Category Archives: books

#read2016: Part 3

As I’ve mentioned, I love books. Real books, with paper and ink. None of those fancy ebooks. I spend enough time each day staring into screens. Plus, I like to read in the bath and the idea of accidentally dropping a $1000 device doesn’t appeal. (I’ve only ever once dropped a book in the bath. It was a library book. Go figure.)

The busier I get, the less I seem to read for pleasure. To redress this, my plan is to read 50 books in 2016. Fiction, mathematics, Australian politics, biographies, non-fiction, anything. Some books are short novellas which you might think of as ‘cheating’. Whatever. Despite the fact that I am counting, the number doesn’t count. It’s just a target to get me to read more.

I am tweeting 140 character reviews with #read2016, but I’ll also post the books here in three parts, one every four months. The maths ones (*) might be the subject of separate posts.

There were 19 books in Part 1 (January – April), 16 books in Part 2 (May – August) and 18 books in Part 3 (September – December). That makes 53 books in 2016.

  1. Black Rock White City, A.S. Patric. It took me ~50 pages to warm to the story, but then it was unputdownable. A decidedly worthy winner of 2016 Miles Franklin Award.
    #read2016: A couple almost unknowingly clinging to each other through deep wordless grief, and yet a hopeful book.
  2. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. Wonderful writing. Skilled in capturing moments and innermost thoughts in few words. As a promising relationship between a famous author and a waitress begins: ‘He patted the top of her hand, which she had left close by on the bar in case he needed it.’ A glimpse of a left-behind, overworked mother of four young children: ‘The speed at which their mother ran from work to school to the grocery store to home had doubled. She was always arriving, always leaving, never there.’ 
    #read2016: Vignettes spanning 50 years woven together to tell the story of complex blended family relationships.
  3. Postcards from Surfers, Helen Garner. Eleven short stories in true Garner style.
    #read2016: Stories that never use more words than they need. Expertly constructed.
  4. Dying: A Memoir, Cory Taylor. I first learned of Cory Taylor on the fabulous ABC ‘Terminally Ill’ program of the ‘You Can’t Ask That‘ series. Cory was frank — the same as in her memoir.
    #read2016: Clear-eyed. Unsentimental. A deeply reflective view of dying and of life. Moving.
  5. Notes on An Exodus, Richard Flanagan. Richard Flanagan won the Man Booker Prize for his remarkable ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’. His ‘notes’, along with sketches by Ben Quilty (Archibald Prize winner), paint powerful portraits of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Greece and Serbia.
    #read2016 (1): Devastatingly moving portraits of Syrian refugees from two of Australia’s most acclaimed in their crafts.
    #read2016 (2): A slim volume but not at all light. Honours their dignity + courage. ‘Refugees are not like you and me. They are you and me.’
  6. The Good, the Bad and the Unlikely: Australia’s Prime Ministers, Mungo MacCallum. More than 29 biographies, this also brings together the story of Australian politics.
    #read2016 (1): A lively and humanising view of each of Australia’s 29 PMs. Witty + concise writing that had me laughing (or snorting!) out loud.
    #read2016 (2): I learned many things, but am still struck by the news that we had a PM with the middle name of ‘Christmas’.
  7. The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull, the Incredible Shrinking Man in the Top Hat, Andrew Street. I preferred the first book, ‘The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott’, but only because Abbott was so laughably hopeless. The sequel certainly reveals some of the ineptitude of Turnbull.
    #read2016: Grab the popcorn and dig into the spectacle. (If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.) Street dishes out snark in spades.
  8. Salt Creek, Lucy Treloar. An interesting blend of fact and fiction.
    #read2016 (1): Set on the South Australian Coorong in the 1850s as white settlers first encroach on the lands of the Ngarrindjeri people.
    #read2016 (2): A beautifully-told, heartbreaking shameful story that matches historical truths. Starts painfully slow; gripping past pg 90.
  9. The Long Green Shore, John Hepworth.
    #read2016: Published 50yrs after writing of Australians in PNG during WWII. Banality alongside barbarity. Matter-of-fact yet almost poetic.
