Thursday, April 24, 2008

Really bad book of the week: Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares

So, I tutor an adorable girl from Bangladesh. Every Thursday I walk over to her school to listen to her read whatever book she happens to have at her desk. Today, the book was Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares. Now, last week we spent half of our session wrestling with the library system at her school, trying to find a book that she would enjoy reading. I’d found that most of the books she’d been reading were too difficult for her and were about things she didn’t know about or care about. She reads enough of that kind of stuff in class every day, so I thought for our tutoring sessions it would be good for her to read something she was actually interested in and understood. We found a book about a girl whose father was from India. We started to read it last week. Anyway, when she came out of her classroom today she had the book we’d found last week, but she also had the book about Ben Franklin. She said her language arts teacher told her to read it. Anyway, the first half of the book is about Ben Franklin’s inventions, and that part was fine. Kind of boring, but fine. But the second half was about Franklin’s inventions of “magic squares.” You see, he found that if drew nine squares in a box (like a tic-tac-toe board), and put the numerals one through nine in a certain order (although they never explained how he discovered the order), then each row, column, and diagonal would equal 15. Amazing. But they never explained what was magical about this fact, what it meant about math, or why anybody should care.
I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t understand math.

Let me know in the comments: Can you explain what magic squares are? Do you have any suggestions for books that girls learning English as a second (or third) language might enjoy and relate to?

No comments: