November 30, 2013

Nix the Tricks: The Book

It is the last day of November. My self-imposed deadline for typesetting Nix the Tricks. And I've done it!

In the beginning, there was a calculus teacher complaining about students' lack of a good definition for slope. Then there was a conversation among my department members on tricks we hate seeing kids show up to our classes with. I expanded the conversation to members of my online math community. We brainstormed and debated what constituted a trick and which were the worst offenders. I organized. More people joined in on the conversation and shared better methods to emphasize understanding over memorization. I organized some more. Contributions started to slow down. The end result was 17 pages. I had grand dreams of a beautifully formatted resource that we could share with teachers everywhere. A few people shared my dream. We discussed formatting and organization and themes. Then the end of the school year craze happened, and suddenly it was August! School started, life got busy, and then I started hearing about NaNoWriMo. I decided that in November I would typeset the whole thing. If someone could write 50,000 words in a month, I could code something that was already mostly written. It was difficult, I had never paid attention to all the types of pages in a book, but the internet was there for me, and today, the last day of the month, I can say:

Hey, I just wrote it,
And this is crazy,
But here's the download,
So read it, maybe!

Check out the website:

And now that I've gotten that song stuck in your head, listen to Tweet Me Maybe from TMC12 while you browse.

Thank you so much to everyone that helped, not just this month, but since the beginning of this project. I am so thankful for this community and all that we offer to each other.

I do ask one more thing of you. As anyone who has coded anything knows, you eventually go cross-eyed and as many times as you re-read something, you are bound to miss an error that is glaring to anyone with fresh eyes. I've been typesetting the document and editing the website all weekend. I tried to check the links, to look for typos and to test several devices. I got an error on my phone once, but I can't replicate it to know how to fix it. So, if you see any issues at all, no matter how small they seem, please let me know. Leave a comment here, send a note via twitter or use the submission form.

Enjoy, share widely and know that I'm rooting for all the teachers who explain and all the students who still ask why.

[Edited 12/3/2013 to add background for newcomers to the blog, like those who are here via the Math Forum Newsletter. Welcome!]


  1. Tina - just started reading; it's amazing! You're amazing! I'm so impressed that you put this together while doing everything else you do - like teaching. Thank you; I intend to share this with my entire department.

  2. I really like this document! I try to avoid teaching tricks, but them my students read the textbook and pick them up anyway :(

    I found some typos:
    page 21 (5.3 Nix: Cancel): missing two "-symbols: at the end of the sentence "cross-out stuff by magic" and after |cancel" in the fix section
    page 22 (5.4 Nix: Take/Move to the Other Side) missing "-symbol at the end of "We add the opposite to both sides. That gives us zero on the left and leases +4 on the right." in the fix section
    page 24 (6.1 Nix: what is b?) '-symbols missing in "doesn't" and "you're" in the because section

  3. Really nice work. Congratulations.

  4. Just started reading - Nice job! I am intrigued by your ideas about order of operations. Thinking about doing the "more powerful" operations first is really interesting. As a sixth grade teacher who is always trying to undue misconceptions - multiplying makes things bigger, subtracting makes things smaller - the sentence about exponents increasing at a faster rate than mulitplication caught my attention. I wonder if you might want to say "increases or decreases" instead. When the number is a proper fraction and you use it as a power or factor it isn't increasing. I am very interested to know what you think.

  5. LOVE THIS!! I just sent out the book to our math teachers! FOIL and Cross Multiplication have always been pet peeves of mine.

    Thank you for your awesome work on this project!!

  6. Thanks all!

    trigortreat- thanks so much for catching those, TeX is super picky about ` vs ' etc.

    Diana - good call. The idea of doing the most powerful operations was a new one to me too. Interestingly the misconception of "multiplying makes things bigger" is one we had listed for a potential new section called "Things that used to be true" and yet I fell prey to it myself. Fixed now.

  7. I love the idea of "things that used to be true." One of my colleagues once had a bulletin board with gravestones on it. Every time her students uncovered a misconception she recorded it in her "math graveyard." Not really in my comfort zone, but it worked for her. Some of the ones that drive me nuts as a sixth grade teacher, besides multiplying makes it bigger, are: "bigger number in the dividing house", bigger number on top to subtract, and squares are not rectangles. Today the misconception we were rooting out was about rounding. It goes something like keep the numbers in front the same, adjust the underlined number, and change the numbers behind to zero. Well, we were rounding decimals - so we hit something else that "used to be true."
    Looking forward to reading more and sharing with my colleagues.

  8. Thanks Diana! I'll add those to the list and try to get that document public soon.