A College Mathematics Text For Everyone
About Mathematics, by State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus Gerry Rising, together with three colleagues, is a new textbook that serves in particular students who have an aversion to math. The text aims to give students who wouldn’t otherwise seek out the subject the background they need to build life skills and make better financial decisions while offering them an opportunity to enjoy math in a new way. About Mathematics is written for college humanities students, but it is also an excellent fit for secondary school students.
Gerry Rising, a prolific author and celebrated professor is perhaps best known for his work with talented secondary school students. Rising founded the University at Buffalo’s Gifted Math Program and, although he has retired from the University, he has continued his involvement with the program.
Professor Rising was also involved in the development of IMACS’ curriculum from our earliest years. He contributed to the original IMACS Elements of Mathematics textbook series that evolved into our online EMF Math curriculum. Professor Rising has been a long-time valued IMACS advisor and advocate, reviewing new content, assisting in course development, and helping us shape the acclaimed math enrichment program that IMACS offers now.
Teaching math directly to students who claim to be generally uninterested in the subject, About Mathematics admirably acknowledges the difference between needing core math skills for STEM fields and needing applied math skills for life. Much of secondary school and university math curriculums are designed so that STEM-focused students have the prerequisites to enter the workforce. Yet, applied math is essential for everyone, regardless of the career they pursue. Without applied math, how do you know if you’re getting a suitable mortgage? How will you plan a home improvement project and buy the right amount of lumber or patio tiles? How will you be able to save and invest your money?
Critical life skills do not require math talent but require a thoughtfully envisioned and enjoyable applied math education. That’s where About Mathematics comes in, teaching students who aren’t deeply interested in math the fundamentals they need to be comfortable in the adult world, without wasting time that they could use to pursue the subjects that genuinely interest them.
About Mathematics range is impressive. The book artfully covers algebra, geometry, fractals, Euclid, calculus, and more. Further, the text allows students to apply these concepts in contexts ranging from personal finance to codebreaking, from gambling to mathematical modeling.
A unique feature of About Mathematics is its use of over a hundred online panels that students can call up using a QR Reader on their phone. A QR code is essentially a barcode that, when scanned with a camera, whisks the viewer away to a webpage with rich content. Students can use their computer, phone, or tablet as a companion to the text, with online activities including amortizing loans, coding and decoding messages, approximating pi, finding the area of spherical triangles, and even simulating playing the lottery. The text also features an extensive instructor commentary section offering teachers various strategies for integrating the lessons into their classroom.
Above all else, About Mathematics aims to make students feel comfortable and confident in applying mathematical concepts to everyday tasks. As Rising points out in the preface, some students often see math as a daunting subject; Rising speaks directly to these students, promising to deliver essential mathematical ideas they will find applicable in day-to-day life. By making math relevant, Rising’s new book is a gift. With his fresh approach, students who have previously shunned math get a chance to explore the beauty of mathematics and grow to appreciate its profound importance.
While so many math textbooks are processional, employing grinding tactics to enforce mastery, Rising brings a playful optimism to his teaching in this beautiful book. He says, “…one thing that my long association with the subject gives me, is a certainty that mathematics can be enjoyable.” This sense of wonder and joy animates every page. Throughout the book, Professor Rising teaches problem-solving methods that are unexpected yet also elegant. Perhaps the most significant benefit of Rising’s approach is that it simultaneously increases the student’s day-to-day math ability while inspiring a deeper, cheerful appreciation of the subject.
Long-time math teachers will also find much to admire here: the philosophical approach of About Mathematics recognizes the usually unacknowledged truth that students retain very little math taught in high school and college. The quadratic formula is a classic example. Professor Rising asks, “Who among us, except those who teach it, can recall that formula a year or more after their last math class? Who, in fact, needs it? Type any quadratic equation, indeed virtually any equation, into your computer and ask for the solution and you will get an answer.” Rising notes that the value of mathematical details (like the quadratic equation) is in the cumulative effect of having a broader mathematical education: “…the details come together to provide a basic logical structure to the world around us. More simply, they make sense in a world that needs that structure now more than ever. So, yes, there are some details in our book, but technique is downplayed in favor of conceptual understanding.”
For Rising, About Mathematics represents “by far his best contribution to mathematics teaching in his seventy-year career in education.” We at IMACS wholeheartedly agree. Rising has distilled core mathematical concepts to relevant and digestible elements, creating a classic resource for those secondary and University students who may have otherwise retreated from math. In doing so, he has created a wonderful moment of possibility: students repelled by math can discover that the elegance of math transcends divisions between STEM and liberal arts and is instead with us, around us, and in everything we do.
Professor Rising has said that IMACS is an “incredible math program that builds the necessary foundation for the highest levels of mathematical mastery.”
If you are curious and would like to understand what makes IMACS special, we invite you to try the IMACS free assessment. An IMACS teacher will work with your child over Zoom, and through a series of fun puzzles and problems, IMACS will determine what skills your young problem-solver already has and what skills he or she still needs to develop. Our free assessment is a great way to learn more about our program and find out why our graduates rave about IMACS.