Final Countdown for Word Problems from Literature

There’s just over 24 hours left to get Word Problems from Literature and the Word Problems Student Workbook on Kickstarter.

Don’t miss out!

The Kickstarter campaign is roaring along. We hit our funding goal and plenty more, paying for two extra chapters (one on decimals and the other on percents, rates, and proportional reasoning) plus a special section on making the transition to algebra.

That means Word Problems from Literature will truly be a thorough guide to mastering problem-solving in elementary and middle school math.

And we’ve got plenty of goodies besides the book:

• The Case of the Mysterious Story Problem: A short treatise on how to solve math problems, written directly to the student by the master of deduction, Sherlock Holmes. Includes the printable poster, “Be a Math Detective” in full color and ink-saving black & white.
• Audio Commentary (and annotated pdf): An exclusive mp3 recording to play on your phone or other device, with additional math tips and behind-the-scenes tidbits.
• Make Your Child (or Yourself) a Character: Your child can be a character in a prealgebra story problem. Only 3 slots remaining: captive prince/princess (or the dragon), fantasy warrior king/queen, or a starship captain (or the ship’s engineer).
• Math You Can Play: All my math games, journaling resources, and other playful math books are available as add-on purchases in ebook or paperback format.

So many great ways to play math with your kids!

And as a bonus, anyone who pledges in these final days will get an extra printable activity guide: Diffy Inception. It’s a great way to get kids playing with fractions, mixed numbers, and decimals.

Math Game Monday: Random Walk Game

This game offers a fun introduction to a practical, real-world math concept.

“Random Walk Game” is an excerpt from 70+ Things To Do with a Hundred Chart, available as an ebook at my bookstore (Thank you for cutting out the middleman!) and in ebook or paperback through many online retailers. Read more about my playful math books here.

The Math Game Monday posts will be available for one week only. If you missed this one, explore the Topic Tag links in the sidebar. There are more than forty free games scattered around the blog. Have fun playing math with your kids!

Math Game Monday: Make One

This game helps students visualize and make sense of fractions, one of the most important foundational topics for success in algebra.

“Make One” is an excerpt from Multiplication & Fractions: Math Games for Tough Topics, available as an ebook at my bookstore (Thank you for cutting out the middleman!) and in ebook or paperback through many online retailers. Read more about my playful math books here.

The Math Game Monday posts will be available for one week only. If you missed this one, explore the Topic Tag links in the sidebar. There are more than forty free games scattered around the blog. Have fun playing math with your kids!

Playful Math: Getting Students To Write Their Own

To wrap up our week of exploring the resources from Word Problems from Literature, let’s talk about getting students to write their own math.

First up, I’m sharing an excerpt from the Word Problems Student Workbook. The “Story Problem Challenge” is one of my favorite math club activities.

Following that, you’ll find an amazing online mathemagical adventure for middle school: The Arithmetiquities. It’s great fun, and a great inspiration for students to create their own math stories.

Have fun writing math with your kids!

The Story Problem Challenge

What do you get when you cross a library book or favorite movie with a math worksheet? A great alternative to math homework!

The rules are simple:

(1) Choose a worksheet calculation to be the basis for your word problem.

(2) Solve the calculation.

(3) Consider where these numbers could make sense in your book or movie universe. How might the characters use math? What sort of things would they count or measure? Do they use money? Do they build things, or cook meals, or make crafts? Do they need to keep track of how far they have traveled? Or how long it takes to get there?

(4) Write your story problem.

To make the game easier, you may change the numbers to make a more realistic problem. But you must keep the same type of calculation. For example, if your worksheet problem was 18÷3, you could change it to 18÷6 or 24÷3 or even 119÷17 to fit your story, but you can’t make it something like 18−3.

Remember that some quantities are discrete and countable, such as hobbits and fireworks. Other quantities are continuous, such as a barrel of wine or a length of fabric. Be sure to consider both types when you are deciding what to use in your problem.

Then share your problem with friends, and you try their problems. Can you stump each other?

Old books are in the public domain, so you can always use characters like Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, or Winnie-the-Pooh (but not the newer Disney version with the red jacket). But most books and movies are the protected intellectual property of their authors or estates, or of the company who bought those rights.

When you write problems for your own private use, feel free to use your favorite characters from any story. That’s like fan fiction, secret, just for your own pleasure.

But if you decide to share your creation beyond your own home or classroom, then be sure to “genericize” it first. Change or remove the proper names, using general descriptions instead.

For example, if you love the Harry Potter series, you might want to use Harry or Hermione in your story problems. Instead, write about “the boy wizard destined to fight an evil sorcerer.” Or “the bright young witch who can master any spell.”

Or if you like the Star Wars movies, you might write about “an interstellar justice warrior with an energy sword.” Or “an alien master of martial arts training a cocky but inexperienced apprentice.”

