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Life of Fred: Calculus

Stanley F. Schmidt
Polka Dot Publishing
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Charles Ashbacher
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For a long time I have subscribed to the educational theory that can be summarized in the phrase, “Any way to get it done.” The pedagogical method, whether it be formal textbook, comic book or play is irrelevant as long as the proper instruction with suitable retention takes place. That background belief must be an essential part of the reader’s approach if they are to consider this book to be educationally effective.

Fred is the newborn baby of Mr. and Mrs. Gauss and he is a calculus genius from the moment he is born. Within a short time, Fred is exploring the concept of the function and discovering the principles of calculus from his baby crib. After he has thought through the concepts of a function Fred moves on to the limit, derivatives, integrals and all of the other topics such as conics, infinite series, and differential equations considered essential coverage in a two-semester calculus sequence.

It is all presented in a whimsical manner, for example at the age of nine months Fred is teaching calculus at KITTENS (Kansas Institute for Teaching Technology, Engineering and Natural Sciences). Well-liked by his students, they never tell him that he should act his age, for they learn a great deal from his classes. There are references to the Kansas depicted by Baum, with Auntie Em, Uncle Henry and Dorofred included in the stories. There is a great deal of humor using wordplay and references to popular culture.

The obvious question that a reader of the review would ask is, “Can a student learn calculus from this book?” The answer depends on your definition of “learn calculus.” If your definition is to learn the basics of calculus in a non-rigorous manner then the answer is clearly yes. However, if you mean a rigorous form where students learn specifics such as how to do an epsilon-delta proof then the answer is definitely no. Students will be amused when reading this book and the humor does not mask the serious learning of calculus.

The most astounding aspect of the book was found on page 138, where an eight-line program written in BASIC (with line numbers!) is given. It has been years since I have seen such a program in a recently published book. There are a few other uses of BASIC in the book so it is not a one-off joke, although to many people including BASIC is itself a joke. 

Charles Ashbacher splits his time between consulting with industry in projects involving math and computers, teaching college classes and co-editing The Journal of Recreational Mathematics. In his spare time, he reads about these things and helps his daughter in her lawn care business.

The table of contents is not available.