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Quotable: Math Connections

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It turns out that the people who do well in math are those who make connections and see math as a connected subject. The people who don’t do well are people who see math as a lot of isolated methods.

— Jo Boaler
Math Connections

If you or your children struggle with math, Boaler’s non-profit YouCubed.org may help you recover your joy in learning.


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Algebra for (Almost) Any Age

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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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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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Rectangle algebra

Puzzle: Algebra on Rectangles

Gordon Hamilton of Math Pickle recently posted these videos on how to make algebra 1 puzzles on rectangles. As I was watching, Kitten came in and looked over my shoulder. She said, “Those look like fun!”

They look like fun to me, too, and I bet your beginning algebra students will enjoy them:

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How To Master Quadratic Equations

G'Day Math logo

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.

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Beautiful Math: Visualizing Music

Mathematicians Ask Questions

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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Math That Is Beautiful

One of the sections in my book encourages parents to make beautiful math with their children. If you have trouble imagining that math can be beautiful, check out this video:

How many mathematical objects could you identify? Cristóbal Vila describes them all on his page Inspirations from Maths.


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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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Who Killed Professor X?

What a Fun Book!

professorX

Who Killed Professor X? is a work of fiction based on actual incidents, and its heroes are real people who left their mark on the history of mathematics. The murder takes place in Paris in 1900, and the suspects are the greatest mathematicians of all time. Each suspect’s statement to the police leads to a mathematical problem, the solution of which requires some knowledge of secondary-school mathematics. But you don’t have to solve the puzzles in order to enjoy the book.

Fourteen pages of endnote biographies explain which parts of the mystery are true, which details are fictional, and which are both (true incidents slightly modified for the sake of the story).

I ordered Who Killed Professor X? from The Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!), and it only took 5 days to arrive here in the middle of the Midwest. My daughter Kitten, voracious as always, devoured it in one sitting — and even though she hasn’t studied high school geometry yet, she was able to work a couple of the problems.


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Sample from the Introduction to Mathematical Thinking Class

I’m really looking forward to Keith Devlin’s free Introduction to Mathematical Thinking class, which starts in mid-September. There are more than 30,000 nearly 40,000 students signed up already. Will you join us?

These days, mathematics books tend to be awash with symbols, but mathematical notation no more is mathematics than musical notation is music.

A page of sheet music represents a piece of music: the music itself is what you get when the notes on the page are sung or performed on a musical instrument. It is in its performance that the music comes alive and becomes part of our experience. The music exists not on the printed page but in our minds.

The same is true for mathematics. The symbols on a page are just a representation of the mathematics. When read by a competent performer (in this case, someone trained in mathematics), the symbols on the printed page come alive — the mathematics lives and breathes in the mind of the reader like some abstract symphony.

— Keith Devlin
Introduction to Mathematical Thinking


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How to Think like a Mathematician

Would you like to learn how to think like a mathematician? Stanford professor (and NPR “Math Guy”) Keith Devlin is teaching a free online course through Coursera. It starts in just a few weeks. I’ve signed up. Will you join us?

The prerequisite is to be taking or have finished high school math. If (like me) you took it so long ago that you can’t quite remember, don’t worry: The focus of the course is not on long-forgotten mathematical procedures, but on “learning to think in a certain (very powerful) way.”

Mathematical thinking is not the same as doing mathematics — at least not as mathematics is typically presented in our school system. School math typically focuses on learning procedures to solve highly stereotyped problems. Professional mathematicians think a certain way to solve real problems, problems that can arise from the everyday world, or from science, or from within mathematics itself.

The key to success in school math is to learn to think inside-the-box. In contrast, a key feature of mathematical thinking is thinking outside-the-box — a valuable ability in today’s world. This course helps to develop that crucial way of thinking.

— Keith Devlin
Introduction to Mathematical Thinking

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How Crazy Can You Make It?

And here is yet more fun from Education Unboxed. This type of page was always one of my my favorites in Miquon Math.

Update:

Handmade “How Crazy…?” worksheets are wonderful, but if you want something a tad more polished, I created a printable. The first page has a sample number, and the second is blank so that you can fill in any target:

Add an extra degree of freedom: students can fill in the blanks with equivalent and non-equivalent expressions. Draw lines anchoring the ones that are equivalent to the target number, but leave the non-answers floating in space.

How CRAZY Can You Make It


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Princess in the Dungeon Game

Yet more fun from Rosie at Education Unboxed. I found these while looking for videos to use in my PUFM Subtraction post. Rosie says:

This is seriously embarrassing and I debated whether to put this video online or not because this is NOT my normal personality, but my girls made up this game and will play it for over an hour and ask for it repeatedly… so I figured someone out there might be able to use it with their kids, too.

If you know me, please don’t ever ask me to do this in public. I will refuse.

Princess in the Dungeon, Part 1 – Fractions with Cuisenaire Rods

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Multiplication Challenge

Can you explain why the multiplication method in the following video works? How about your upper-elementary or middle school students — can they explain it to you?

Pause the video at 4:30, before he gives the interpretation himself. After you have decided how you would explain it, hit “play” and listen to his explanation.

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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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