FAQ: Playful Math for Older Students

My students are so busy that time-consuming math projects are a luxury. How is it possible for older kids to play with mathematics?

Too often, the modern American school math curriculum is a relentless treadmill driving students toward calculus. (Does this happen in other countries, too?)

But that’s definitely not the only way to learn. For most students, it’s not the best way, either.

Here are a few ideas to get your older children playing with math…

Try This Scheduling Hack

Make time for interesting math, even if you have to skip the textbook work some days. (Did you know that many classroom teachers never finish a textbook?)

When my kids were homeschooling, my favorite scheduling hack was to invite friends over for a math club date on a regular basis, every week or two. That way, it was on the calendar, so I couldn’t procrastinate.

Two great places to find rich puzzles for older kids:

Play with Textbook Math

Don’t be in a hurry to rush through the book.

Take the attitude of exploration into your textbook math. Even high school math should be a playful discovery of ideas, not a drudgery.

Don’t try to do all the problems in a homework set, but pick a few to focus on.

Maybe try to solve a problem before you read the lesson — how would your students think it through? Then after you read the book’s method, which way do you like better? Why? Can you think of any other way to do it?

Set a timer to remind you not to spend too much time on textbook math. It can be mentally exhausting, just like a physical workout.

Never Too Old to Wonder

If you laid a good foundation of noticing and wondering about puzzles when your children were young, remind them of it whenever they get stuck.

Putting together a list of notices and wonderings can be a great way to start any tough math problem.

Or if they haven’t learned how to do this, then teach it now:

  • Pick a hard problem from their math book, but don’t read the question — just the given facts and diagram (if there is one).
  • Then notice everything you can, and wonder as much as you can.
  • Take turns adding new notices and wonderings.

When you finally read them the question, they should have a good idea of how to answer it, just based on the things they’ve already seen in the set-up.

Get Off the Beaten Track

Take side-trips into enjoyable (but advanced) math.

  • Or work through one of the many puzzle books by Brian Bolt.

There are lots of playful things to do with math, even for older kids.

I’d love to hear your ideas, too! If you have a favorite resource or tip for playing math with older students, please share in the comments section below.

CREDITS: Quote background photo (top) by Vlad Bagacian via Unsplash.com.
THE FINE PRINT: I am an Amazon affiliate. If you follow one of the book links above and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you).

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