  10. The Hate Race, Maxine Beneba Clarke. An Australian of Afro-Caribbean descent, Maxine Beneba Clarke tells what it is like to grow up as a person of colour in Australia.
    #read2016: Packs a powerful punch, right to the stomach. A difficult, but important read. Particularly now.
  11. * Which One Doesn’t Belong? Teacher’s Guide, Christopher Danielson. The premise of ‘Which One Doesn’t Belong?’ is to consider four shapes, and ask the question. In the children’s picture book and its companion teacher’s guide, Danielson focuses on geometry and uses WODB to draw out rich mathematical ideas. The teacher’s guide provides convincing rationale and practical advice. There are plenty more WODB out there; try www.wodb.ca and the hashtag #wodb.
    #read2016: A delightful way to discuss + explore maths. The writing is crisp, purposeful, insightful + welcoming. A must-have for tchrs.
  12. Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia, David Hunt. Australian history like it should have been taught at school. The ABC Radio podcast Rum, Rebels & Ratbags with Dom Knight is also worth a listen.
    #read2016: Peppered with witticisms and dripping in places with sarcasm, this is a lively telling of Australian history like no other.
  13. * Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms, Tracy Johnston Zager. I have been madly awaiting this book for at least a year. It was so good I read it cover-to-cover almost as quickly as I could. It’s a beautiful, important book. Truly something special for all maths teachers. My full review is in this blog post.
  14. * Avoid Hard Work!, Maria Droujkova, James Tanton, Yelena McManaman. There is a lot to like about this book, but ultimately I found it too light. I also have problems with the title.
    #read2016: A gentle approach to encourage mathematical problem solving with very young children.
  15. All That I Am, Anna Funder.
    #read2016: A fictionalised biography of political activism against the Nazis in WWII. Crushing. Beautifully written. A page turner.
  16. Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf. The first book by Haruf that I’ve read. I’ll definitely be looking for more. From the back blurb: ‘Addie Moore and Louis Waters have been neighbours for years. Now they both live alone, their houses empty of family, their quiet nights solitary. Then one evening Addie pays Louis a visit.’
    #read2016: A tender, quiet and impossibly beautiful tale of growing old together with grace.
  17. Victoria: The QueenJulia Baird. Loved the narrative-style approach, particularly once I realised it was built around impeccable research.
    #read2016: A hefty portrait of a formidable + intriguing queen. Flowing, engaging, well researched. Fascinating details of V as a woman.
  18. Monkey Grip, Helen Garner. Her acclaimed first novel. Reads like diary entries, with Garner’s perceptive view.
    #read2016: Explores addiction, to hard drugs + to love. Written in the 70s; curious to see where Garner started. Still wondering if I liked.



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Tracy Zager’s new book

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Tracy Zager’s new book ‘Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had‘ is out, and it’s a treat. The central tenet of this important book is to ‘close the gap’ by making maths class more like mathematics, orienting our students towards the habits of mind of professional mathematicians. ‘Good teaching starts with us’ and Tracy companionably guides us through ten practices of mathematicians: taking risks, making mistakes, being precise, rising to a challenge, asking questions, connecting ideas, using intuition, reasoning, proving, working together and alone.

Tracy skillfully blends academic research, illuminating classroom dialogues, the thoughts of mathematicians and maths educators, and her own perceptive observations. This seamless mix is a real strength of the book; we not only see what habits are important and why, but how they can be enacted through specific teaching strategies, and the powerful effects they have on our students’ development as confident and capable mathematicians. The reader can’t help but be inspired by the teachers that Tracy holds up as exemplars of good practice. These teachers have so much respect for each of their students as serious mathematical thinkers. I was struck by the extent to which they would go to adapt instruction in response to student ideas and to support them in pursuing their own line of enquiry.

Tracy warns early on that the book is long—and it may be—but it is also captivating! The organisation is immensely practical; each chapter can be used as a self-contained guide for a particular mathematical habit. I can see myself repeatedly delving back into specific habits as the teaching year progresses. I read it cover-to-cover over a couple of days while curled up in a secluded cabin, pausing occasionally to stare out into the Australian bush and ponder what I can change in my own teaching. Some of my highlighted passages:

  • From Chapter 3, Mathematicians Take Risks: ‘When we assign problems that have a single, closed path from start to finish, we’ve eliminated the possibility that students will take mathematical risks. There’s nothing to try if everything is prescribed.(pg 49)In my skills-based courses, I too infrequently give students opportunities to try and be successful with their own approaches. That’s something to work on.
  • From Chapter 4, Mathematicians Make Mistakes: ‘If we want students to learn from mistakes, we need to teach them how.’ (pg 57).  Tracy outlines a three-part goal: to teach students to take mistakes in their stride, to keep going when they’ve made a mistake, and the one I need to focus on: to teach students to make the most of the knowledge and experience they gained by figuring out their mistake‘. How can I help students gain the skills to diagnose and learn from their mistakes, by themselves?
  • From Chapter 5, Mathematicians Are Precise: ‘Math without inquiry is lifeless, but math without rigor is aimless. There is no tension between teaching students how to solve problems accurately and efficiently and teaching students how to formulate conjectures, critique reasoning, develop mathematical arguments, use multiple representations, think flexibly, and focus on conceptual understanding.’ (pg 80). In my problem-solving course, I deliberately swung the pendulum from the typical procedure-based courses my students had mostly experienced towards creative, collaborative problem-solving. But I also need to find the middleground, where I place as much emphasis on rigour as I do on inquiry.
  • From Chapter 12, Mathematicians Work Together and Alone: ‘If a major part of doing mathematics involves interacting with other mathematicians, then a major part of teaching students mathematics must be to teach students how, why, and whether to interact with one another mathematically. Students need to learn how to ask for what they need from each other and to be what they need for each other … we need to teach students how to be good colleagues  it’s important we honor individual thinking and working time. It’s not reasonable to expect students to collaborate at every moment, and that’s not how mathematicians work.’ (pg 312). This past semester, a few students in my problem-solving course commented that they needed more opportunities to work alone first, and more strategies to work effectively with group members. I’ll definitely be digging further into this chapter next year.

And, these phrases are going straight into my repertoire:

  • ‘Do you have more questions after doing this? What are you wondering about now? (pg 149).
  • ‘What does ______ have to do with _____?’ (Debbie Nicols, pg 191).
  • ‘Remember that it’s hard to find mistakes when you assume that you’re right. So go back into it assuming something went wrong.’ (Jennifer Clerkin Muhammad, pg 284).
  • ‘Would you recommend that strategy to someone you like?’ (pg 118). 😂

There is so much to love about this book. The writing is both encouraging and empowering. It’s labelled K-8 but Tracy offers important insights to help teachers across all year levels; I have been nodding furiously and making notes throughout. This particular passage had me shouting ‘yes!’:

‘We need to give ourselves permission to say, publicly, and with delight, “I never thought about it that way before!” whether it refers to addition, fractions, or place value. It is long past time for us to respect the beauty, power, and importance of elementary mathematics, instead of having contempt for “the basics.”’ (pg 208)

Listening carefully to student thinking, especially about ideas I thought I understood, always gives me new insight. It’s why I’ll never tire of teaching.

I can confidently say that, alongside ‘Thinking Mathematically‘ (Mason, Burton and Stacey, 1982; 2010), Tracy’s book will become a cornerstone for my teaching. It is a gift to all maths teachers. But don’t just take my word for it; you can preview the book in its entirety here. The companion website promises more, and I can’t wait to look around!

