dividing sausages

Fractions: 1/5 = 1/10 = 1/80 = 1?

[Feature photo is a screen shot from the video “the sausages sharing episode,” see below.]

Fractions: 1/5 = 1/10 = 1/80 = 1?

How in the world can 1/5 be the same as 1/10? Or 1/80 be the same as one whole thing? Such nonsense!

No, not nonsense. This is real-world common sense from a couple of boys faced with a problem just inside the edge of their ability — a problem that stretches them, but that they successfully solve, with a bit of gentle help on vocabulary.

Here’s the problem:

  • How can you divide eight sausages evenly among five people?

Think for a moment about how you (or your child) might solve this puzzle, and then watch the video below.

What Do You Notice?

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old warrior dragon

Reblog: Solving Complex Story Problems

[Dragon photo above by monkeywingand treasure chest by Tom Praison via flickr.]

Dealing with Dragons

Over the years, some of my favorite blog posts have been the Word Problems from Literature, where I make up a story problem set in the world of one of our family’s favorite books and then show how to solve it with bar model diagrams. The following was my first bar diagram post, and I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide whether “one fourth was” or “one fourth were.” I’m still not sure I chose right.

I hope you enjoy this “Throw-back Thursday” blast from the Let’s Play Math! blog archives:


Solving-Complex-Story-Problems

Cimorene spent an afternoon cleaning and organizing the dragon’s treasure. One fourth of the items she sorted was jewelry. 60% of the remainder were potions, and the rest were magic swords. If there were 48 magic swords, how many pieces of treasure did she sort in all?

[Problem set in the world of Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Modified from a story problem in Singapore Primary Math 6B. Think about how you would solve it before reading further.]

How can we teach our students to solve complex, multi-step story problems? Depending on how one counts, the above problem would take four or five steps to solve, and it is relatively easy for a Singapore math word problem. One might approach it with algebra, writing an equation like:

x - \left[\frac{1}{4}x + 0.6\left(\frac{3}{4} \right)x  \right]  = 48

… or something of that sort. But this problem is for students who have not learned algebra yet. Instead, Singapore math teaches students to draw pictures (called bar models or math models or bar diagrams) that make the solution appear almost like magic. It is a trick well worth learning, no matter what math program you use …

[Click here to go read Solving Complex Story Problems.]



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bill-gates-hombre-mas-rico

Reblog: Putting Bill Gates in Proportion

[Feature photo above by Baluart.net.]

Seven years ago, one of my math club students was preparing for a speech contest. His mother emailed me to check some figures, which led to a couple of blog posts on solving proportion problems.

I hope you enjoy this “Throw-back Thursday” blast from the Let’s Play Math! blog archives:


Putting Bill Gates in Proportion

A friend gave me permission to turn our email discussion into an article…

Can you help us figure out how to figure out this problem? I think we have all the information we need, but I’m not sure:

The average household income in the United States is $60,000/year. And a man’s annual income is $56 billion. Is there a way to figure out what this man’s value of $1mil is, compared to the person who earns $60,000/year? In other words, I would like to say — $1,000,000 to us is like 10 cents to Bill Gates.

Let the Reader Beware

When I looked up Bill Gates at Wikipedia, I found out that $56 billion is his net worth, not his income. His salary is $966,667. Even assuming he has significant investment income, as he surely does, that is still a difference of several orders of magnitude.

But I didn’t research the details before answering my email — and besides, it is a lot more fun to play with the really big numbers. Therefore, the following discussion will assume my friend’s data are accurate…

[Click here to go read Putting Bill Gates in Proportion.]


Bill Gates Proportions II

Another look at the Bill Gates proportion… Even though I couldn’t find any data on his real income, I did discover that the median American family’s net worth was $93,100 in 2004 (most of that is home equity) and that the figure has gone up a bit since then. This gives me another chance to play around with proportions.

