# Reblog: In Honor of the Standardized Testing Season

[Feature photo above by Alberto G. Photo right by Renato Ganoza. Both (CC-BY-SA-2.0) via flickr.]

Quotations and comments about the perils of standardized testing, now part of my book Let’s Play Math.

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

The school experience makes a tremendous difference in a child’s learning. Which of the following students would you rather be?

I continued to do arithmetic with my father, passing proudly through fractions to decimals. I eventually arrived at the point where so many cows ate so much grass, and tanks filled with water in so many hours. I found it quite enthralling.

— Agatha Christie
An Autobiography

…or…

“Can you do Addition?” the White Queen asked. “What’s one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?”

“I don’t know,” said Alice. “I lost count.”

“She can’t do Addition,” the Red Queen interrupted. “Can you do Subtraction? Take nine from eight.”

“Nine from eight I can’t, you know,” Alice replied very readily: “but—”

“She can’t do Subtraction,” said the White Queen. “Can you do Division? Divide a loaf by a knife — what’s the answer to that?”

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# Playing with Pinterest: New Math Boards

Do you like Pinterest? I’ve enjoyed exploring the site lately, so I set up a few boards where I can pin the goodies I find. It may take awhile before I get all the old games and posts from this blog loaded up, so save the links and come back often…

### Playful Math Games & Activities

As our children (and their parents!) play around with mathematical ideas and the relationships between them, we develop deep understanding that is strong enough to support future learning. Playful math links include math games, activities, and interesting lesson plans.

### Math Doodling

Making abstract math visual: Math doodles let us see and experiment with a wide range of mathematical structures — and even to feel them, if we include hands-on 3D doodles in clay or other media. Links include art projects, geometry constructions, and physical models to explore.

### Math Teaching Tips & Resources

A variety of math teaching ideas for homeschool families or classroom teachers. Learning mathematics is more than just answer-getting: help your students make conceptual connections. These links are more “schooly” than on the other boards, and they include conceptual lessons that build your own understanding of mathematics as well as that of your students. And math notebooking resources, too.

### MTaP Math Education Blog Carnival Archive

Since early 2009, the Math Teachers at Play (MTaP) blog carnival has offered tips, tidbits, games, and activities for students and teachers of preschool through pre-college mathematics. Now published once a month, the carnival welcomes entries from parents, students, teachers, homeschoolers, and just plain folks. If you like to learn new things and play around with ideas, you are sure to find something of interest.

### Math-Ed Quotes

Inspiration for homeschooling parents and classroom teachers. This is where I’m posting my Wednesday Wisdom quotes.

And that’s the end of my Pinterest boards (so far).

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# Quotable: Focus on Being Silent

[Photo by Pratham Books via flickr (CC BY 2.0).]

I discovered this gem in my blog reading today. One of the secrets of great teaching:

Audrey seemed, for once, at a loss for words. She was thinking about the question.

I try to stay focused on being silent after I ask young children questions, even semi-serious accidental ones. Unlike most adults, they actually take time to think about their answers and that often means waiting for a response, at least if you want an honest answer.

If you’re only looking for the “right” answer, it’s fairly easy to gently badger a child into it, but I’m not interested in doing that.

## Learn Math by Asking Questions

The best way for children to build mathematical fluency is through conversation. For more ideas on discussion-based math, check out these posts:

And be sure to follow Christopher Danielson’s Talking Math with Your Kids blog!

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# Algebra for (Almost) Any Age

Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns website just keeps getting better and better. Check it out:

In addition to the 115 puzzle patterns (as of this writing), the site features a Gallery page of patterns submitted by students. And under the “Teachers” tab, Fawn shares a form to guide students in thinking their way through to the algebraic formula for a pattern.

How can you use these patterns to develop algebraic thinking with younger students? Mike Lawler and sons demonstrate Pattern #1 in the YouTube video below.

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# Maze Game: Land or Water?

This was a fun activity from Moebius Noodles for our PK-1st grade Homeschool Math in the Park group. The children take turns making a maze and setting a dinosaur inside. Then the other dinosaurs (parents or siblings) try to guess whether their friend is on the land or in the water.

Player #1

(1) First, draw a big circle on the white board. This is your lake.

(2) With a finger or a bit of cloth, erase a small section of the circle to create the opening for your maze.

(3) Starting at one edge of the opening, draw a random squiggle inside the circle. Make your squiggle end at the other edge of the opening.

(4) Set your dinosaur anywhere inside the maze.

Player #2

(1) Now it’s your turn to guess. Is the dinosaur standing on the land? Is it swimming in the water?

