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

Continue reading How to Think like a Mathematician

5 Stars at Home School Book Review

Wayne at Home School Book Review just posted a very kind review of my daughter’s book:

Banished is a captivating fantasy story with a well-thought-out plot that would be a credit to any writer. But it is especially remarkable coming from a thirteen-year-old student who has been homeschooled all her life.

However, be forewarned. When you reach the final page and find the words, “Not the End…,” you will cry, “Oh! No!”

I for one feel as if I simply can’t wait to read the next installment to find out what happens to Chris and his friends. It’s that good!


howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and sign up to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

Mathematicians Love to Play

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.

Continue reading Mathematicians Love to Play

Math Teachers at Play #53 via Motion Math Blog

We’re excited to celebrate the availability of Motion Math’s Pro editions and Motion Math: Hungry Guppy with this week’s Math Teachers at Play blog carnival, a monthly round-up of math-related blogs. We had some great submissions we’re excited to share with you — thanks to everyone who participated!

Let’s start with some math learning experiences —

Go read the post at Motion Math Blog!

Mathematicians Ask Questions

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?

Continue reading Mathematicians Ask Questions

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

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.

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

Quotable: We’ve Been Blind

I finally got around to reading a bit of the backlog in my Google Reader. I love Malke’s blog!

I used to think that math was some kind of inaccessible, abstract magic trick, a sort of in-joke that excluded us common folk, but now I realize that math is completely not that at all. The reality of math as most of us know it is like that story where three men are standing in a dark room touching different parts of an elephant. None of them has the full picture because they’re only perceiving individual elements of the whole animal.

The reality, I’m discovering, is that math is just like that elephant: a large, expansive, three-dimensional, intelligent, sensitive, expressive creature.

The problem is that most of us have been standing around in that dark room since about kindergarten, grasping its tail, thinking “this is what math is and, personally, I don’t think it’s for me.” We’ve been blind to the larger, incredibly beautiful picture that would emerge if only we would turn on the lights and open our eyes.

Malke Rosenfeld
The Elephant in the Room


howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and sign up to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

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!

Grade VI

[20 to 25 minutes a day]

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

[Note: Essentials of Arithmetic by George Wentworth and David Eugene Smith is available free and would probably work as a substitute.]

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

Continue reading Build Mathematical Skills by Delaying Arithmetic, Part 4