Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Mathematically Inclined - Part 2

Encouraging and nurturing the love of mathematics can be a challenge both at home and in the classroom. Here are some of the things I do to support reluctant math lovers of all ages.

Read about math.
There are lots of great books that include mathematical content and encourage readers to explore mathematical ideas. Some of my favorites include:
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster - Take a journey with Milo, a young boy who drives through a magic tollbooth into the Lands Beyond and embarks on a quest to rescue the maidens Rhyme and Reason from exile and reconcile the estranged kingdoms of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. This is a great book for kids enamored of words and/or numbers.
  • The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger - With full color illustrations, this book tells the story of a twelve year old boy and math hater named Robert, who meets the Number Devil in his dreams. Over twelve nights the Number Devil introduces Robert to the exciting world of math.
Play board and strategy games.
Playing games is a great way to develop problem-solving skills as well as practice skills in arithmetic. I had a game corner in my classroom where students could play games when their work was finished. We also had game day on Friday for 20-30 minutes if we'd had a good week. While I know most of these can now be played electronically, there is something to be said for actually sitting down on the floor with some kids and rolling dice and moving pieces around a board. Some of the games on my shelf included:
Solve puzzles.
By puzzles I mean not only logic puzzles and Sudoku, but jigsaw and geometric puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles help develop skills in orientation and visual discrimination. Puzzles like tangrams also help students to think deeply about the orientation of shapes in space and how they can be put together to make new shapes. Here are some of the puzzles I like to provide.
  • Tangrams - The linked site provides a good description of tangrams. When I use these I actually solve the puzzles, trace the outline of the finished shape on cardstock and then laminate. For younger students, these outline shapes help them fit the pieces into the puzzle. Once students are comfortable with using them, I use the shapes to teach area, fractions and angle measure. Try them out online. Then make your own set and try to build some shapes. Here's another good resource.
  • Sudoku - If you like puzzles and numbers and haven't tried sudoku, you're missing out. For kids who may need some concrete help, try a sudoku board. If you want something more kid-friendly (less abstract way) to develop reasoning skills, try a version with pictures.
  • Logic Puzzles - You know the ones I'm talking about here. John, Karen, Tim, Ellen and Sam attend a party. The gifts they bring include a car, a giraffe, a watch, walkie-talkies and blocks. The information keeps coming and it is your job to figure out what each person wore, brought and ate. Phew! These can be great fun!
  • Geometric Puzzles - I own a number of puzzles created by Kate and Dick Jones, owners of Kadon Enterprises. They are all challenging and extremely well made. You can even try some online before you buy. All puzzles come with books explaining the math and offering many variants on play.
Connect math and art.
Using art in math class is one way to develop visual and spatial skills, as well as pattern recognition and basic geometry skills.
  • Origami - Paper folding is a great way to develop spatial reasoning abilities. It's also fun! You can get great paper at Origami Corner. Try making this origami crane. If you have trouble reading origami directions in print, try following along with the videos on this site. Since we connect math and reading around here, think about using Fold Me a Poem by Kristine O'Connell George and Lissy's Friends by Grace Lin.
  • Spirograph - If you haven't seen a real spirograph, look here. Kids love making art with these kits. Restoration Hardware sold a simple one last year. Once a few designs are made, consider the ways to color the design so that a pattern emerges.
Alright, that's it for now. I will continue this in part 3, where I'll talk about problem-solving and offer some suggestions for making homework more interesting and manageable.


  1. My son's 2nd grade teacher assigns card games for homework--she printed out special cards with just the numbers from one to ten. They started with basic War (called Peace), then moved to a version wherein each player had two piles, and you had to add the number of your two cards to see if you won. They've also been assigned addition concentration--you get the pair if it adds up to ten.

  2. With your affection for poetry, I have to ask if you've seen Theoni Pappas' MATH TALK: MATHEMATICAL IDEAS IN POEMS FOR TWO VOICES. And Jon Scieszka's MATH CURSE is just rip-roaring good fun (maybe the second book in the suitcase bound for a desert island! :^) Math and poetry in the same bowl. Math and fun in the same spoonful. Yum.

  3. I LOVE Math Talk. I read the poems with my preservice teachers. I think most of Pappas' books are really well done. They make math so accessible.

    And I love Math Curse as well (and Science Verse). I ask students to keep a 24 hour math list where they must highlight all the ways they have used math. Then I read Math Curse to get them thinking about how everything relates to math.

  4. Thank you for sharing! I am always looking to learn more about teaching math.

    I am going to have to read The Phantom Tollbooth. It is sitting in my pile of to be read books.

  5. I found this site really helpful when I was learning how to play sudoku. I'm not sure if you're interested in watching how to videos, but these are great for beginners!