(2) How will you figure out if you guessed right?

(3) Check by jumping across the lines of the maze. Each jump takes you across a boundary: Splash! (Into the water.) Thump! (Back on the land.) Splash! Thump! … Until you reach the dinosaur inside.

(4) Or go to the maze entrance and walk your dinosaur along the path. Can you find your way?

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# Happy Math Storytelling Day

Feature photo (above) by L. Marie. Math comic by davidd. Both via flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Hooray for September 25th — it’s Math Storytelling Day!

Celebrate Math Storytelling Day by making up and sharing math stories. Everyone loves a story, so this is a great way to motivate your children to play around with math. What might a math story involve? Patterns, logic, history, puzzles, relationships, fictional characters, … and yes, even numbers.

For inspiration, visit:

# Talking Math with Your Kids

Christopher Danielson, one of my favorite math bloggers, has a new book out that is perfect for parents of preschool and elementary-age children:

It’s a short book with plenty of great stories, advice, and conversation-starters. While Danielson writes directly to parents, the book will also interest grandparents, aunts & uncles, teachers, and anyone else who wants to help children notice and think about math in daily life.

You don’t need special skills to do this. If you can read with your kids, then you can talk math with them. You can support and encourage their developing mathematical minds.

You don’t need to love math. You don’t need to have been particularly successful in school mathematics. You just need to notice when your children are being curious about math, and you need some ideas for turning that curiosity into a conversation.

In nearly all circumstances, our conversations grow organically out of our everyday activity. We have not scheduled “talking math time” in our household. Instead, we talk about these things when it seems natural to do so, when the things we are doing (reading books, making lunch, riding in the car, etc) bump up against important mathematical ideas.

The dialogues in this book are intended to open your eyes to these opportunities in your own family’s life.

— Christopher Danielson

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# Math Teachers at Play #66

[Feature photo above by Franz & P via flickr. Route 66 sign by Sam Howzit via flickr. (CC BY 2.0)]

Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — which is not just for math teachers! If you like to learn new things and play around with ideas, you are sure to find something of interest.

By tradition, we start the carnival with a couple of puzzles in honor of our 66th edition.

Let the mathematical fun begin!

## Puzzle 1

Our first puzzle is based on one of my favorite playsheets from the Miquon Math workbook series. Fill each shape with an expression that equals the target number. Can you make some cool, creative math?

Click the image to download the pdf playsheet set: one page has the target number 66, and a second page is blank so you can set your own target number.

# WOW – Multiplication! An Open Online Course for Parents and Teachers

Once again, the authors of Moebius Noodles are teaming up to offer a free course for families, math clubs, playgroups, and others who want to explore adventurous mathematics with kids of any age.

This short course will last only two weeks, and the topic is multiplication:

Both of my homeschool math circles (one with preschool-1st grade, and one with teens) thoroughly enjoyed the month-long problem solving course this summer, and we expect the new one to be just as much fun. Will you join us?

As with most of the Moebius Noodles courses, Maria and Yelena have adapted the activities for all ages from toddlers to adults. Where young ones go on a scavenger hunt for pretty snowflakes and cool truck wheels, older kids build bridges from multiplication to symmetry, spatial transformations, and proportions.

Visit the registration page to sign up no later than September 8. The main course activities will happen September 9th through 22nd. Expect to spend about two hours a week.

# Summer Problem Solving for the Young, the Very Young, and the Young at Heart

Here is yet another wonderful summer math opportunity for homeschoolers or anyone who works with kids: a free, 3-week mini-course on math problem solving for all ages.

The course is being organized by Dr. James Tanton, Dr. Maria Droujkova, and Yelena McManaman. The course participants include families, math clubs, playgroups, and other small circles casually exploring adventurous mathematics with kids of any age.

And then the real fun begins!

# What Do You Notice? What Do You Wonder?

If you want your children to understand and enjoy math, you need to let them play around with beautiful things and encourage them to ask questions.

Here is a simple yet beautiful thing I stumbled across online today, which your children may enjoy:

It reminds me of string art designs, but the app makes it easy to vary the pattern and see what happens.

• What questions can they ask?

I liked the way the app uses “minutes” as the unit that describes the star you want the program to draw. That makes it easier (for me, at least) to notice and understand the patterns, since minutes are a more familiar and intuitive unit than degrees, let alone radians.

# 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.

# Quotable: Learning the Math Facts

feature photo above by USAG- Humphreys via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

During off-times, at a long stoplight or in grocery store line, when the kids are restless and ready to argue for the sake of argument, I invite them to play the numbers game.