So I wrote a sample problem for my Advanced Math Monsters workshop at the APACHE homeschool conference:

The median American family has a net worth of about $100 thousand. Bill Gates has a net worth of $56 billion. If Average Jane Homeschooler spends $100 in the vendor hall, what would be the equivalent expense for Gates?

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Multiplication Matching Cards

Multiplication Models Card Game

[Poster by Maria Droujkova of NaturalMath.com. This game was originally published as part of the Homeschooling with a Profound Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics Series.]

Homeschooling parents know that one of the biggest challenges for any middle-elementary math student is to master the multiplication facts. It can seem like an unending task to memorize so many facts and be able to pull them out of mental storage in any order on demand.

Too often, we are tempted to stress the rote aspect of such memory work, which makes our children lose their focus on what multiplication really means. Before practicing the times table facts, make sure your student gets plenty of practice recognizing and using the common models for multiplication.

To help your children see what multiplication looks like in real life, explore the multitude of Multiplication Models collected at the Natural Math website. Or try some of the hands-on activities in the Family Multiplication Study.

You may want to pick up this poster and use it for ideas as you play the Tell Me a (Math) Story game. Word problems are important for children learning any new topic in math, because they give children a mental “hook” on which to hang the abstract number concepts.

And for extra practice, you can play my free card game…

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A Math Major Talks About Fear

I’ve dipped my toes in Twitter lately (as part of the Explore #MTBoS program) and been swept up in a crashing tsunami of information. There’s no way to keep up with it all, but I’ll let the tide wash over me and enjoy the tidbits I happen to notice as they float by. For instance, yesterday I discovered a writer who offers tip on writing about injuries and was able to get some great advice for Kitten’s sequel to her first novel.

And then today, Steven Strogatz posted a link to Saramoira Shields, a new blogger I might never have discovered on my own. I think you’ll enjoy her video:


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decimal-arrows

Parents, Teachers: Learn about Teaching Decimals

Many children are confused by decimals. They are convinced 0.48 > 0.6 because 48 is obviously ever so much bigger than 6. Their intuition tells them 0.2 × 0.3 = 0.6 has the clear ring of truth. And they confidently assert that, if you want to multiply a decimal number by 10, all you have to do is add a zero at the end.

What can we do to help our kids understand decimals?

Christopher Danielson (author of Talking Math with Your Kids) will be hosting the Triangleman Decimal Institute, a free, in-depth, online chat for “everyone involved in children’s learning of decimals.” The Institute starts tomorrow, September 30 (sorry for the short notice!), but you can join in the discussion at any time:

Past discussions stay open, so feel free to jump into the course whenever you can. Here is the schedule of “classes”:

Click here to see the TDI topic list →

Math That Is Fun: Infinite Primes

Oh, my! Ben Orlin over at Math with Bad Drawings just published my new favorite math proof ever:

I had a fight with Euclid on the nature of the primes.
It got a little heated – you know how the tension climbs.

It started out most civil, with a honeyed cup of tea;
we traded tales of scholars, like Descartes and Ptolemy.
But as the tea began to cool, our chatter did as well.
We’d had our fill of gossip. We sat silent for a spell.
That’s when Euclid turned to me, and said, “Hear this, my friend:
did you know the primes go on forever, with no end?” …

15-eu-must-be-clidding

Click here to read the whole post at Math with Bad Drawings.


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Multiplying Negative Numbers with Rectangles

I love using rectangles as a model for multiplication. In this video, Mike & son offer a pithy demonstration of WHY a negative number times a negative number has to come out positive:


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Summer School for Parents, Teachers: How to Learn Math

Here’s an interesting summer learning opportunity for homeschooling parents and classroom teachers alike. Stanford Online is offering a free summer course from math education professor and author Jo Boaler:

Boaler’s book is not required for the course, but it’s a good read and should be available through most library loan systems.

