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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Socks Are Like Pants, Cats Are Like Dogs


Support This New Book from Natural Math

Socks Are Like Pants, Cats Are Like Dogs by Malke Rosenfeld and Gordon Hamilton is filled with a diverse collection of math games, puzzles, and activities exploring the mathematics of choosing, identifying and sorting. The activities are easy to start and require little preparation.

The publisher’s crowdfunding goal is $4,000. The book is almost ready to go to press, and I can hardly wait to see it!

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Math Game: Chopsticks


Feature photo above by Harry (Phineas H) via Flicker (CC BY 2.0).

Math Concepts: counting up to five, thinking ahead.
Players: two or more.
Equipment: none.

How to Play

Each player starts with both hands as fists, palm down, pointer fingers extended to show one point for each hand. On your turn, use one of your fingers to tap one hand:

  • If you tap an opponent’s hand, that person must extend as many extra fingers on that hand (in addition to the points already there) as you have showing on the hand that tapped. Your own fingers don’t change.
  • If you force your opponent to extend all the fingers and thumb on one hand, that makes a “dead hand” that must be put behind the player’s back, out of the game.
  • If you tap your own hand, you can “split” fingers from one hand to the other. For instance, if you have three points on one hand and only one on the other, you may tap hands to rearrange them, putting out two fingers on each hand. Splits do not have to end up even, but each hand must end up with at least one point (and less than five, of course).
  • You may even revive a dead hand if you have enough fingers on your other hand to split. A dead hand has lost all its points, so it starts at zero. When you tap it, you can share out the points from your other hand as you wish.

The last player with a live hand wins the game.

When a two-points hand taps a one-point hand, that player must put out two more fingers.
When a two-points hand taps a one-point hand, that player must put out two more fingers.

Continue reading Math Game: Chopsticks

Quotable: Focus on Being Silent

Children Reading Pratham Books and Akshara[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.

Thomas Hobson
Thank You For Teaching Me

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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Every Day Is Math Day

Happy 11-12-13

Happy 11/12/13, otherwise known as “tenty-one, tenty-two, tenty-three.”

Do your young children have trouble counting in the teens? Try making up Funny Numbers to help them! It’s a great habit to develop, because Funny Numbers will come in handy as mental math tools throughout their school math career.

If you’d like to make your own Happy Math Day post, check out the instructions here: Every Day Is Mathematics Day. And please share a link in the comments section below — I’d love to see what math holiday you invent!

Update: The numbers 11, 12, and 13 form an arithmetic progression. If that sounds too scary for your kids, check out Patrick’s bedtime math discussion Making Progress, Arithmetically.

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Maze Game: Land or Water?

Land or Water 2

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.

Draw the maze

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.

Looks like Land

(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?

land or water


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Talking Math with Your Kids

Danielson-Talking Math

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
Talking Math with Your Kids

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