A few years ago, my brother suggested, “Let’s go to Florida in February to beat the weather in the Delaware Valley.” I questioned whether it was wise to take a month’s leave from teaching so he suggested that I take a sabbatical for the spring semester. My department chairperson at one of the state of Delaware’s community college campuses said to go ahead, if I could make it mathematical in nature. As I pondered this, my thoughts turned to writing; not about any accomplishments, but about my teaching frustrations. The sabbatical was granted and off I went to Naples, Florida for three weeks. It was the beginning of my writing books about mathematics.
I took the Autotrain from just outside Washington, DC at the end of January (not the best time to travel to Florida) and immediately started asking questions of my dinner companions that very first evening. The topic was sailing a boat on the Chesapeake Bay and it gave me my first hit as to a topic as we all had used math (right triangle trigonometry) to navigate the sailboat from one location to another in the bay. With those comments from the dinner table, I was able to begin to assemble a collection of short stories about math frustrations. It was the “right triangle trig” that got me going, along with the phrase “OLLIE HAD A HEADACHE OVER ALGEBRA.” The first letters of the words are the sine, cosine and tangent relationships in right triangle trigonometry.
During my 45-day trip, including my time in Florida, and subsequent month’s stop at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, my work featured “pure math” topics such as factoring a binomial, trinomial or polynomial, finding the greatest common factor or least common multiple for several numbers and more practical topics such as tipping at a restaurant or the real meaning of a half-off sale.
Teacher frustrations are plentiful when students have failed to learn basic multiplication tables or how to write an equation for a story problem. Not only are these frustrations prevalent in middle or junior high schools, they tend to get even more commonplace in high school or even at the community college level.
Many frustrations occur in the factoring segment of Algebra. Students weren’t able to differentiate between squares, perfect square trinomials, or just a common monomial factor.
By the time my 45 day trip ended, I had, for example, suggested ways to cheat when adding fractions, and other shortcuts to learning the rigors of math staples. My success in completing the book “Frustrations Teaching Math” helped me to write six additional books, mostly in the areas of pre-algebra and algebra. These books, written in workbook format, cover the basic fundamentals of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division using whole numbers, decimals, percents, and fractions. My latest endeavor was a workbook covering the above topics so that correction instructors from various penal institutions could educate their students to pass the GED. It goes to show, you never know where the next idea will come from.
How does one begin to get started? First, think of what gave you the most satisfaction in teaching. That’s where topics will originate. Whatever you selected, write some short story about the incident. From that single idea, others will start popping up and low and behold, you have written a few chapters of your book. Keep plugging away till you reach a threshold where you start to type the manuscript on your PC. I made sure that every day on my 45 trip (it really was 60 days), I could write a brief lesson on a particular topic. I interviewed strangers as I visited various places in Florida for their likes and dislikes in math. After awhile, writing became fun and when it rained, my first thought was not what to do but get that lesson done. If I felt the urge, maybe two or three lessons were written that day. Then I could pass for a few days and play golf.
If you are writing math books, a keyboard with math symbols is essential. I’m not the fastest typist so an associate who had worked at the community college all her years in education typed my books. She was an integral part in making sure no mistakes slipped by. While four did slip by with my first pre-algebra book, the errors have been naught since we both took greater care in proofing the books. I even enticed my grandson to help check the answers and he was paid very well.
My publisher was Authorhouse, a firm associated with the University of Indiana, located in Bloomington, Indiana. I checked other publishers, even local printers in my hometown, but Authorhouse was able to give me the best price, securing an ISBN number, and any artwork for the cover. Their efforts made writing lots easier and gave me more time to devote to writing mathematical problems. All this work can be done via the internet, as my typist has recently retired to the Lone Star State and I live in Delaware.
Writing books or workbooks can be challenging and rewarding once retirement becomes an option. It takes roughly one year to write, edit, produce and publish a book. Then there is the marketing of the book. Marketing takes both time and money. Start with a decent “kitty” to fund your efforts and the rewards will eventually come. The royalties are not gigantic, but the money adds to the kitty. Select local associations that specialize in teacher workshops. Join national associations that have conferences where you can market and show your books. Do a book signing at a local retail outlet.
orcontact www.Authorhouse.com for that book or any of Ortner's other six workbooks.
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