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Hundred Chart Idea #28: Hang It on the Wall

Math is beautiful when it communicates an abstract idea clearly and provides new insight. Yelena’s hundred chart poster does just that:

[From the Moebius Noodles blog]

Check out my newest home decor item, a hundred chart. The amount of work I put into it, I consider getting it framed to be proudly displayed in the living room. The thing is monumental in several ways:

1. It is monumentally different from my usual approach to choosing math aids. My rule is if it takes me more than 5 minutes to prepare a math manipulative, I skip it and find another way.

2. It is monumentally time-consuming to create from scratch all by yourself.

3. It is monumentally fun to show to a child.

— Yelena McManaman
Moebius Noodles

Now she’s provided a fantastic set of free hundred chart printables:

Thanks, Yelena!

Share Your Ideas

It began with a humble list of seven things in the first (now out of print) edition of my book about teaching home school math. Over the years I added new ideas, and online friends contributed, too, so the list grew to become one of the most popular posts on my blog:

Can you think of anything else we might do with a hundred chart? Add your ideas in the Comments section below, and I’ll add the best ones to our master list.


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10 Questions to Ask About a Math Problem

[Photo by CourtneyCarmody via flickr.]

It’s important to teach our children to ask questions, about math and about life. As I wrote in my series about homeschooling with math anxiety, “School textbooks only ask questions for which they know the answer. When homeschoolers learn to think like mathematicians, we will ask a different type of question.”

So I was delighted to see this new post from Bon Crowder: Ten Questions to Ask About a Math Problem. Click the link and read the whole thing!

Why a list of questions about math problems? Before creating them, I decided the questions should do the following:

  • Allow the student to dig in deeper to the math problem, and the math behind the problem.
  • Help the student to think about the problem in ways they wouldn’t normally.
  • Let the student get creative in thinking about the problem.

And of course doing these things regularly will train them to continue to do this with all math problems through their lives.

— Bon Crowder
Ten Questions to Ask About a Math Problem


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What Is a Proof?

I’ve been enjoying the Introduction to Mathematical Thinking course by Keith Devlin. For the first few weeks, we mostly talked about language, especially the language of logical thinking. This week, we started working on proofs.

For a bit of fun, the professor emailed a link to this video. My daughter Kitten enjoyed it, and I hope you do, too.

Full lesson available at Ted-Ed.


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Multiplication Matching Cards

PUFM 1.5 Multiplication, Part 2

Poster by Maria Droujkova of NaturalMath.com. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

Multiplication is taught and explained using three models. Again, it is important for understanding that students see all three models early and often, and learn to use them when solving word problems.

— Thomas H. Parker & Scott J. Baldridge
Elementary Mathematics for Teachers

I hope you are playing the Tell Me a (Math) Story game often, making up word problems for your children and encouraging them to make up some for you. As you play, don’t fall into a rut: Keep the multiplication models from our lesson in mind and use them all. For even greater variety, use the Multiplication Models at NaturalMath.com (or buy the poster) to create your word problems.

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New Math by Tom Lehrer

While I was working on the next post in my PUFM Series, I stumbled on an old favorite video. Since I couldn’t think of an excuse to use it in a post about multiplication, I decided to share it today. Enjoy!


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The World of Mathematical Reality

I wanted to include this video last week when I mentioned Paul Lockhart’s new book, but I couldn’t figure out how to copy it from Amazon. So today I read Shecky’s review of Measurement, which included the YouTube video. Thanks, Shecky!


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Problem-Solving Poll: What’s Your Answer?

[Photo by Alex E. Proimos via flickr.]

Patrick Vennebush, author of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks (the book and the blog) wants to know how you and your children would answer a tricky math problem.

He’s taking a poll:

I have often heard that, “Good teachers borrow, great teachers steal.” So today, I am stealing one of Marilyn Burns’s most famous problems. She takes this problem to the streets, and various adults give lots of different answers. When I’ve used it in workshops, even among a mathy crowd, I get lots of different answers, too.

What’s your answer?

“A man buys a truck for $600, then sells it for $700. Later, he decides to buy it back again and pays $800 dollars. However…”

Go to Patrick’s blog to read the whole problem and submit your answer. Let everybody in the family try it!

Update: Patrick posted the solution and percentages correct for students of various ages.


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Lockhart quadrilateral puzzle

Lockhart’s Measurement

After watching the video on the Amazon.com page, this book has jumped to the top of my wish list.

You may have read Paul Lockhart’s earlier piece, A Mathematician’s Lament, which explored the ways that traditional schooling distorts mathematics. In this book, he attempts to share the wonder and beauty of math in a way that anyone can understand.

According to the publisher: “Measurement offers a permanent solution to math phobia by introducing us to mathematics as an artful way of thinking and living. Favoring plain English and pictures over jargon and formulas, Lockhart succeeds in making complex ideas about the mathematics of shape and motion intuitive and graspable.”

If you take any 4-sided shape at all — make it as awkward and as ridiculous as you want — if you take the middles of the sides and connect them, it always makes a parallelogram. Always! No matter what crazy, kooky thing you started with.

That’s scary to me. That’s a conspiracy.

That’s amazing!

That’s completely unexpected. I would have expected: You make some crazy blob and connect the middles, it’s gonna be another crazy blob. But it isn’t — it’s always a slanted box, beautifully parallel.

WHY is it that?!

The mathematical question is “Why?” It’s always why. And the only way we know how to answer such questions is to come up, from scratch, with these narrative arguments that explain it.

So what I want to do with this book is open up this world of mathematical reality, the creatures that we build there, the questions that we ask there, the ways in which we poke and prod (known as problems), and how we can possibly craft these elegant reason-poems.

— Paul Lockhart
author of Measurement


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Rate × Time = Distance Problems

I love how Richard Rusczyk explains math problems. It’s a new school year, and that means it’s time for new MathCounts Mini videos. Woohoo!

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PUFM 1.5 Multiplication, Part 1

Photo by Song_sing via flickr. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

My apologies to those of you who dislike conflict. This week’s topic inevitably draws us into a simmering Internet controversy. Thinking my way through such disputes helps me to grow as a teacher, to re-think on a deeper level things I thought I understood. This is why I loved Liping Ma’s book when I first read it, and it’s why I thoroughly enjoyed Terezina Nunes and Peter Bryant’s book Children Doing Mathematics.

Multiplication of whole numbers is defined as repeated addition.

— Thomas H. Parker & Scott J. Baldridge
Elementary Mathematics for Teachers

Multiplication simply is not repeated addition, and telling young pupils it is inevitably leads to problems when they subsequently learn that it is not… Adding numbers tells you how many things (or parts of things) you have when you combine collections. Multiplication is useful if you want to know the result of scaling some quantity.

— Keith Devlin
It Ain’t No Repeated Addition

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PUFM 1.4 Subtraction

Photo by Martin Thomas via flickr. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

When adding, we combine two addends to get a sum. For subtraction we are given the sum and one addend and must find the “missing addend”.

— Thomas H. Parker & Scott J. Baldridge
Elementary Mathematics for Teachers

Notice that subtraction is not defined independently of addition. It must be taught along with addition, as an inverse (or mirror-image) operation. The basic question of subtraction is, “What would I have to add to this number, to get that number?”

Inverse operations are a very fundamental idea in mathematics. The inverse of any math operation is whatever will get you back to where you started. In order to fully understand a math operation, you must understand its inverse.

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PUFM 1.3 Addition

Photo by Luis Argerich via flickr. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

The basic idea of addition is that we are combining similar things. Once again, we meet the counting models from lesson 1.1: sets, measurement, and the numberline. As homeschooling parents, we need to keep our eyes open for a chance to use all of these models — to point them out in the “real world” or to weave them into oral story problems — so our children gain a well-rounded understanding of math.

Addition arises in the set model when we combine two sets, and in the measurement model when we combine objects and measure their total length, weight, etc.

