Math Teachers at Play #92


Welcome to the 92nd edition of the Math Teachers At Play math education blog carnival‌—‌a monthly smorgasbord of links to bloggers all around the internet who have great ideas for learning, teaching, and playing around with math from preschool to pre-college.

Let the mathematical fun begin!

By tradition, we start the carnival with a couple of puzzles in honor of our 92nd edition…

Puzzle #1

Pentagonal numbers92 is a pentagonal number, so I was delighted when Lisa Winer‘s (@Lisaqt314) carnival submission came in. Her class spent some time playing around with figurate number puzzles‌—‌including pentagonal numbers‌—‌and collaborated on a blog post about their discoveries.

Click here to find Winer’s own notes about the lesson, along with all the puzzle handouts.

What fun!

Puzzle #2

Or, try your hand at the classic Queen’s Puzzle:

  • What is the maximum number of queens that can be placed on an chessboard such that no two attack one another?

Spoiler: Don’t peek! But the answer is here‌—‌and the cool thing is that there are 92 different ways to do it.

Table Of Contents

The snub dodecahedron is an Archimedean solid with 92 faces.

And now, on to the main attraction: the blog posts. Many articles were submitted by their authors; others were drawn from the immense backlog in my rss reader. If you’d like to skip directly to your area of interest, click one of these links.

Along the way, I’ve thrown in some videos in honor of the holiday season.

Please: If you enjoy the carnival, would you consider sending in an entry for next month’s edition? Or volunteering to host sometime in 2016?

Early Learning Activities

  • Kids can enjoy making up math problems, but sometimes they can get a bit carried away. Just ask A. O. Fradkin (@aofradkin) about her daughter’s Gruesome Math.
  • Nancy Smith (@nancyqsmith) notices her students struggling with the equal sign in Equality. Strong opinions, and even a few tears. It will be interesting to hear what tomorrow brings…

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Elementary Exploration And Middle School Mastery

  • Joshua Greene (@JoshuaGreene19) offers some great ways to tweak an already-wonderful multiplication game in Times square variations. “It was really interesting to see the different strategies that the students took to determining what would go on their boards.”
  • For my own contribution to the carnival, I’ve posted a couple of hands-on arithmetic explorations in A Penny for Your Math.

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Adventures in Basic Algebra & Geometry

  • Tina Cardone (@crstn85) experiments with Bar Models in Algebra to help her students think about linear equations. “I did not require students to draw a model, but I refused to discuss an incorrect equation with them until they had a model. Kids would tell me ‘I don’t know how to do fractions or percents’ but when I told them to draw a bar, and then draw 4/5, they could do that without assistance…”

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Advanced Mathematical Endeavors

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Puzzling Recreations

  • Pradeep Mutalik challenges readers to “infer the simple rule behind a number sequence that spikes up and down like the beating of a heart” in Be Still My Pulsating Sequence.

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Teaching Tips

  • How can we get a peek at how our children are thinking? Kristin Gray (@mathminds) starts with a typical set of 1st Grade Story Problems and tweaks them into a lively Notice/Wonder Lesson. “When I told them they would get to choose how many students were at each stop, they were so excited! I gave them a paper with the sentence at the top, let them choose a partner and sent them on their way…”
  • Tracy Zager (@tracyzager) talks about her own mathematical journey in The Steep Part of the Learning Curve: “The more math I learn, the better math teacher I am. I keep growing as a learner; I know more about where my kids are headed; and I understand more about what building is going on top of the foundation we construct in elementary school.”
  • And finally, you may be interested in my new blog post series exploring what it means to understand math. Check out the first post Understanding Math: A Cultural Problem. More to come soon…

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And that rounds up this edition of the Math Teachers at Play carnival. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

The December 2015 installment of our carnival will open sometime during the week of December 21-25 at Math Misery? blog. If you would like to contribute, please use this handy submission form. Posts must be relevant to students or teachers of preK-12 mathematics. Old posts are welcome, as long as they haven’t been published in past editions of this carnival.

Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival information page.

We need more volunteers. Classroom teachers, homeschoolers, unschoolers, or anyone who likes to play around with math (even if the only person you “teach” is yourself)‌—‌if you would like to take a turn hosting the Math Teachers at Play blog carnival, please speak up!

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A Penny for Your Math

You know you’re a math teacher when you see a penny in the parking lot, and your first thought is, “Cool! A free math manipulative.”


My homeschool co-op math students love doing math with pennies. They’re rather heavy to carry to class, but worth it for the student buy-in.

This month, I’m finishing up the nearly 150 new illustrations for the upcoming paperback edition of my Let’s Play Math book. I’m no artist, and it’s been a long slog. But a couple of the graphics involved pennies‌—‌so when I saw that penny on the ground, it made me think of my book.

And thinking of my book made me think it would be fun to share a sneak peek at coming attractions…

The Penny Square: An Example of Real Mathematics

Real mathematics is intriguing and full of wonder, an exploration of patterns and mysterious connections. It rewards us with the joy of the “Aha!” feeling. Workbook math, on the other hand, is several pages of long division by hand followed by a rousing chorus of the fraction song: “Ours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply.”

Real math is the surprising fact that the odd numbers add up to perfect squares (1, 1 + 3, 1 + 3 + 5, etc.) and the satisfaction of seeing why it must be so.

Did your algebra teacher ever explain to you that a square number is literally a number that can be arranged to make a square? Try it for yourself:

  • Gather a bunch of pennies‌—‌or any small items that will not roll away when you set them out in rows‌—‌and place one of them in front of you on the table. Imagine drawing a frame around it: one penny makes a (very small) square. One row, with one item in each row.
  • Now, put out three more pennies. How will you add them to the first one in order to form a new, bigger square? Arrange them in a small L-shape around the original penny to make two rows with two pennies in each row.
  • Set out five additional pennies. Without moving the current four pennies, how can you place these five to form the next square? Three rows of three.
  • Then how many will you have to add to make four rows of four?
Twenty-five is a square number, because we can arrange twenty-five items to make a square: five rows with five items in each row.

Each new set of pennies must add an extra row and column to the current square, plus a corner penny where the new row and column meet. The row and column match exactly, making an even number, and then the extra penny at the corner makes it odd.

Can you see that the “next odd number” pattern will continue as long as there are pennies to add, and that it could keep going forever in your imagination?

The point of the penny square is not to memorize the square numbers or to get any particular “right answer,” but to see numbers in a new way‌—‌to understand that numbers are related to each other and that we can show such relationships with diagrams or physical models. The more relationships like this our children explore, the more they see numbers as familiar friends.

The Penny Birthday Challenge: Exponential Growth


A large jar of assorted coins makes a wonderful math toy. Children love to play with, count, and sort coins.

Add a dollar bill to the jar, so you can play the Dollar Game: Take turns throwing a pair of dice, gathering that many pennies and trading up to bigger coins. Five pennies trade for a nickel, two nickels for a dime, etc. Whoever is the first to claim the dollar wins the game.

Or take the Penny Birthday Challenge to learn about exponential growth: Print out a calendar for your child’s birthday month. Put one penny on the first day of the month, two pennies on the second day, four pennies on the third day, etc. If you continued doubling the pennies each day until you reach your child’s birthday, how much money would you need?

Warning: Beware the Penny Birthday Challenge! Those pennies will add up to dollars much faster than most people expect. Do not promise to give the money to your child unless the birthday comes near the beginning of the month.

A Penny Holiday Challenge

The first time I did pennies on a calendar with my homeschool co-op class was during December, so we called it the Penny Christmas Challenge:

  • How many pennies would you need to cover all the days up to the 25th?

I told the kids that if their grandparents asked what gift they wanted for Christmas, they could say, “Not much. Just a few pennies…”

LPM-ebook-300The Penny Square, Dollar Game, and Penny Birthday Challenge are just three of the myriad math tips and activity ideas in the paperback edition of Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together and Enjoy It. Coming in early 2016 to your favorite online bookstore…

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Active Math Game: Rock

Gordon Hamilton of Math Pickle posted Rock, a new active math game for grades K–2. If you have a set of kids and a few minutes to spare, give it a try!