We’d love to add your story to the Student Math Makers Gallery.

The Arithmetiquities

When the world of Sfera is threatened by the machinations of a malevolent sorcerer, it will be up to a band of unlikely heroes to become the brightest light in the darkness.

The adventurers fan out across the land to find and retrieve the Arithmetiquities, a set of ancient mathemagical artifacts.

The Arithmetiquities is a fantasy adventure story told through a sequence of 36 mathematical puzzles.

“Though it is still before sunrise, Lumparland Harbor is already bustling. Sailing ships moor at the misty docks, bringing travelers and goods to the seaside town. Three dwarves disembark from different ships, each adventurer returning home from some faraway locale. The three women gather at the end of the pier.

“The strangers discover that they all live along the main road that leads from the harbor, so they decide to split the cost of a wagon. Egga lives 10 miles away, Floora lives 20 miles away, and Greeta lives 30 miles away. The wagon ride costs \$1.50 per mile regardless of the number of passengers.

“How much should each of the adventurers pay so that each one has a fair fare?”

—Jason Ermer, “Lumparland Harbor,” The Arithmetiquities Chapter I

CREDITS: Feature photo (top) by Hannah Olinger via Unsplash.com.

Numberless Word Problems

As I mentioned yesterday, my new book includes links to online resources to help you play with word problems. So this week, I’m sharing a few of my favorites.

Today we examine a time-tested method to help kids reason about math: Leave out the numbers.

First up, there’s Brian Bushart’s numberless problem bank for young students. Then we’ll look at Farrar Williams’s modern revision of a math teaching classic with problems for upper-elementary and middle school students.

Have fun thinking math with your kids!

Word Problem Bank

Word problems are commonplace in mathematics classrooms, and yet they regularly confound students and lead to frustrated teachers saying things like:

• “They just add all the numbers! It doesn’t matter what the problem says.”
• “They don’t stop to think! They just start computing as soon as they’re done reading the problem.”

Brian Bushart offers a collection of ready-to-go slide presentations that walk through the steps of making a word problem make sense.

Math With No Numbers

Discover Farrar Williams’s book Numberless Math Problems: A Modern Update of S.Y. Gillian’s Classic Problems Without Figures, available in ebook or paperback.

Williams writes: “In order to answer the question, they’ll have to explain it, because the problem doesn’t give you anything to calculate with. The only way to answer is by explaining your process. See how sneaky a numberless problem is? It makes students really think about the process of solving the problem.”

“When students face a word problem, they often revert to pulling all the numbers out and “doing something” to them. They want to add, subtract, multiply, or divide them, without really considering which operation is the right one to perform or why.

“When you don’t have numbers, it sidesteps that problem.

“For students who freeze up when they see the numbers, this can be a really good way to get them to think about their process with math.”

—Farrar Williams, Math With No Numbers

CREDITS: Feature photo (top) by saeed karimi via Unsplash.com.

Problem Solving with James Tanton

At the back of my new Word Problems from Literature book, I’ve included an appendix with links to recommended online resources.

So I thought this week, I’d share some of my favorites with you. First up: Problem Solving Tips from James Tanton.

You may know Tanton from the popular Exploding Dots and other activities at the Global Math Project website. But he’s been busy for decades sharing the delight and the beauty of the subject. He currently serves as the Mathematician-at-Large for the Mathematical Association of America.

Read on to discover several of Tanton’s best problem-solving tips for middle school and older students.

Have fun exploring math with your kids!

How to Think like a School Math Genius

In this 4-video series, Tanton presents five key principles for brilliant mathematical thinking, along with loads and loads of examples to explain what he means by each of them. A call for parents and teachers to be mindful of the life thinking we should foster, encourage, promote, embrace and reward — even in a math class!

Two Key — but Ignored —Steps to Solving Any Math Problem

Every challenge or problem we encounter in mathematics (or life!) elicits a human response. The dryness of textbooks and worksheets in the school world might suggest otherwise, but connecting with one’s emotions is fundamental and vital for success — and of course, joy — in doing mathematics.

MAA AMC Curriculum Inspirations

Essays and videos showing how to approach math puzzles in a way that a) is relevant and connected to the curriculum, and b) revels in deep, joyous, mulling and flailing, reflection, intellectual play and extension, insight, and grand mathematical delight.

Scroll down and start with the Ten Problem-Solving Strategies.

Think Puzzles and Think Cool Math

Here are some essays illustrating astounding tidbits of mathematical delight. And here are some purely visual puzzles to surprise.

“The true joy in mathematics, the true hook that compels mathematicians to devote their careers to the subject, comes from a sense of boundless wonder induced by the subject.

“There is transcendental beauty, there are deep and intriguing connections, there are surprises and rewards, and there is play and creativity.

