Al Cuoco and Joe Rotman

Learning Modern Algebra

Mathematical Association of America 2013

New Books in MathematicsNew Books in Science & Technology June 20, 2014 Sol Lederman

The MAA (Mathematical Association of America) sent me a review copy of their new book Learning Modern...

[Re-published with permission from Inspired by Math] The MAA (Mathematical Association of America) sent me a review copy of their new book Learning Modern Algebra: From Early Attempts to Prove Fermat’s Last Theorem. I don’t typically review textbooks but the title and then the contents of the book convinced me that I needed to interview the authors. Joe Rotman wasn’t available but I was able to chat with the other co-author, Al Cuoco. I was really struck with Al’s passion about teaching the teachers as well as the students. Al shared some great insights about the ingredients that I think should go into every math textbook to help teachers and students to develop the right habits of mind to succeed. Here are some of the questions we discussed.

1. What is your background and your experience teaching high school math to students and to teachers?
2. I attended the Ross program and you have a key role in a program that has its roots in the Ross program. Tell me about this program and your involvement with it.
3. There’s something special about number theory and algebra that makes it accessible to bright students without a deep background in math. What do you think of that thought?
4. What is “Learning Modern Algebra” about and who is the audience?
5. How does Fermat’s Last Theorem unite the book’s chapters?
6. What are the challenges with how Modern Algebra is taught?
7. Why is exploration so important and how do you promote it?
8. Rigorous thinking about open-ended problems runs through the book. PODASIP (prove or disprove and salvage if possible) problems contribute to this. Can you speak to that?
9. Why is historical setting important in learning math and how do you weave history into the book?
10. Tell us about the importance of the “Connections” sections in the book.
11. Is there a next book or project?
12. The question I ask everyone: “What advice would you give to a parent whose child was struggling with math?”

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