Update (22 December 2016): The companion website is now live, and it is packed full of goodies. Be sure to check out the free study guide under ‘Getting Started’, which works for either an individual or group book study.

#read2016: Part 2

As I’ve mentioned, I love books. Real books, with paper and ink. None of those fancy ebooks. I spend enough time each day staring into screens. Plus, I like to read in the bath and the idea of accidentally dropping a $1000 device doesn’t appeal. (I’ve only ever once dropped a book in the bath. It was a library book. Go figure.)

The busier I get, the less I seem to read for pleasure. To redress this, my plan is to read 50 books in 2016. Fiction, mathematics, Australian politics, biographies, non-fiction, anything. Some books are short novellas which you might think of as ‘cheating’. Whatever. Despite the fact that I am counting, the number doesn’t count. It’s just a target to get me to read more.

I am tweeting 140 character reviews with #read2016, but I’ll also post the books here in three parts, one every four months. The maths ones (*) might be the subject of separate posts.

There were 19 books in Part 1 (January – April). Here is Part 2 (May – August) with 16 books.

  1. After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, Evie Wyld. I raved (see Part 1) about her award-winning second book. This is a mind-blowingly good first novel. Can’t wait to see what’s next for Wyld.
    #read2016: Incredibly moving in a matter-of-fact kind of way. Sadness seeps from every character.
  2. Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull, Annabel Crabb. This is an update to her 2009 Quarterly Essay, which I finally read in December 2015. I enjoyed re-reading the previous material and looking out for the additions.
    #read2016: A snappy update to her 2009 Quarterly Essay. Witty and incisive, as always.
  3. Teacher Man, Frank McCourt. From the bestselling author of Angela’s Ashes, which I read many years ago. Because Fawn Nguyen often mentions that Teacher Man is one of her favourite books, I’ve been looking out for it. I found three copies in a small secondhand book stall in the Penguin markets. (I resisted the urge to buy all three.) A fabulous read.
    #read2016: The honest account of teaching. Master teller of stories. Words of wisdom on every page.
  4.  The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k, Sarah Knight. A parody of Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (number 29 on this list). This was laugh-out-loud on every other page. I loved it. Great food for thought.
    #read2016: After the day I had I read it in one sitting … while not giving a fuck about a whole lot of other things.
  5. Weekend Language: Presenting with More Stories and Less PowerPoint, Andy Craig and Dave Yewman. There had been a lot of buzz about this book in the MTBoS, so I wanted to check it out. I liked it (see below) but for a deeper read I suggest two important books on the same theme: Made To Stick and Presentation Zen.
    #read2016 (1): Snappy summary of elements of good presentations. Particularly liked chapter on mechanics of delivery.
    #read2016 (2): Mechanics of delivery (my clumsy phrase): vocals, pausing, pacing, gestures and the like. Important to get right.
  6. Faction Man: Bill Shorten’s Pursuit of Power, David Marr. In the lead-up to the Australian election (and wasn’t that a debacle!), Black Inc republished updated Quarterly Essay profiles by Annabel Crabb (see Item 21) and David Marr of the leaders of the two main Australian political parties. Some insight by Marr, but I felt it missed the mark.