“Mathematics has very little to do with crunching numbers. Mathematics is a landscape of ideas and wonders.”

—James Tanton

CREDITS: Feature photo (top) by Ian Stauffer via Unsplash.com.

Math Game Monday: Make and Take

In this game, players use addition and subtraction to make the challenge number chosen by their opponent.

“Make and Take” is an excerpt from Math You Can Play Combo: Number Games for Young Learners, available as an ebook at my bookstore (Thank you for cutting out the middleman!) and in ebook or paperback through many online retailers. Read more about my playful math books here.

The Math Game Monday posts will be available for one week only. If you missed this one, explore the Topic Tag links in the sidebar. There are more than forty free games scattered around the blog. Have fun playing math with your kids!

Why I Love This Book

To everyone supporting my Kickstarter project so far: thank you ever so much! We’ve blown past our funding target, and we’re now working on the Stretch Goals to see how many extras we can add to improve the book.

If you haven’t backed the project yet, check out what you’re missing:

Why I love Word Problems from Literature

As a math coach, I love teaching adults and children how to learn math through play. And I’ve written several books full of games and activities to help families play math together.

I show parents and teachers how to look at math with fresh eyes. To explore the adventure of learning math as mental play, which is the essence of creative problem-solving. Mathematics is not just rules and rote memory. Math is a game, playing with ideas.

But at heart, I’ve always been a fiction fan — especially fantasy fiction. And this book, Word Problems from Literature, lets me bring that love of story to the surface.

This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’ve had so much fun with this new edition: adding stories, writing make-your-own-problem prompts, sneaking extra teaching tips into the worked-out solutions, creating an almost-magical guide to helping kids learn math.

I’ve taken a few screenshots to let you peek inside the new edition. If you like what you see, come over to the Kickstarter and order your copy today.

Playful Math 157 via Math Mama Writes

Would you like some great ideas for reading and playing math with your kids?

Sue VanHattum put together a delightful collection of books, geometric constructions, activities, and inspiration in the latest Playful Math Carnival:

What are you waiting for? Come join the fun!

Help Us Keep the Carnival Going

The Playful Math Blog Carnival wants you!

Each monthly Playful Math Carnival brings you a great new collection of puzzles, math conversations, teaching tips, and all sorts of mathy fun. It’s like a free online magazine of mathematical adventures, helpful and inspiring no matter when you read them.

The carnival is a joint effort. We depend on our volunteer hosts to collect blog posts and write the carnival each month.

Putting together a blog carnival can be a lot of work, but it’s a great opportunity to share the work of bloggers you admire and to discover new math-friends online. I love that part of being a host!

Classroom teachers, homeschoolers, college professors, unschoolers, or anyone who likes to play around with math — if you would like to take a turn hosting the carnival, please speak up!

CREDITS: Feature photo (top) by Iva Sallay.

Why Word Problems?

Wow! My Word Problems from Literature Kickstarter is just barreling along. I love seeing how many people are interested in a playful approach to teaching math.

But you might wonder: Why do I care so much about word problems?

In many textbooks, word problems are an afterthought tacked on to the end of a math lesson.

For me, it’s just the opposite. Word problems are the key part of a lesson, because that’s where children come face-to-face with the meanings of math concepts.

The Key to Learning Math

If we want our children to learn real math, we need to offer them plenty of problems to solve. A child may work through several pages of number calculations by rote, following memorized steps, but a good problem demands more thought.

A story problem puts flesh on the abstract bones of arithmetic. Word problems encourage children to ponder what it means for one thing to be bigger than another, or smaller, or faster, or slower, or made up of several parts.

Word Problems from Literature will feed your child’s mathematical imagination with story problems inspired by classic books, from 2nd-grade stories based on Mr. Popper’s Penguins to prealgebra stumpers inspired by The Lord of the Rings.

And when you finish my puzzles, I’ll show you how to create your own word problems from literature, using your children’s favorite story worlds.

The Trouble with Word Problems

Most young children solve math problems by the flash-of-insight method: They hear the problem, and they know by instinct how to solve it.

This is fine for simple problems like “Four kittens played with a yarn ball. Two more kittens came to join the fun. Then how many kittens were playing with the yarn ball?”

When problems grow more difficult, however, that flash of insight becomes less reliable, so we find our children fidgeting with their paper or staring out the window. They complain, “I don’t know what to do. It’s too hard.”

Too often, the frustrated child concludes, “I’m just not good at math.”

But the truth is that nobody is good at math, if you define “good at math” to mean they can see the answer instantly. Here’s a more useful definition: You’re good at math if you have problem-solving tools and know how to use them.

And that is something everyone can learn.

Word Problems from Literature and the Word Problems Student Workbook will show you how. Order your copies today!