“Can you tell me how to get to twelve?”

My five year old begins, “You could take two fives and add a two.”

“Take sixty and divide it into five parts,” my nearly-seven year old says.

“You could do two tens and then take away a five and a three,” my younger son adds.

Eventually we run out of options and they begin naming numbers. It’s a simple game that builds up computational fluency, flexible thinking and number sense. I never say, “Can you tell me the transitive properties of numbers?” However, they are understanding that they can play with numbers.

photo by Mike Baird via flickr

I didn’t learn the rules of baseball by filling out a packet on baseball facts. Nobody held out a flash card where, in isolation, I recited someone else’s definition of the Infield Fly Rule. I didn’t memorize the rules of balls, strikes, and how to get someone out through a catechism of recitation.

## Conversational Math

The best way for children to build mathematical fluency is through conversation. For more ideas on discussion-based math, check out these posts:

## Learning the Math Facts

For more help with learning and practicing the basic arithmetic facts, try these tips and math games:

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# How To Master Quadratic Equations

feature photo above by Junya Ogura via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A couple of weeks ago, James Tanton launched a wonderful resource: a free online course devoted to quadratic equations. (And he promises more topics to come.)

Kitten and I have been working through the lessons, and she loves it!

We’re skimming through pre-algebra in our regular lessons, but she has enjoyed playing around with simple algebra since she was in kindergarten. She has a strong track record of thinking her way through math problems, and earlier this year she invented her own method for solving systems of equations with two unknowns. I would guess her background is approximately equal to an above-average algebra 1 student near the end of the first semester.

After few lessons of Tanton’s course, she proved — within the limits of experimental error — that a catenary (the curve formed by a hanging chain) cannot be described by a quadratic equation. Last Friday, she easily solved the following equations:

$\left ( x+4 \right )^2 -1=80$

and:

$w^2 + 90 = 22 w - 31$

and (though it took a bit more thought):

$4x^2 + 4x + 4 = 172$

We’ve spent less than half an hour a day on the course, as a supplement to our AoPS Pre-Algebra textbook. We watch each video together, pausing occasionally so she can try her hand at an equation before listening to Tanton’s explanation. Then (usually the next day) she reads the lesson and does the exercises on her own. So far, she hasn’t needed the answers in the Companion Guide to Quadratics, but she did use the “Dots on a Circle” activity — and knowing that she has the answers available helps her feel more independent.

# Math Teachers at Play #62

by Robert Webb

Do you enjoy math? I hope so! If not, browsing this post just may change your mind. Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — a smorgasbord of ideas for learning, teaching, and playing around with math from preschool to pre-college.

Let the mathematical fun begin!

## POLYHEDRON PUZZLE

By tradition, we start the carnival with a puzzle in honor of our 62nd edition:

An Archimedean solid is a polyhedron made of two or more types of regular polygons meeting in identical vertices. A rhombicosidodecahedron (see image above) has 62 sides: triangles, squares, and pentagons.

• How many of each shape does it take to make a rhombicosidodecahedron?

Click for template.

My math club students had fun with a Polyhedra Construction Kit. Here’s how to make your own:

1. Collect a bunch of empty cereal boxes. Cut the boxes open to make big sheets of cardboard.
2. Print out the template page (→) and laminate. Cut out each polygon shape, being sure to include the tabs on the sides.
3. Turn your cardboard brown-side-up and trace around the templates, making several copies of each polygon. I recommend 20 each of the pentagon and hexagon, 40 each of the triangle and square.
4. Draw the dark outline of each polygon with a ballpoint pen, pressing hard to score the cardboard so the tabs will bend easily.
5. Cut out the shapes, being careful around the tabs.
6. Use small rubber bands to connect the tabs. Each rubber band will hold two tabs together, forming one edge of a polyhedron.

So, for instance, it takes six squares and twelve rubber bands to make a cube. How many different polyhedra (plural of polyhedron) will you make?

• Can you build a rhombicosidodecahedron?

And now, on to the main attraction: the 62 blog posts. Many of the following articles were submitted by their authors; others were drawn from the immense backlog in my blog reader. If you’d like to skip directly to your area of interest, here’s a quick Table of Contents:

# Homeschooling High School Math

photo by ddluong via flickr

Feature photo (above) by Sphinx The Geek via flickr.

Most homeschoolers feel at least a small tinge of panic as their students approach high school. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” we wonder. “Can we really do this?” Here are a few tips to make the transition easier.

Before you move forward, it may help to take a look back. How has homeschooling worked for you and your children so far?

If your students hate math, they probably never got a good taste of the “Aha!” factor, that Eureka! thrill of solving a challenging puzzle. The early teen years may be your last chance to convince them that math can be fun, so consider putting aside your textbooks for a few months to:

On the other hand, if you have delayed formal arithmetic, using your children’s elementary years to explore a wide variety of mathematical adventures, now is a good time to take stock of what these experiences have taught your students.

• How much of what society considers “the basics” have your children picked up along the way?
• Are there any gaps in their understanding of arithmetic, any concepts you want to add to their mental tool box?

# Moebius Noodles: New Must-Read Math Book

Homeschoolers, after-schoolers, unschoolers, or anyone else: if you’re a parent with kids at home, you need this book. If you work with children in any way (grandparent, aunt/uncle, teacher, child care, baby sitter, etc.) you need this book. Or if you hated math in school and never understood how anyone could enjoy it, you need this book!

Moebius Noodles is a travel guide to the Math Universe for adventurous families (and it has lots of beautiful pictures, too!) featuring games and activities that draw out the rich, mathematical properties of everyday objects in ways accessible to parents and children:

• A snowflake is an example of a fractal and an invitation to explore symmetry.
• Cookies offer combinatorics and calculus games.
• Paint chips come in beautiful gradients, and floor tiles form tessellations.

# Beautiful Math: Visualizing Music

If we want to teach our children to think mathematically, we need to model and encourage asking questions. For instance:

• What is the difference between the rectangular sounds and the round ones?
• At 5:20, the orange notes (violin) change to a different shape. Why? What change in the sound does this represent?

What questions does the video inspire for you? I’d love to hear your comments!

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# How to Recognize a Successful Homeschool Math Program

photo by Dan McCarthy (cc-by)

After teaching co-op math classes for several years, I’ve become known as the local math maven. Upon meeting one of my children, fellow homeschoolers often say, “Oh, you’re Denise’s son/daughter? You must be really good at math.”

The kids do their best to smile politely — and not to roll their eyes until the other person has turned away.

I hear similar comments after teaching a math workshop: “Wow, your kids must love math!” But my children are individuals, each with his or her own interests. A couple of them enjoy an occasional geometry or logic puzzle, but they never voluntarily sit down to slog through a math workbook page.

In fact, one daughter expressed the depth of her youthful perfectionist angst by scribbling all over the cover of her Miquon math workbook:

• “I hate math! Hate, hate, hate-hate-HATE MATH!!!”

Translation: “If I can’t do it flawlessly the first time, then I don’t want to do it at all.”

photo by Jason Bolonski (cc-by)

# 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!

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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# Let’s Play Math Book Update

I love math, but had forgotten why I developed a love for math in the first place. This book made me realize how experiences in my childhood lit a spark in me … Denise Gaskins shows us how we can ignite this fire in our own children.

I believe her suggestions are invaluable for homeschoolers, but essential for the many parents whose children are learning to dislike math in school.

If you’ve wavered on whether to pick up my math book, be warned: This is the last month for the introductory sale price. In January, the price will go up to \$5.99 — which is still much less than what the original edition sells for, used.

Of course, if you’re a member of Amazon Prime, you can borrow the book (or my daughter’s novel) for free!

You don’t need a Kindle to read an Amazon.com ebook. You can access it on your computer, tablet, or smart phone using Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader or a Kindle Reading App.

# Poll: Math Ebooks?

Two of my daughters are attempting NaNoWriMo this year. So I’m thinking I might keep them company and give the EBookWriMo Challenge a try. What topic should I write about?

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# Would Your Student Like to Start a Blog?

by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

“Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own.”

– William Zinsser
Writing to Learn

Since the last recession, our homeschool co-op has been too small to support a blogging class, and I have seriously neglected my Blogging 2 Learn blog. So last week, I decided to refresh everything by starting up a new Blogging 101 Series. If your student has been longing to start a blog, you may want to check it out.

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# Introducing the “Let’s Play Math!” Book, Beta Version

This blog originally grew out of my Homeschool Math Manuals series published in the 1990s, and when I typed a post, I often added new tips, activities, or examples. Now the stories are coming full circle: I’ve entered the enriched blog-post versions back into the book manuscript, fixed all the typos I could find, deleted obsolete references, and added a list of my favorite “living” math books and internet links.