    #read2016: Adds detail to the sharp rise of the prime ministerial contender, but a rather disjointed piece of work.
  7. The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, Deborah Rodriguez. An impulse purchase at Cairns airport (with some encouragement from a companion) because I’d accidentally checked in my books and headphones. In places it was poorly written chick-lit, but the story stayed with me for many days — enough to buy the sequel.
    #read2016: Fascinating, fictional account of Afghan culture. A little corny in places but surprisingly moving.
  8. The Natural Way of Things, Charlotte Wood. I can see why this book has an ever-growing list of awards, including the 2016 Stella Prize. An imaginatively dark setting for an unlikely but captivating story.
    #read2016: An engrossing dystopian tale of punishment and liberation. Almost unlike anything I’ve ever read.
  9. Everywhere I Look, Helen Garner. This is a collection of Garner’s short stories, opinion pieces, diary extracts, essays and more. All but three have been published elsewhere, but the only one I’d previously read is still one of my favourites: The Insults of Age.
    #read2016: Gulped when I should have savoured. Master of acute observation.
  10. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo. I like to think that I’m an organised person who tries not to collect ‘stuff’, but I still like to read books on organising principles. After this I was inspired to get rid of half of my clothes. I can’t do the same with my books though!
    #read2016: Slightly kooky but ultimately worth contemplating. Do your possessions spark joy?
  11. The Spare Room, Helen Garner. After Everywhere I Look (Item 28), I had to read more of Garner’s work. Loved this book.
    #read2016: An unflinching view of the complicated care of a dying friend. Deeply touching. Beautifully crafted.
  12. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides. I’ve not seen the movie, and I didn’t know the premise of the novel, but I’d been curious about it for a while. Dragged on, with the occasional great moment.
    #read2016: Melancholic. Almost ethereal. Lyrical prose. Some intriguing moments but I never really connected.
  13. Thinking Mathematically (2nd edition), John Mason, Leone Burton, Kaye Stacey. This book changed the way I thought about mathematical thinking, so much so that I designed and developed a university course for pre-service maths teachers around it.
    #read2016: Readying myself for another semester with 52 pre-service teachers by re-reading this foundational book.
  14. Cosmo Cosmolino, Helen Garner. Based on what I’d read about this book I was expecting something a little different to her other works. I was not disappointed, but it was certainly unusual.
    #read2016: Oddly engrossing with themes of new age, commune living and emerging from the shells of damaged lives.
  15. More Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Secondary Mathematics Instruction, Marian Small, Amy Lin. Such an invigorating read.
    #read2016: Immensely practical + deeply stimulating. With examples of open tasks to use, adapt or be inspired by.
  16. High SobrietyJill Stark. ‘I’m the binge-drinking health reporter. During the week, I write about Australia’s booze-soaked culture. At the weekends, I write myself off.’ Jill makes an unsparing assessment of her relationship with alcohol — it’s worth doing the same.
    #read2016: A frank look at Australia’s obsession with alcohol, along with a self-deprecating narration.

