On the back cover, it states that “Brain Maths is a series of two volumes which have been written to help you increase your IQ score and also develop your mental flexibility.” I admit, I’m quite dubious about this book actually making a person smarter, but the problems are genuinely challenging and varied and they require flexibility in mathematical thinking. In the credits, it lists a number of previously published books of puzzles and brainteasers- of the books listed; I am most familiar with several by Martin Gardener. If you are also familiar with Martin Gardener, you have some idea of the flavor of Brain Maths. However, Brain Maths is far easier than anything written by Martin Gardener, as befits a book written for grade school aged children.
As a math tutor, I use this book in several contexts. It is useful for students who are preparing for entrance exams to gifted and talented schools, such as Hunter College High School or The Anderson School. Those exams expect children to be able to solve non-routine math problems using a wide variety of techniques, and the problems in this book promote exactly those skills. For that type of advanced student, this book is relatively easy- they can do the problems quickly, and they make good warm-ups that I then string together with more complex problems of a similar nature.
I also use this book with homeschoolers. No matter how good a math curriculum is, it is almost always flawed because the problems in the curriculum have a particular “flavor”. Students who use a curriculum can get very good at solving the flavor of problems in that curriculum, but still become flummoxed when presented with problems from a different curriculum, and therefore with a different flavor. For that reason, I always use supplemental materials including Brain Maths, books by Edward Zaccaro, Math Olympiad problems, and so on.
For students who are not particularly advanced, many of the problems in Brain Maths are challenging. I often present them as puzzles, and sometimes have appropriate manipulatives ready for the student to use.
I rarely teach math to groups, but if I did, I think that many of the problems in this book would be ideal for elementary school students to work on in small groups. They are complex enough so that they can be fruitfully approached from multiple perspectives, giving opportunities for interesting group discussion.
Although I like this book a lot, there are a few minor caveats to my recommendation. First, the book is from Singapore, so a few conventions may be slightly confusing. For example, they refer to Order of Operations by the acronym BODMAS (instead of the American PEMDAS). I’m still not quite sure what the B and the O stand for. A bigger flaw is that all of the cartoon people are either white or Asian. Finally, I want to make clear that this is not in any way a text book- rather, it is a book of supplemental math problems.
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Article Added on Thursday, October 1, 2009
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