National Math Festival

I’m taking Math On-A-Stick and Which One Doesn’t Belong? on the road—to the National Math Festival in Washington, DC on Saturday, April 22, 2017. If you’re nearby, you should come out and say Hi!

I have two Math On-A-Stick sessions—at 10:00 and 4:30—and one Which One Doesn’t Belong? session at 2:30. The Math On-A-Stick sessions are pure play; the Which One Doesn’t Belong? one is interactive but more talky.

There are lots of other amazing folks doing amazing things with all ages, so come spend the day! It’s free. See you there.

The Summer of Math is back!

We had so much fun the first time around, the Summer of Math is back for a second year, and it has its own webpage!

The basics are the same as last year:

You can head over to The Summer of Math webpage, pay for a subscription, and all summer long (June—August) we’ll ship you awesome, fun stuff that will keep you and your 5—10 year old(s) busy playing and talking math.

You’ll color, count, make patterns, designs and shapes. You’ll read together, draw, and challenge yourselves. You’ll notice. You’ll wonder. You’ll play. And when school starts back up in the fall,

your kids will remember this as the best, mathiest summer ever.

A few small changes include: a new website, three boxes instead of four (but same amount of total mathy goodness, so the net result is higher math-fun density in each box), and a few new things rotated into the lineup (the Truchet tiles are curvy this year!)

Together with a little help from some super smart friends, we’re shooting for a bigger Summer of Math this year, but there is an upper limit on subscriptions. Help us reach it—and as many families as possible—by signing up and by spreading the word.

Fractivities! Coming soon to a school near you! (If you issue the invitation.)

New to Minnesota, Jennifer Schuetz from the Fractal Foundation brought fun fractal activities, or fractivities, to Math On-A-Stick last summer.
photo-1
Younger students had the opportunity to learn how the Sierpinski triangle is a fractal – by repeating a simple pattern over and over again, smaller versions of the same pattern are created.
photo-2
Older students created their own Sierpinski triangles with wooden sticks and glitter glue to make a fractal with sticks!
photo-3
With help from Minneapolis High School art teacher Stephanie Woldom and math teacher Morgan Fierst, we had tons of fractal fun with hundreds of children and their parents from across Minnesota!
photo-4
photo-5
Jennifer’s dream turned into reality: job title of visiting artist/mathematician!
photo-6

Jennifer leads fractal education in classrooms and other venues across Minnesota, the U.S. and the world (her geographic reach is ever-expanding just like fractals!). Fractals are not only appealing to children but also adults… even senior citizens have fun learning about them!

Instructions to 12 fractivities and associated worksheets and answer keys are at: http://www.fractalfoundation.org/resources/fractivities.

What do you think about projecting videos of fractal zooms accompanied to original music onto the dome of a planetarium? The Fractal Foundation also does this! More information can be found at:  http://fractalfoundation.org/fractal-shows/fulldome-content/

You can also get in touch with Jennifer to see how to do this. Check out some videos at: http://fractalfoundation.org/videos/

Finally, Jennifer is looking for gigs in schools! Get in touch through the Fractal Foundation Facebook page.

Cold snap

Tabitha (9 years old) is keenly attuned to the temperatures these days, as subzero air temperatures or wind chills mean indoor recess. Being a child of great physical energy, indoor recess is not ideal.

photo-dec-15-9-05-57-am

We have an indoor/outdoor thermometer on our kitchen table, which she checks several times a day. Yesterday evening before doing the dishes together, she checks the thermometer.

Tabitha (9 years old): It’s 1 below.

Me: What was it this morning? Five degrees?

T: Four

Me: Crazy. So it’s colder now.

T: Yeah.

Me: How much colder?

T: Five below

Me: How do you know? Is it because 4 + 1, or did you count?

T: Neither.

Me: Oh! Now I have to hear it!

T: Well…Four minus four is zero, then it’s one less, so it’s five.

Me: So one more than four less…er…one less than four….no….

[we laugh]

T: It’s one more because it’s one less!

So what do we learn?

This conversation reminded me very much of a game I used to play with Griffin (who is now 12 years old) on cold winter mornings. In both cases, the children naturally developed a strategy using zero as a stopping point in making comparisons.

The thing I especially love about this story is that Tabitha expresses a complicated relationship that is crystal clear to her: “One more because it’s one less.” Expanded out, she’s saying that “The difference between -1 and 4 is bigger than the difference between 0 and 4—the difference is bigger by 1 because -1 is one unit further from 4 than 0 is.”

She can express this complicated idea because it is her own.

If I tried to tell her that this is how subtraction with negative numbers works, she would definitely pronounce my ideas confusing—whether they were expressed in the language of 9-year-olds or the language of mathematicians.

I cannot tell her these things and have them be meaningful. What I can do is ask how much colder it is now than it was this morning.

Starting the conversation

Move to Minnesota.

I’m kidding.

You can buy a Celsius thermometer, though.

You can make comparisons more generally, both asking your child how she knows, and talking about how you think about it. How many more full cups in the muffin tin than empty ones? How many more fork than spoons? How many more adults on the bus than children (or vice versa)? How many more quarters than dimes in the change bowl?

Boxes of Math are here

I and dozens of families across the US, Canada, and England had a blast with the Summer of Math last summer, and now I’m gearing up for the school year version: Boxes of Math.

Starting small with a single option for kindergarten and first grade (five- and six-year-olds, roughly), Boxes of Math will have some overlap with last summer’s Summer of Math, but are targeted at this more narrow age range and the math they’re learning in school.