#read2016: Part 1

As I’ve mentioned, I love books. Real books, with paper and ink. None of those fancy ebooks. I spend enough time each day staring into screens. Plus, I like to read in the bath and the idea of accidentally dropping a $1000 device doesn’t appeal. (I’ve only ever once dropped a book in the bath. It was a library book. Go figure.)

The busier I get, the less I seem to read for pleasure. To redress this, my plan is to read 50 books in 2016. Fiction, mathematics, Australian politics, biographies, non-fiction, anything. Some books are short novellas which you might think of as ‘cheating’. Whatever. Despite the fact that I am counting, the number doesn’t count. It’s just a target to get me to read more.

I am tweeting 140 character reviews with #read2016, but I’ll also post the books here in three parts, one every four months. The maths ones (*) might be the subject of separate posts.

  1. Born to Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Paddy Manning. Australian politics has lost its way with five prime ministers in five years, including the worst PM in my lifetime1. Turnbull is the one currently having a crack. He is a well-educated multi-millionaire leading the centre-right Liberal Party2, and has the distinction of once being the preferred prime minister of voters of the centre-left Labor Party.
    #read2016: Fascinating view of the man who was apparently always going to become PM. Few ominous f’ups along the way.
  2. The Eye of the Sheep, Sofie Laguna. Winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Award (an Australian literary award). Shines a light on the complex effects of domestic violence.
    #read2016: Deeply moving story through uncomfortable subject matter. Heartbreaking + beautiful. Well-deserved winner.
  3. Second Half First, Drusilla Modjeska. A memoir from an Australian contemporary writer.
    #read2016: Intimate. Raw. Like catching glimpses of a private journal.
  4. The Family LawBenjamin Law. The family memoir that precipitated the 2016 TV series. Probably the first sit-com centred on a gay Chinese-Australian teen and his riotous family.
    #read2016: Hilarious and unflinchingly honest.
  5. Intentional TalkElham Kazemi and Allison Hintz.
    #read2016: Powerful, deliberative discussion frameworks suitable at any level of maths teaching. (1/2) Think primary teaching is ‘easy’? Read the vignettes and note how hard the teacher works to support student learning. (2/2)
  6. Gratitude, Oliver Sacks.
    #read2016: A comforting view of contently approaching old age and the end of one’s life.
  7. Australia’s Second Chance, George Megalogenis. One of Australia’s finest journalists and political commentators.
    #read2016: A well-explained narrative of the development of the Australian population—both successful and shameful.
  8. Flesh Wounds, Richard Glover. Australian radio talk show host and journalist with a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of his Australian childhood.
    #read2016: Balances levity and dark, raw moments. Funny. Sad. Beautiful reflection of being shaped by childhood.
  9. Big Blue Sky, Peter Garrett. Lead singer of Midnight Oil who made a high-profile move into Australian politics in 2004. Left in 2013 after the second Gillard-Rudd leadership spill.
    #read2016: Shared aloud with an avid Oils fan. Interesting account of music, activism+politics but needs 100pgs cut.
  10. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. Shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize.
    #read2016: Captivating reveal early that makes for an engrossing read. Draws on fact for witty, well-written fiction.
  11. Not that Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham. Glad I didn’t pay for this. (Thanks, Qantas, for your $100 voucher to use in 10 minutes for screwing up our seats!)
    #read2016: Snooze. Self-involved. Completely shallow or deeply ironic — unsure which but suspect former.
  12. All the Birds, Singing, Evie Wyld. Winner of the 2014 Miles Franklin Award.
    #read2016: Spare. Unsettling. Moves backward to both the original sin and redemption. Masterful writing.
  13. One Life: My Mother’s Story, Kate Grenville. The Australian author pulls together the fragments of her mother’s memoir into an extraordinarily touching tribute.
    #read2016: A moving view into an ‘ordinary’ life that was anything but. One of countless stories that ought be told.
  14. The Road to Ruin, Niki Savva. Journalist and former Liberal party staffer reveals the ‘weirder-than-weird’ (in the words of Laurie Oakes) dependency between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, which brought down the Abbott Government.
    #read2016: Simultaneously hilarious + horrifying. Does not hold back. But needs polish, structure + fewer typos.
  15. On Doubt, Leigh Sales. A short essay (packaged as a book!) by the leading Australian journalist and host of ABC’s flagship news and current affairs program, 7:30.
    #read2016: On the virtues of questioning + thinking twice, and the drawbacks of lack of certainty + strong passion.
  16. Mothering Sunday, Graham Swift.
    #read2016: The quiet, gentle description of a single day precipitating self-discovery + emancipation. Sweet novella.
  17. A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra), Barbara Oakley.
    #read2016: Frustratingly narrow view of maths. Some insight into neuroscience+learning but abandoned with 100pp left.
  18. * The Classroom Chef, John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey.
    #read2016: The analogy works. Raw. Real. Honest. Funny. Practical. Inspiring. I ate it up.
  19. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson. I’ve read this before but decided to read aloud to K. I will read anything Bill Bryson writes. His book ‘A Walk in the Woods’ is the funniest and yet informative book I’ve ever read.
    #read2016: Often can’t read aloud as already laughing hard. Enjoyed the re-read. Bryson has an unmatched wit.

[1] I’m not going to tell you which one it was, but no sane person eats a raw onion like an apple, right?
[2] Yep — our ‘liberal’ party is the party of the conservative elite. Go figure.