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A friend of mine lent me It’s a Numberful World by Eddie Woo a couple of years ago in case I might want to share some of it with my boys in our homeschool.
It’s a modern book with modern appeal, and that makes it a fun and very approachable read. Famed Australian math teacher Eddie Woo pulls from all over math history and modern technology while approaching subjects topically–finding math all around us and applying it to all kinds of situations and phenomena. Woo does a great job of communicating his wonder both at the beauty of mathematical patterns and at the way math works, striking an engaging balance between awe and practicality. Here are a few samples page spreads:
For Eddie Woo, the wonder is inextricably linked to his Christian faith. The book is “Dedicated to the Author of Life” and quotes Galileo on the dedication page: “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” While Woo’s faith comes out in his dedication, the book itself stays very safely within the realm of secular discussions of mathematics.
I really enjoyed the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the wonder at God’s handiwork hadn’t been limited to one page. I’d love to hear more of Woo’s awe of God directly connected with mathematics, as he is quoted in this article:
We talk about the fact that the universe is designed in this way and you can find all of these patterns; do you think that that’s a coincidence? One of the things I love to point out is we call the universe the cosmos which means ordered and structured and designed, as opposed to chaos, and the reason why we can find these mathematical principles is because there was a designer. We didn’t just spring into being. It has immense beauty.
I mean, how can it be that mathematicians and physicians – secular ones – all agree that one of the primary criteria for judging whether something is mathematically true or not is whether the equations are beautiful. Why on earth should the equations of the earth be beautiful? And the answer is we have a beautiful designer who designs things beautifully. So for me it’s a source of marvelling [sic] at the way that God crafted the Universe.
While I would have liked to see more of that godly awe, It’s a Numberful World was a really fun read. I appreciated the invitation to take a multi-disciplinary exploration of mathematics–and to play with it along the way. I haven’t really used it in our homeschool, but that’s partly because we already have so many interesting things (Fibonacci sequence, tessellations, using drawing tools, etc) that we’re exploring in our Right Start Math lessons. Wonder and play with math are already part of what we do. I might keep Woo’s book in mind for when we hit high school math, however. And I’m very interested in exploring his teaching videos on YouTube or …wait for it… WooTube.
Here are the fast facts:
Book Title: It’s a Numberful World: How Math is Hiding Everywhere …from the Crown of a Tree to the Sound of a Sine Wave
Author: Eddie Woo
Published: 2019 in North America
Originally Published as: Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths, 2018 in Australia
Recommended for: High School to Adult
Uses: Supplement to math curriculum, enjoyable math reading.
Consideration: Chapter 25 “Why Aren’t Left-Handers Extinct?” refers to Darwinian evolution, specifically the theory of natural selection, as the author mathematically explores why certain traits persist.