One can also model addition as “steps on the number line”. In this number line model the two summands play different roles: the first specifies our starting point and the second specifies how many steps to take.

— Thomas H. Parker & Scott J. Baldridge
Elementary Mathematics for Teachers

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Family

Tell Me a (Math) Story

feature photo above by Keoni Cabral via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

My favorite playful math lessons rely on adult/child conversation — a proven method for increasing a child’s reasoning skills. What better way could there be to do math than snuggled up on a couch with your little one, or side by side at the sink while your middle-school student helps you wash the dishes, or passing the time on a car ride into town?

As soon as your little ones can count past five, start giving them simple, oral story problems to solve: “If you have a cookie and I give you two more cookies, how many cookies will you have then?”

The fastest way to a child’s mind is through the taste buds. Children can easily visualize their favorite foods, so we use mainly edible stories at first. Then we expand our range, adding stories about other familiar things: toys, pets, trains.

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Thinking (and Teaching) like a Mathematician

photos by fdecomite via flickr

Most people think that mathematics means working with numbers and that being “good at math” means being able to do (only slower) what any $10 calculator can do. But then, most people think all sorts of silly things, right? That’s what makes “man on the street” interviews so funny.

Numbers are definitely part of math — but only part, and not even the biggest part. And being “good at math” means much more than being able to work with numbers. It means making connections, thinking creatively, seeing familiar things in new ways, asking “Why?” and “What if?” and “Are you sure?”

It means trying something and being willing to fail, then going back and trying something else. Even if your first try succeeded — or maybe, especially if your first try succeeded. Just knowing one way to do something is not, for a mathematician, the same as understanding that something. But the more different ways you know to figure it out, the closer you are to understanding it.

Mathematics is not just memorizing and following rules. If we want to teach real mathematics, we teachers need to learn to think like mathematicians. We need to see math as a mental game, playing with ideas. James Tanton explains:

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PUFM 1.2 Place Value

Photo by Chrissy Johnson1 via flickr. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

Our decimal system of recording numbers is ingenious. Once learned, it is a simple, versatile, and efficient way of writing numbers. … But the system is not obvious nor easily learned. The use of place value is subtle, and mastering it is the single most challenging aspect of elementary school mathematics.

Ironically, these challenges are largely invisible to untrained parents and teachers — place value is so ingrained in adults’ minds that it is difficult to appreciate how important it is and how hard it is to learn.

— Thomas H. Parker & Scott J. Baldridge
Elementary Mathematics for Teachers

In other words, we take place value for granted. I know this was true of me when I started teaching my kids. Every year, their textbooks would start with the obligatory chapters on place value, which seemed to me just busywork. I began to appreciate the vital importance of place value when I read Liping Ma’s book and saw how the American teachers were unable to properly explain subtraction or multi-digit multiplication.

Place value is the heart of our number system, the foundation on which all the rest of arithmetic must be built. Because of place value, “The simplest schoolboy is now familiar with facts for which Archimedes would have sacrificed his life.”

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PUFM 1.1 Counting

Photo by Iain Watson via flickr. In this Homeschooling Math with Profound Understanding (PUFM) Series, we are studying Elementary Mathematics for Teachers and applying its lessons to home education.

Many things in mathematics need to be understood relationally — that is, in relationship to other concepts. But some things just need to be memorized. How do you know which is which? A homeschooling friend pointed out that one thing children definitely need to memorize is the counting sequence from 1-100 and beyond. While there are some patterns that make counting easier, one does just have to memorize which “nonsense sounds” we have attached to each number.

Another sort-of counting that young students should master is subitizing — recognizing at a glance how many items are in a small group. Children do this instinctively, but we can help them develop the skill by playing subitizing games.

[Aside: In writing this blog post, I ran into some nostalgia. Back when we first did these PUFM lessons, my daughter Kitten was only a toddler. I wrote, “I’ve tried to do lots of counting with my youngest, who hasn’t quite gotten beyond, ‘…eleven, twelve, firteen, firteen, nineteen, seven,…’ The numbers tend to start appearing randomly after she gets past 10.” Ah, memories.]

