Books Every Math Teacher Should Read

Photography by Jon Hayes

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this summer, and I’ve come across a few books in the past few months that I think every math educator should read.

I don’t see how it’s doing society any good to have its members walking around with vague memories of algebraic formulas and geometric diagrams, and clear memories of hating them.” ~ Paul Lockhart, p33

The original essay that inspired this book is still available online here, and if you can’t find the time to read all of Paul’s book, I recommend at least reading the essay. Paul talks passionately about some serious problems in mathematics education today, most notably that much of what is taught in schools is not actually mathematics itself, but a caricature of mathematics.

Mathematics Miseducation by Derek Stolp

[M]athematics, as it is taught, does not give children any view of reality, let alone a rational one.” ~ Derek Stolp, p33

Derek argues first that mathematics, as it is taught today, does not warrant inclusion in our curriculum, but then demonstrates some clear ways that mathematics education could be changed to make it viable again. He has the best argument for a constructivist approach to mathematics education I’ve read so far.

The Math Instinct by Keith Devlin

Overall, the shoppers’ performance was rated at an average 98 percent in the supermarket compared to a mere 59 percent average on the test.” ~ Keith Devlin, p187

Keith demonstrates how animals and nature have developed some amazing strategies for using mathematics in highly creative and important ways. He then suggests how this relates to our own ability to do mathematics, and shares some very compelling research on poorly we transfer math skills learned in school to our own lives, but use mathematical strategies nonetheless.

How Children Fail by John Holt

I asked Monica the other day how many thirds were in a whole. She said, ‘It depends on how big the whole is.’ If we could look into the minds of our students, in how many would we find that thought?” ~ John Holt

While this book is not specifically about mathematics education per say, John does have some insights into the difficulties learners experience. He often has useful anecdotes taken from his own teaching of mathematics about the frustrations and problems learners have in this area. John also talks about the disconnection between what kids learn and the world, the problems with reward and punishment systems, homework, and a host of other issues in education talked about in depth by other educators.

Some other books which I have not yet read, but which are on my to read list are:

What books are on your “must read” list for every math educator?

David Wees is a learning specialist for technology and mathematics teacher at Stratford Hall, in Vancouver, BC. He blogs regularly at

8 thoughts on “Books Every Math Teacher Should Read”

  1. I just read “What’s Math Got To Do With It?” by Jo Baoler, and I would actually move it to the top of the list. It’s a must read for math educators, not because it has the most eloquent argument against our current form of mathematics, but because it has some actual solutions that educators can implement right now in their existing practice that will make a difference. Jo also does a fabulous job of avoiding pointing fingers, reflecting on research that has been done, and grounding her observations in improving practice in easy to read anecdotes that everyone can understand. I’d also strongly recommend her book for parents who are concerned about math education as well.

    1. Maryscott Glasgow

      Being a former elementary and middle school math educator, I am pleased to see your inclusion of Holt’s book in his list of “must reads” for those of us in the profession, David. Excellent choice. You will be enlightened when you reads Constance Kamaii Youngs’ book, “Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic.” Her book was required reading when I taught a graduate level math methods course for early childhood teachers. Thanks for the list. There are two on there that I have not read but plan to because of your recommendation. Because of your comment posted, however, I am going to order Baoler’s book today!

  2. I have the Lament essay but not the full book yet.

    I absolutely qgree the the Jo Boaler book is an absolute, top of the list, must read book.

    In the UK it is titled ‘the elephant in the maths classroom’

  3. Grace O'Keeffe

    Absolutely agreed. Also agreed to Jo Boaler’s “What’s Math Got To Do With It?”. We’ve used it in math teacher study groups, with non-math educators, and with parents for Curriculum Nights at our school. Boaler is amazing.

    I’d also add some Seymour Papert (Mindstorms, The Children’s Machine) and Robert P. Moses’ Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project.


  4. Thanks for the post. I often joke with friends how I have managed to avoid math since I was a junior in high school, mostly because I was a snotty teanager that didn’t want to work at it, but I also never had a teacher that tried to push me and help me understand.

    I look forward to giving some of these a read and also sharing with my math teacher friends!

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