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Sunday, September 18, 2022

Art of Problem Solving

I was a long time problem solver in the enterprise, with a math background, but was unfamiliar with this book,   Also mentioned in this YouTube presentation:  https://youtu.be/TL7XhfrLF4k Examining further from their publications. 

Art of Problem Solving

"Students haven't been taught that math is discovery," says Richard Rusczyk, founder of Art of Problem Solving. "Math is a creative discipline—you're creating castles in the sky." Rusczyk has a vision for bringing “joyous, beautiful math” — and problem-solving — to classrooms everywhere. Read more at Quanta Magazine: 

By Erica Klarreich  in QuantaMagazine, Contributing Correspondent

When Richard Rusczyk became interested in math competitions as a middle schooler in the early 1980s, the contest problems looked nothing like the ones in his math classes. He couldn’t find any book to guide him — there were only the problems themselves.

In some of the more advanced competitions he participated in as he moved on to high school, he couldn’t solve a single problem. Gradually, though, he figured out how to “kind of connect the dots, and back out what was actually going on,” he said. He learned a lot of math, but also something he considers even more important: the art of problem-solving.

Later, as an undergraduate at Princeton University, he saw classmates struggling in math classes despite having gotten perfect scores in high school. Their earlier classroom experiences had taught them to memorize a grab bag of tricks, he said. “When you get to college, that doesn’t work anymore.”

So Rusczyk and a competition-loving classmate, Sandor Lehoczky, set out to write the book their 13-year-old selves would have devoured. The resulting two-volume series, The Art of Problem Solving, opens by addressing readers: “Unless you have been much more fortunate than we were, this book is unlike anything you have used before.” From the start, the books sold 2,000 copies per year — “enough to cover rent,” Rusczyk said. Word of mouth grew, and over the 30 years since, well over 100,000 math enthusiasts have bought copies.

Today, Rusczyk’s company, Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), offers not just a large array of textbooks but also online and in-person math classes for “ambitious problem solvers” that serve nearly 25,000 students each year. These courses include both contest prep classes and subject-matter courses, but they have a common goal of fostering a problem-solving mentality. The company is currently expanding its elementary school materials, called Beast Academy, into a full curriculum, with the goal of bringing the problem-solving mindset to more than just self-selected math lovers.

This mindset “should be baked into the curriculum,” Rusczyk said. “It shouldn’t be the thing you do on every third Friday.”

Quanta spoke with Rusczyk about how to turn math learners into problem solvers. (In the interest of full disclosure, our interviewer’s child has taken AoPS classes, and her sister taught AoPS summer camps online in the first year of the pandemic.) The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Your Beast Academy textbooks are comics, and you introduce concepts through story. The characters are talking about their math homework on the school bus, or they’re in woodworking class, or they’re on a field trip. What made you choose that approach?

You can’t lecture a third grader. You need to have a back-and-forth. The comic book structure we use has little kid monsters in conversation with each other, parents, teachers, the different characters in the universe. ... '

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