How to Play Rock

  • Everyone makes a rock shape with eyes closed.
  • Everyone chooses a number: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 …
  • Teacher calls out numbers consecutively, starting at 0.
  • When a student hears their number being called they immediately raise a hand. When the teacher tags the hand, they stand up.
  • If more than one hand was raised, those students lose. They become your helpers, tagging raised hands.
  • If only one hand was raised, that child wins the round.


“Each game takes about 45 seconds,” Hamilton says. “This is part of the key to its success. Children who have not learned the art of losing are quickly thrown into another game before they have a chance to get sad.”

The experience of mathematics should be profound and beautiful. Too much of the regular K-12 mathematics experience is trite and true. Children deserve tough, beautiful puzzles.

Gordon Hamilton

What Happens When Grownups Play Rock

What are the best numbers to pick? Patrick Vennebush hosted on online version of the game at his Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog a few years back, though we didn’t have to bend over into rocks‌—‌which is a good thing for some of us older folks.

Vennebush also posted a finger-game version suitable for small groups of all ages, called Low-Sham-Bo:

  • On the count of 1-2-3, each person “throws” out a hand showing any number of fingers from zero to five.
  • The winner is the person who throws the smallest unique number.

You may want to count “Ready, set, go!” for throwing out fingers, so the numbers in the count don’t influence the play.

The official name for this sort of game is Lowest Unique Bid Auction.

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Spirolateral Math Doodles

This is not a math book coverInterrupt your regular math programming to try this fantastic math doodling investigation, and you might even win a prize!

Anna Weltman wrote a math/art book, and Dan Meyer is offering a classroom-size set of them to the winner of his fall contest (deadline Tuesday, October 6, and homeschoolers are welcome, too).

Even if you don’t want to enter Dan’s contest, spirolateral math doodles—‌or “loop-de-loops”—‌make a great mathematical exploration.


How to Get Started

To make a spirolateral, you first pick a short series of numbers (1, 2, 3 is a traditional first set) and an angle (90° for beginners). On graph paper, draw a straight line the length of your first number. Turn through your chosen angle, and draw the next line. Repeat turning and drawing lines, and when you get to the end of your number series, start again at the first number.

Some spirolaterals come back around to the beginning, making a closed loop. Others never close, spiraling out into infinity—‌or at least, to the edge of your graph paper.


For Further Reading

Articles by Robert J. Krawczyk:

Anna Weltman appeared on Let’s Play Math blog once before, with the game Snugglenumber. And she’s a regular contributor to the wonderful Math Munch blog.

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Math with Many Right Answers

Torsten, math teacher
The discussion matters more than the final answer.
The discussion matters more than the final answer.

One of the most persistent math myths in popular culture is the idea that mathematics is primarily about getting right answers.

The truth is, the answer doesn’t matter that much in math. What really matters is how you explain that answer. An answer is “right” if the explanation makes sense.

And if you don’t give an explanation, then you really aren’t doing mathematics at all.

Try This Number Puzzle

Here is a short sequence of numbers. Can you figure out the rule and fill in the next three blanks?

2, 3, 5, 7, ___, ___, ___, …

Remember, what’s important is not which numbers you pick, but rather how you explain your answer.

Possibility #1

Perhaps the sequence is the prime numbers?

2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, …

The prime numbers make a wonderful sequence, though it isn’t the one I was thinking of.

Continue reading Math with Many Right Answers

Most Difficult Math Fact in the Whole Times Table

7-8 sign

Happy Multiplication Day!

For help learning the Times Table facts, check out my multiplication blog post series:

Encourage your family to play with math every day:

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Happy Math Equation Day!

math equation day

Every Day Is Mathematics Day!

I’m still having fun with David Coffey’s meme, which started a couple of years ago with this blog post:

Make Your Own

Would you like to create a math holiday, too? Try one of these sign generators:

What kind of math will you celebrate? Leave a link to your Happy Math Day post in the comments below!

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