## Wednesday, September 12, 2012

### Review: The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra

“If you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough.”
–Albert Einstein

Hi, I’m Bil.  I like math… a lot.  My degree is in Electronics Engineering and Technology, and I worked as a math tutor in college.  I often enjoy sitting down with a tough everyday problem that can be solved with intuition and/or mathematical optimization (Pinewood Derby, anyone?) …anything that gives me a chance to sharpen the old math tooth again.

Now that I’m a parent of three, I often think about what it’s going to take to create learning opportunities that could inspire a love (or even medium curiosity) for math and science in my children.  After all, if we are to overcome the downward drag of cultural apathy for math, we should give some serious thought to how we approach these subjects at home.

When I came across the “Manga Guide to Linear Algebra"   I just had to see what the “Manga Guide”  series was all about.  Comic book/Text book mashups?  Yes, and on a wide variety of meaty subjects—Biochemistry, Calculus, Databases, Electricity, Molecular Biology, Physics, Regression Analysis, Special Relativity, Statistics, oh, and *the Universe*.  (Bonus-- not only do the books have a linear plot [hint: that was a math joke] complete with tension, drama and romance, but math and science-wise they totally deliver the goods.)

I can’t remember if Professor P. Papadopoulos *ever* explained to me or the rest of the class how to actually use calculus to solve a problem we might encounter.  Day one, we dived right into delta process of derivatives, and it was a white knuckle race against time to finally conquer integration by parts in the second class.   The “Manga Guide” didn’t do that—I wasn’t suddenly bombarded by strange symbols and expected to sink or swim while the author moved along to the next logical tier.  Rather, I was treated to  brief, illustrated and meaningful exchanges between the two main characters, Reiji and Misa, as Reiji thoughtfully marches out the curriculum and Misa asks the questions we should all ask at some point--"What is Linear Algebra, Exactly?”  As I read Reiji’s thoughtful explanation, I knew I’d found something unique and wonderful—a clearer picture of how these processes are used, and why this subject matters.  It’s the little things that give us a surer footing in our learning.