But no writer can accurately judge her own work. A professional editor is helpful, but he or she can’t see the book with a real homeschooler’s eye. Most writers look for beta-readers among their friends or acquaintances. As we live in a rural area, my supply of potential victims helpers is limited. So I decided to try an ebook experiment: Use Amazon.com to find readers willing to pay the price of a Caramel Macchiato for a pre-publication beta version of my book.

All of the books in the Math Ebooks Beta Series are designed to supplement your current math program — to help you teach math with ANY curriculum. If you would like to help me improve the books, please grab a notepad and jot down your thoughts as you read:

• Let’s Play Math:
How Homeschooling Families Can Learn Math Together, and Enjoy It!

Discover new ways to explore math as a family adventure, playing with ideas. True mathematical thinking involves the same creative reasoning that children use to solve puzzles. Introduce your children to the “Aha!” factor, the thrill of solving a challenging puzzle, and build thinking skills with toys, games, and library books. Find out how to choose math manipulatives, or make your own, and learn how to tackle story problems with confidence. Let’s Play Math will give you a wealth of motivating, hands-on ideas for teaching home school math.

## Edited to Add a Clarification

If you are interested in my book but don’t have time to take notes and send me comments, that’s OK. Feel free to take advantage of the beta price anyway — there’s absolutely no obligation.

I hope you and your children enjoy the adventure of learning math together!

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# Mathematicians Love to Play

[Photo by Windell Oskay via flickr. Part 3 of my Homeschooling with Math Anxiety Series.]

Mathematicians love to play with ideas. They experiment with puzzles. They tinker with the connections between shapes and numbers, patterns and logic, growth and change. To a mathematician, the fun of the game is in experimenting, in trying new things and discovering what will happen. Many modern strategy games were invented primarily for the fun puzzle of analyzing who would win.

[Photo by walknboston via flickr. Part 2 of my Homeschooling with Math Anxiety Series.]

Wise mathematicians are never satisfied with merely finding the answer to a problem. If they decide to put effort into solving a math puzzle, then they are determined to milk every drop of knowledge they can get from that problem. When mathematicians find an answer, they always go back and think about the problem again.

• Is there another way to look at it?
• Can we make our solution simpler or more elegant?
• Does this problem relate to any other mathematical idea?
• Can we expand our solution and find a general principle?

# How Can I Teach Math If I Don’t Understand It?

[Feature photo (above) by wonderferret, photo (right) by University of the Fraser Valley, both via flickr (CC BY 2.0). This post is the first of three in my Homeschooling with Math Anxiety Series.]

Our childhood struggles with schoolwork gave most of us a warped view of mathematics. We learned to manipulate numbers and symbols according to what seemed like arbitrary rules. We may have understood a bit here and a bit there, but we never saw how the framework fit together. We stumbled from one class to the next, packing more and more information into our strained memory, until the whole structure threatened to collapse. Finally we crashed in a blaze of confusion, some of us in high school algebra, others in college calculus.

# Build Mathematical Skills by Delaying Arithmetic, Part 4

To my fellow homeschoolers,

While Benezet originally sought to build his students’ reasoning powers by delaying formal arithmetic until seventh grade, pressure from “the deeply rooted prejudices of the educated portion of our citizens” forced a compromise. Students began to learn the traditional methods of arithmetic in sixth grade, but still the teachers focused as much as possible on mental math and the development of thinking strategies.

Notice how waiting until the children were developmentally ready made the work more efficient. Benezet’s students studied arithmetic for only 20-30 minutes per day. In a similar modern-day experiment, Daniel Greenberg of Sudbury School discovered the same thing: Students who are ready to learn can master arithmetic quickly!

[20 to 25 minutes a day]

At this grade formal work in arithmetic begins. Strayer-Upton Arithmetic, book III, is used as a basis.

The processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are taught.

Care is taken to avoid purely mechanical drill. Children are made to understand the reason for the processes which they use. This is especially true in the case of subtraction.

Problems involving long numbers which would confuse them are avoided. Accuracy is insisted upon from the outset at the expense of speed or the covering of ground, and where possible the processes are mental rather than written.

Before starting on a problem in any one of these four fundamental processes, the children are asked to estimate or guess about what the answer will be and they check their final result by this preliminary figure. The teacher is careful not to let the teaching of arithmetic degenerate into mechanical manipulation without thought.

Fractions and mixed numbers are taught in this grade. Again care is taken not to confuse the thought of the children by giving them problems which are too involved and complicated.

Multiplication tables and tables of denominate numbers, hitherto learned, are reviewed.

— L. P. Benezet
The Teaching of Arithmetic II: The Story of an experiment