Boxes of Math consists of:

• A small welcome and introductory shipment before the New Year

• A box for counting and patterning in mid-January

• A box for shape study in late February

• A box for number structures and operations in late March/early April

Each box will have a book, one or more things to get your hands on, and a newsletter with ideas about fun ways to play and to continue the learning in your everyday lives.

Why Boxes of Math?

Inside these boxes are things that help create conversations. They get children thinking about the most important ideas of elementary math.

photo-dec-07-7-50-28-pm

A few of the objects that will fill the boxes of math.

Most children who struggle with math later on aren’t familiar with these ideas. They know facts by rote, but not in relation to each other. Or they cannot retain the facts because they see no relationships. They can name triangles, but don’t see all polygons as made out of triangles. They can count large numbers of objects fluently, but they don’t notice whether these objects are arranged in rows and columns.

Those are the things this website is all about.

Struggling or not, all children benefit from exercising their math minds through play and conversation.

Boxes of Math offers children and caregivers opportunities to play, experiment, and talk in ways that bring these ideas to life. Noticing rows and columns is a natural outcome of playing with pattern machines. Playing with 21st Century Pattern Blocks is an extended exercise in putting shapes together and taking them apart.

The target outcome of Boxes of Math is children (and families) with a similar relationship to math as they have to literature. They talk about it, see it in their world, and use it to understand their lives in richer, more beautiful ways than before.

Sign up, give it as a gift, pass the word on to friends and neighbors, won’t you?

How Many? An invitation to #unitchat

Make Math Playful is an unofficial slogan here at Talking Math with Your Kids. An important part of play is that there is not one right answer. Through Which One Doesn’t BelongI showed a way to make geometry playful. Now with How Many? I’m working on a way of making counting playful.

The idea has grown out of the TED-Ed video I did a while back, and the more I play with it, the more I see it in the world around me. My goal is to help parents, teachers, and especially children see it too.

Most counting tasks tell you what to count. Whether it’s Sandra Boynton’s adorable board book Doggies, or Greg Tang’s more sophisticated The Grapes of Math, the authors tell you what to count—or even count it for you.

How Many? is a counting book that leaves possibilities open and that seeks to create conversations. Creativity is encouraged. Surprises abound.

The premise is simple. Every page asks How Many? but doesn’t specify what to count. Each image has many possibilities.

An example. How many?

shoes-box-open-2

Maybe you say two. Two shoes. Or one because there is one pair of shoes, or one shoebox. Maybe you count shoelaces or aglets or eyelets (2, 4, and 20, respectively). The longer you linger, the more possibilities you’ll see.

It’s important to say what you’re counting, and noticing new things to count will lead to new quantities.

Another example. How many?

2016-11-01-09-00-17

A few possibilities: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12, 24, 36. What unit is each counting? Maybe you see fractions, too. 2/3, 4/6, 3/4, 1/12….others? What is the whole for each fraction? The number 3 shows up more than once—there are three unsliced pizzas, and there are also three types of pizza. Are there other numbers that count multiple units?

All of this leads to two specific invitations.

Let me come talk with your students.

(It turns out my schedule filled very quickly, and I’m no longer seeking new classrooms to visit right now—thanks to everyone for your support!)

If you are within an hour of the city of Saint Paul and work with children somewhere in the first through fourth grades, then invite me to come test drive some fun and challenging counting tasks with your students. I have set aside November 17 and 18 and hope to get into a variety of classrooms on those two days. Get in touch through the About/Contact page on this blog.

Join the fun on Twitter.

I’ve been using, and will continue to use and monitor, the hashtag #unitchat, for prompts and discussion of fun and ambiguous counting challenges. Post your thoughts, your own images, the observations of your own children or students, and I’ll do likewise.

How Many? A counting book will be published by Stenhouse late next year.

Birthday Chocolate

Today is my birthday. Griffin (12 years old) gave me three chocolate bars as a gift. He gave me candy because he is deeply aware of its value in life. He gave me dark chocolate because he knows it’s my preference.

He is frequently disturbed by how slowly I eat these gifts of candy he gives me.

Here’s how my after-work greeting went this evening.

Griffin (12 years old): Happy birthday, Dad.

Me: Thanks.

G: One thing I’ve noticed about you is that you eat the candy I give you incredibly slowly.

Me: I know. But actually I ate half of one today.

G: Half of a bar, or half of all the bars?

Me: Half of one bar. And then maybe I’ll have another half tomorrow.

G: Oh brother.

Me: And since I know 3 divided by 1/2 is 6…

G: You ate one-sixth of it.

Me: And it’ll last me 6 days.

Having arrived home a bit chilly and damp from the bike ride in the 45° rain, I went downstairs for a shower and he returned to his iPod.

So What Do We Learn?

I haven’t written a lot about this boy recently because he is in a phase of rejecting everything the adults around him care about. All adolescents go through some form of this. He is doing it with gusto.

In any case, the groundwork we’ve laid in the early years has paid off. When math is useful for his purposes, he will use it. Here, he wanted to prove his point that I am a painfully slow candy consumer. That made it important to clarify that I had not eaten half of my candy, but only half of one bar of candy.

We play around with units like this frequently. It has contributed to both children’s place value understanding, as well as their fraction work.

Starting the Conversation

Ask frequently about the units that are attached to the numbers in your lives. When you’re cooking, ask, Should we use 3 eggs or 3 dozen eggs? Ask about how many pieces of candy a pack of Whoppers is at Halloween.

Look at these pictures—one at a time—and ask How many? Challenge yourselves to find different numbers, and different units. (For example, there are 15 avocado halves, 7.5 avocados, 8 pits, 7 holes, and 1 cutting board).