I have been asked on numerous occasions for suggestions about Socratic Seminar texts for math classes. The difficulty, of course, is that math problems often have a specific "right" answer, so trying to have a discussion can be extremely limiting. Many math teachers have students discuss how they arrived at their answers, but this is not at all the same as having a genuine conversation about deep mathematical concepts.
Here then is a short list of recommended texts that I think could be used for Socratic Seminars in math class. They are all very different, so they would have to be used in various ways. Chapters from The Man Who Counted, for example, could likely be used as is, whereas students would likely have to generate a lot of their own questions to use The Book of Numbered Lists.
Barrow, John D.
100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know: Math Explains Your World
When are we ever going to use this? Ah, the perennial math question. Here is a nice collection of interesting access points for appreciating mathematics in the real world. This is a great book of quick snippets for math teachers to read aloud in spare moments.
Enzenberger, Hans Magnus. The Number Devil
In a series of dreams, Robert learns about interesting math concepts such as Fibonacci numbers, triangular numbers and much more. This is a good book for young mathematicians age 10 and up, and a great choice for math teachers looking for a read-aloud. As far as Socratic Seminar is concerned, this book could raise some interesting philosophical questions.
Foss, Gwen. The Book of Numbered Lists
What is the nature of the number seven? How does the number seven express itself in the world? By collecting examples we can discover trends and patterns to any number. Here is a cool collection of lists that will help any mathematical adventurer appreciate more about how numbers show up in the world. As far as Socratic Seminar is concerned, this book could help students explore the symbolism in numbers.
The Seven Mysteries of Life
A truly amazing, epic book that explores the interconnectedness of life on planet Earth. The first two sections explore the many forms of life on the planet: various types of locomotion, seeing without eyes, breathing without lungs, 32 different senses, and much more. The last section, which contains the actual seven mysteries, is an ingenious synthesis of what life is all about here on the planet and beyond. As far as Socratic Seminar is concerned, this book has an amazing collection of passages that could challenge any group.
Niederman, Derrick. Number Freak: From 1 to 200 The Hidden Language of Numbers Revealed
This is a fantastic collection of facts and ideas that reveal the “secret language of numbers.” This book is a great start for anyone wanting to collect examples of how numbers appear in popular culture, history, and the natural world.
Schimmel, Annemarie. The Mystery of Numbers
This book explores the mystery and meaning of numbers throughout history. Using examples from Judeo-Christian, Chinese, Indian, Islamic and other traditions, Schimmel reveals various number systems and beliefs about the symbolism in certain numbers.
Schneider, Michael. A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe
A book every math teacher should have in the classroom! This is an amazing geometric exploration of the meaning and symbolism behind the numbers 1 through 10. There are a lot of hands-on activities (mostly using a compass, straightedge and ruler) to interest any math adventurer.
Tahan, Malba. The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures
This is a fascinating combination of storytelling and mathematics. Each chapter presents an interesting mathematical puzzle that is carefully woven into the overall narrative. This is yet another great book to use as a readaloud in a math class.