How We Do Maths: Weekly


Last week I talked about how I try to discuss a single math problem every day with my 7-year-old son. Here’s what I do on top of that.

Math Books

I go to a few libraries every week, and I always include in my foraging a few math books in the junior section. Given Biggie’s age, I’ve mostly picked up picture books, especially ones that emphasize and reinforce certain concepts (addition, subtraction, place value, measurement, shapes). The idea is that I want to make available for his constant perusal books that are interesting and not-frustrating, especially during times when he’s by himself, like on long car rides or during his sister’s naps.

Weekly Math Project

I also try to introduce each week something a little extra, something intriguing and a bit more challenging. It could be a puzzle, it could be a concept, it could be an event. Importantly, this “project” does not necessarily, and usually doesn’t, directly relate to any of the core mathematical skills or topics that we’re emphasizing for Biggie this year (to keep him standards-compliant).

For example, Biggie mentioned the Fibonacci series one day — he must have come across it as a sidebar in one of his books, or perhaps it came up in first grade. I made a mental note of it and happened to come across this book in the library:

The Rabbit Problem

It’s about the problem that Fibonacci was wrestling with that led to his discovery of the series. The book is very charming but doesn’t bother to actually explain the Fibonacci series. Biggie couldn’t tell it was a math book at all. So we sat down and went over how the rabbit problem leads to the series (notice it also gave us a chance to talk about the addition of large numbers):


This week and last, Biggie found a bunch of spiral shells at the River Farm. He knew enough to recognize that there was some connection of this shape to the Fibonacci series, but he didn’t know exactly what the connection was. So I used the opportunity to try to make that connection for him:


This example happened pretty organically, but it’s pretty easy to pick up puzzles, articles, and challenges either from the Internet or from books and magazines. I’ll share a bunch of links at the end of the post, but I’d like to honorably mention now the Little Brown books, particularly the math ones written by Marilyn Burns: Math for Smarty Pants and The I Hate Mathematics! Book. Both of these made a huge impact on me when I was young and help account for why this Humanities guy still loves math.


Math Opportunities

Beyond these extra discussions and projects, I’m always on the lookout for enrichment happenings in the area.

Right now, Biggie attends a Crazy 8s club at the Beatley Central Library on Tuesday nights. It’s a recreational math club for kids developed by Bedtime Math (mentioned in the last math post). There’s a Kindergarten-to-2nd-grade version and a 3rd-to-5th-grade version; I believe the one that Biggie attends is the latter one. There’s actually not a ton of math clubs and teams that are geared to these age groups, so Crazy 8s was a welcome find. Again, the activities are not computationally intensive and focus more on the pervasiveness and interesting-ness of math: things like cryptography, music, and non-standard measurements:


Last week we took advantage of going to a “mathemagic” show featuring Colm Mulcahy at the Koshman Science Museum. Mr. Mulcahy is a professor at Spelman College and a longtime promoter of the late Martin Gardner. He demonstrated a couple of really great card tricks and went into depth about how they were done and what mathematical concepts they take advantage of. His first trick, Little Fibs, takes advantage of an interesting property of the Fibonacci series!

His involved explanations were a bit too much for Biggie, who tuned out about halfway through, but I felt that by attending this event, I had enough material for at least another month or two of mathematical discussions around these tricks. And at the end of the event, Mulcahy pointed us to the web page for the 2014 Math Awareness Month, which focused on the mathematical games, puzzles, and curiosities popularized by Martin Gardner.

Links Galore

As I claimed before, if you’re looking for cool math problems, puzzles, and challenges, there’s lots of resources out there. Here’s a bunch I came across and made a note of:
free pdfs of textbooks by the Shell Centre
Math tasks searchable by concept, grade, topic, or mathematical practice
Developed by a project group in HGSE, Balanced Assessment in Mathematics program
Assessments/puzzles, K-12
deep but confusing site; includes articles, lessons, student tasks by level; searchable by topic
photos and videos that provoke mathematical questions
graph the story in the video

A special mention goes to Math Forum, hosted by Drexel University:

There’s almost too much on this site; here are some notable bookmarks: K-12 math problems, puzzles, tips, tricks – Problem of the week (Elementary level) – resources by grade level – activities and projects – searchable library of resources – math resources by subject

Next: What I might do in the future

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