The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor, is the story of a housekeeper who has just been hired to care for a professor. The professor has been in an accident and his memory since the accident only lasts for 80 minutes. Despite his short memory, the professor continues to work on math and submit solutions for mathematical problems posed in magazines. However, the professor does live a secluded life within the confines of his home. That is, until the housekeeper comes along. At first, the housekeeper is very apprehensive about the job but is determined to do her best and after awhile the housekeeper and the professor begin to connect through numbers. The professor sees the numerical relationships everywhere and begins to discuss these relationships with the housekeep and her son, whom the professor has grown fond of. The professor patiently helps the housekeeper and her son understand various aspects of number theory and gently leads them to make discoveries about numbers on their own. Soon the housekeeper becomes just as excited about math as the professor and begins to look for her own numerical relationships. Although the professor must eventually move into a long-term care facility, the housekeeper and her son never forget about the personal relationship they made with the professor, as well as all the numerical relationship he showed them.

Michelle's Opinion:
Overall, I liked reading the book. It was interesting to me because I like math and was interested in what the professor taught to the Housekeeper and Root, her son. It was also interesting to me that the Professor’s pure passion and excitement for math is the reason the housekeeper and Root became so interested in it to start. The book was a little slow at times, but had a few good messages. I think it can be a good book for students to read and start discussions about the math that is in the book and how the math can relate or extend more from just what the book states. As with other math literature, this book can be a good way to get non-math students who like to read more involved with math classes.

Shane's Opinion:
This was a very smooth and easy read. The author neatly balanced between being very descriptive and knowing when to move on from an event. It was very clever for the author to never use any formal names throughout the book. The main characters never had established names. This was very clever because the professor never remembered anything longer than 80 minutes past the year 1975 and so the characters omitted the importance of their names. The characters were merely represented as variables, and just like math the important aspects of the characters were the interactions and relationships between one another. I have one complaint regarding the book. I wish there would have been a crazy plot twist regarding the identity of the professor. This would have given the book some excitement. I really wanted the professor to be the father of root's father(the man who left the housekeeper when she was pregnant thus making the professor root's grandfather) or a man who really hasn't lost his short term memory and is actually fooling the housekeeper and root in order to keep them interested in inquiring about mathematics.

Carolyn's Opinion:
The author seamlessly entwined math with literature. At no point in the novel did the math feel out of place or forced. The demonstration of math outside the classroom in baseball statistics was a good addition for the non-math lovers. The book would make an easy read for high school students but it's not the most exciting of books. I'm skeptical that many high school students would be invested in the book. I think the point of having students read math literature is to show them math isn't boring, it is part of their lives, and get them to think about math in different ways. This book demonstrates that math is all around us and is part of our lives but I'm not sure it will convince them math isn't boring. There's little conflict in the book and nothing life changing about it.

Jessica's Opinion:
I enjoyed this book very much. My favorite aspect throughout was the kind of "mystical" feeling that the Professor gave to numbers. He made them feel linked together, created by some divine thing even before time itself. I know that it was really humans who gave the numbers their name and shape, but it was nature that made them so perfect. I believe this book would be a nice way to generate an interest in students to look at numbers differently other than plugging them into equations and finding some boring answer. Other than the math aspect, the book was an interesting view on a different culture and lifestyle. I thought the book was a nice blend of both human interaction and mathematics.


1. Math in Baseball
In this book, there are multiple points where baseball and math are intertwined by the Professor and Root. It can start a discussion of the math in baseball and the different things needed in order to figure out batting averages, etc. This can lead to a description of the following activity.

Objective: Students become familiar with numbers, number relations, fractions, decimals.

The idea of this activity is that it can be something fun that students can work on all semester (or even all year) long. Students can do the work for the project if they finish in class assignments before others and will probably require a couple of full class periods to explain, let them catch up on work, and actually play.

Students are in pairs (to create a team) and they get baseball cards at random to make a team. From there, the teams study the baseball cards and figure out the percentage of at bats the player gets a hit, walks, gets some type of out, etc. With that information they make a spin wheel that they will use for each player when they play against another team.

The link here has the details, which can be changed to tailor the activity to the class (like using a team of 5 players instead of 9)

2. Reenacting the Story of Young Gauss
This book primarily focuses on number theory. Throughout the book the housekeeper tries to understand the beauty of numbers through the eyes of the professor. In one instance the housekeeper (with the help of root) discovers a way to find a generalization for the sum of the numbers 1-10. The formula that the housekeeper comes up with is a formula that Carl Friedrich Gauss used while summing up the numbers from 1-100 during his days in primary school. The objective of this activity is to introduce the students to the problem that the housekeeper solved.

Objective: Students are instructed to find the sum of the numbers from 1-n where n is three different numbers. First n is 5 then it is 10 then it is 50. The students will then need to come up with a generalization for their findings. A way to calculate the sum of numbers from 1-n where n can be any number. The goal of the activity is to introduce the students to thinking critically about number sequences. This activity will also provide an opportunity to teach the students a little bit about the history of one of the greatest mathematicians.

3. Perfect Numbers
In the book, the Professor talks about his favorite Tigers player whose number was 28, a perfect number (it is a positive integer equal to the sum of its proper positive divisors). This could lead nicely into a look at different perfect numbers and be a way for students to postulate why perfect numbers are never prime or why there have been no odd perfect numbers discovered.

Objective: Students will define what a perfect number is. Students will learn about the formula discovered by Euclid: 2n-1(2n-1) is a perfect number, whenever 2n-1 is prime (these are called Mersenne primes). Students will then determine what must be true about n for 2n-1 to be prime. Students will use the formula to find the first few perfect numbers and prove that they are perfect numbers. Students will discuss possible reasons why no perfect numbers are prime and why no odd perfect numbers have been discovered.

List of Contributors

Summary: Carolyn Johns
Book Review: Carolyn Johns, Shane Oravec, Michelle Zrebiec, Jessica Davidson
Activities: Michelle Zrebiec, Shane Oravec, Jessica Davidson