Category Archives: Algebra & Beyond

Infinite Cake: Don Cohen’s Infinite Series for Kids

Math Concepts: division as equal sharing, naming fractions, adding fractions, infinitesimals, iteration, limits
Prerequisite: able to identify fractions as part of a whole

This is how I tell the story:

  • We have a cake to share, just the two of us. It’s not TOO big a cake, ‘cuz we don’t want to get sick. A 8 × 8 or 16 × 16 square on the graph paper should be just right. Can you cut the cake so we each get a fair share? Color in your part.

Bobby Flay German Chocolate Cake

  • How big is your piece compared to the whole, original cake?
  • But you know, I’m on a diet, and I just don’t think I can eat my whole piece. Half the cake is too much for me. Is it okay if I share my piece with you? How can we divide it evenly, so we each get a fair share? How big is your piece?
  • How much of the whole, original cake do you have now? How can you tell?
  • I keep thinking of my diet, and I really don’t want all my piece of cake. It looks good, but it’s still just a bit too big for me. Will you take half of it? How big is that piece?
  • Now how much of the whole, original cake do you have? How could we figure it out?
    [Teaching tip: Don’t make kids do the calculation on paper. In the early stages, they can visualize and count up the fourths or maybe the eighths. As the pieces get smaller, the easiest way to find the sum is what Cohen does in the video below‌—‌identify how much of the cake is left out.]
  • Even for being on a diet, I still don’t feel very hungry…

For more precalculus fun, explore Don Cohen’s Map of Calculus for Young People: hands-on activities featuring advanced ideas, for students of any age.

The Next Day

  • Your best friend comes over to visit, and we share a new cake. If you, me, and the friend all get a fair share, how much of the cake do you get?
  • But you know, I’m still on that diet. My piece of cake looks too big for me. I’ll share it with the two of you. Let’s cut my piece so each of us can have a share. How big are those pieces?
  • How much of the whole, original cake do you have now? …

Can Young Kids Really Understand This?

how tall is triangle
We did infinite cakes in Princess Kitten’s fifth-grade year, if I remember right. Three years later, I gave my middle-school math club kids this geometry puzzle from James Tanton:

  • Two circles are tangent to each other and to an isosceles triangle, as shown. The large circle has a radius of 2, and the smaller circle’s radius is 1. How tall is the triangle?

I really didn’t expect my then-8th-grade-prealgebra daughter to solve this. But I thought it might launch an interesting discussion along the lines of “What do you notice? What do you wonder?

She stared at the diagram for a minute or two, while I bit my tongue to keep from breaking her concentration.

Then she said, “Oh, I see! It’s an infinite cake.”

It took me much longer to understand what she had seen so quickly: Imagine stacking up smaller and smaller circles in the top part of the triangle. Because all the proportions stay the same, each circle is exactly half as wide as the one below it. To find the height of the triangle, we can just add up all the diameters of the circles.

The puzzle is adapted from an AMC 10/12 Practice Quiz and is available here, with Tanton’s problem-solving tips for high school students. Tanton used similar triangles to find the height, but Princess Kitten’s infinite series approach is quicker and doesn’t require algebra.

Infinite Cake


Cake photos by Kimberly Vardeman via Flickr (CC BY 2.0): Strawberry Cream Cake and Bobby Flay German Chocolate Cake.

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For the Curmudgeons: Vi Hart’s Anti-Pi Rant

More about Tau:


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Happy Birthday, General Relativity

Don’t forget that Pi Day is also Albert Einstein’s birthday! And this year marks the 100th anniversary of his Theory of General Relativity. So Science Magazine has a special Einstein issue online, featuring this interactive comic:

comic-image

You may also enjoy:


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Pi and Buffon’s Matches

From Numberphile: Dr Tony Padilla’s unique (and low budget) twist on the Buffon’s Needle experiment to learn the true value of Pi.

For a kid-friendly version of this experiment, try throwing food:

Do you have a favorite family activity for celebrating Pi Day? I’d love to hear it!


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The Math Student’s Manifesto

[Feature photo above by Texas A&M University (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.]

Note to Readers: Please help me improve this list! Add your suggestions or additions in the comment section below…

What does it mean to think like a mathematician? From the very beginning of my education, I can do these things to some degree. And I am always learning to do them better.

(1) I can make sense of problems, and I never give up.

  • I always think about what a math problem means. I consider how the numbers are related, and I imagine what the answer might look like.
  • I remember similar problems I’ve done before. Or I make up similar problems with smaller numbers or simpler shapes, to see how they work.
  • I often use a drawing or sketch to help me think about a problem. Sometimes I even build a physical model of the situation.
  • I like to compare my approach to the problem with other people and hear how they did it differently.

(2) I can work with numbers and symbols.

  • I know how numbers relate to each other.
  • I’m flexible with mental math. I understand arithmetic properties and can use them to make calculations easier.
  • I’m not intimidated by algebra symbols.
  • I don’t rely on memorized rules unless I know why they make sense.

(3) I value logical reasoning.

  • I can recognize assumptions and definitions of math terms.
  • I argue logically, giving reasons for my statements and justifying my conclusion.
  • I listen to and understand other people’s explanations.
  • I ask questions to clarify things I don’t understand.

Continue reading The Math Student’s Manifesto

2015 Mathematics Game

[Feature photo above by Scott Lewis and title background (right) by Carol VanHook, both (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.]

2015YearGame

Did you know that playing games is one of the Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Brain Fitness? So slip into your workout clothes and pump up those mental muscles with the Annual Mathematics Year Game Extravaganza!

For many years mathematicians, scientists, engineers and others interested in math have played “year games” via e-mail. We don’t always know whether it’s possible to write all the numbers from 1 to 100 using only the digits in the current year, but it’s fun to see how many you can find.

Math Forum Year Game Site

Rules of the Game

Use the digits in the year 2015 to write mathematical expressions for the counting numbers 1 through 100. The goal is adjustable: Young children can start with looking for 1-10, middle grades with 1-25.

  • You must use all four digits. You may not use any other numbers.
  • Solutions that keep the year digits in 2-0-1-5 order are preferred, but not required.
  • You may use +, -, x, ÷, sqrt (square root), ^ (raise to a power), ! (factorial), and parentheses, brackets, or other grouping symbols.
  • You may use a decimal point to create numbers such as .2, .02, etc., but you cannot write 0.02 because we only have one zero in this year’s number.
  • You may create multi-digit numbers such as 10 or 201 or .01, but we prefer solutions that avoid them.

My Special Variations on the Rules

  • You MAY use the overhead-bar (vinculum), dots, or brackets to mark a repeating decimal. But students and teachers beware: you can’t submit answers with repeating decimals to Math Forum.
  • You MAY NOT use a double factorial, n!! = the product of all integers from 1 to n that have the same parity (odd or even) as n. Math Forum allows these, but I’ve decided I prefer my arithmetic straight.

Click here to continue reading.

December Advent Math from Nrich

[Feature photo (above) by Austin Kirk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).]

Click on the pictures below to explore a mathy Advent Calendar with a new game, activity, or challenge puzzle for each day during the run-up to Christmas. Enjoy!

Advent Calendar 2014 – Primary

adventprimary

Advent Calendar 2014 – Secondary

adventsecondary


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