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PUFM 1.0 Preface

Profound Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics (PUFM) is a phrase coined by Liping Ma in her landmark book, Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, to describe the deep, broad, and thorough understanding exhibited by several of the Chinese teachers she interviewed.

You gain PUFM the hard way: by teaching. The Chinese teachers with PUFM were the ones who had taught for years, taught multiple levels, and studied intensively the materials they taught. I doubt there’s any other way to do it. Home schooling is great for developing PUFM because you teach for years and teach multiple levels. The problem is, by the time you really understand the stuff, the kids are grown. Here are a few hints to help speed up the process a little bit:

  • Learn as much as you can, wherever you can, even when the topic doesn’t seem to relate to what your kids are studying now. Ask questions.
  • Pick up library books on math (510-519 on the Dewey Decimal shelves), some of which you’ll find helpful and some will bore you to distraction. Read the helpful ones and return the others — but try to get through at least 10 pages of a math book before giving up. You’ll learn a lot that way.
  • Always look for connections between topics. Think about how addition and subtraction are related, or addition and multiplication, or fractions and division. Think about how the different levels of understanding a topic are related. (Hint: Start by reading the lesson titles as well as the lessons themselves. Lay out a few years’ worth of math books and just read lesson titles, to see how it all goes together.)
  • Work on picking up the math vocabulary (distributive property, factors, sum, numerator, etc.) yourself and using it as you teach. Having the right words will help you hold ideas in your mind.

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PUFM 1.0 Introduction

Profound Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics (PUFM) is a phrase coined by Liping Ma in her landmark book, Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics, to describe the deep, broad, and thorough understanding exhibited by several of the Chinese teachers she interviewed.

The Chinese teachers with PUFM didn’t get it automatically. It grew over many years of teaching several levels of elementary math and of studying their textbooks and teaching materials. They met weekly in teaching research groups to learn from each other’s experience, to find multiple ways to solve problems, and to broaden their mathematical understanding.

More than eight years ago, a group of homeschooling friends started a Yahoo “teaching research group” to discuss math in hope of deepening our own understanding and learning to better help our students. We had a good time, but the busy-ness of everyday life eventually won out. The group has mostly disbanded, though the archives remain. Now I’d like to bring that study to my blog, bit by bit, updated with things I’ve learned in the years since.

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Triangular Numbers: Sum from 1 to N

Kitten and I covered triangular numbers a couple months ago in our Competition Math for Middle School book, but I think it’s time to revisit the topic. I like the method James Tanton gives in this new video:

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Lex times 11, by Dan DeChiaro, via flickr

How to Conquer the Times Table, Part 5

Photo of Lex times 11, by Dan DeChiaro, via flickr.

We are finishing up an experiment in mental math, using the world’s oldest interactive game — conversation — to explore multiplication patterns while memorizing as little as possible.

Take your time to fix each of these patterns in mind. Ask questions of your student, and let her quiz you, too. Discuss a variety of ways to find each answer. Use the card game Once Through the Deck (explained in part 3)as a quick method to test your memory. When you feel comfortable with each number pattern, when you are able to apply it to most of the numbers you and your child can think of, then mark off that row and column on your times table chart.

So far, we have studied the times-1 and times-10 families and the Commutative Property (that you can multiply numbers in any order). Then we memorized the doubles and mastered the facts built on them. And then last time we worked on the square numbers and their next-door neighbors.

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photo by Karen via flickr

How to Conquer the Times Table, Part 4

Photo of Miss Karen (and computer) times 3, by Karen, via flickr.

If you remember, we are in the middle of an experiment in mental math. We are using the world’s oldest interactive game — conversation — to explore multiplication patterns while memorizing as little as possible. So far, we have studied the times-1 and times-10 families and the Commutative Property (that you can multiply numbers in any order). Then we memorized the doubles and mastered the facts built on them.

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