front cover. The author has made a heroic effort and found interesting and pictorial examples of mathematics. In the introduction, he has even included mathematician Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. Other topics include the right triangle, the Fibonacci sequence, and calculating machines.

Math is probably the single most important subject to study if you want to go into almost any area of science or technology; however, it can be quite difficult to explain this need to students of any age and to many adults as well. Math gives you a way to think about problems and the tools necessary to achieve results. Although *Masters of Math* is a wonderful book, it does not make a connection between the math and the uses of the subject. That may not be the intention; perhaps the goal is to encourage going into pure mathematics. Math is beautiful, if misunderstood.

The “STEM-gineers” series can certainly be used to define and expand on the meaning of STEM. All of the books could aid in introducing students to some of the ideas that might attract them to continue to study the important topics in school. Perhaps the best part of the approach taken by Rob Colson is that all the biographical information may tend to indicate that the reader can actually make a difference in the fields of STEM. At this age, children do not need to know what they want to do when they grow up, but continuing with these subjects at least keeps their options open. That is why there is such an emphasis on STEM and why these books would be an important addition to a classroom or school library. Once the subject is broached in school, children need more information.

Living in Toronto, Ontario, Willow Moonbeam is a librarian, former engineer and lover of mathematics and science of all kinds. She even does logic puzzles for fun.