Let’s Play Math in Korean

Ooo, look at my shiny new book! Let’s Play Math is now out in Korean. How cool is that?

You can find the book at these two major bookstores:

And probably in other places where Korean education or parenting books are sold.

I’m sorry to say I can’t read Korean — but I did play math there a couple years back. My daughter teaches English through EPIK, and I had a wonderful visit with her in Jeju. If you’re interested, you can see a few of my photos here, and my fraction-math sidewalk puzzle here.

And if you know a Korean-speaking family who wants to play math with their kids, I’d be honored if you share my book.


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.


10 Ways to Play Math with Play-Doh

Today we have a guest post from Lucy Ravitch, author of the new Kickstarter picture book Trouble with Monkeys: A math concept story of place value. She’s sharing a few ideas from her Math Activity Thursday (M.a.Th.) video series. Enjoy!


Hello, math fans and enthusiasts! Each week I try to give you and your family a fun math activity to try. Two months ago I posted this video with ten ways to turn play dough into an engaging activity for lower and upper elementary math.

If you want to make your own dough from scratch here are a few simple recipes. I encourage you to let your children play freely at first, before trying these activities.

Below I have identified some of the math concepts that your kids will experience as they play.

1. Toss It

Practice counting. With older children, record your results and make a graph of the data.

  • How many times can you catch it in a row? What’s your average number of tosses?
  • Talk about attributes. Does the size or color of the play dough balls make a difference?
  • How high are you tossing it? Talk about measuring systems. Do you use feet and inches, or meters and centimeters?
  • If you know how to juggle, time how long you can keep the balls going.

2. Smash It

Make several small balls or pieces. Then play as you smash them.

  • Play a NIM game: Make 10-15 small play dough balls. Take turns. On your turn, you can smash one ball or two. Whoever smashes the last ball wins the game.
  • Or smash your math facts: Choose several equations for your children to practice. Write each answer on a 3×5 card. Lay out each card next to a play dough piece. As you call out the equations, kids smash the play dough next to the correct card.

3. Shape It

Have fun molding your play dough. Roll it out to cut shapes.

  • Try making 3D shapes while practicing your math vocabulary. MathisFun.com has a great section about solid geometry. Can you find three math terms that are new for you?
  • Roll out the dough and cut 2D shapes. Discuss their attributes. Can you cut your shape in half to be symmetrical?

4. Hide Things in It

Find small objects around the house and enclose them inside play dough.

  • Take turns hiding small objects in play dough. Optional: Give a one-minute time limit to guess before opening it. This gives you and your kids a chance to talk about size, shape, or other attributes.
  • Have challenges to use the least amount of dough to hide identical objects. Two players have two minutes to hide an object in as little play dough as possible. The object must be completely concealed within the dough. What methods will you use?

5. Make Imprints on It

Show off your design skills and observe textures.

  • You can practice counting as you poke and press your fingers or objects into the dough. Older children can discuss the distance between impressions and/or the pressure applied.
  • As you and your kids make designs, talk about what you notice: Is your design symmetrical? What tools did you use (toothpicks, pencils, marbles, fingers, toy cars)? Which objects make interesting textures?

6. Cut It

Use a butter knife or the edge of a ruler to cut your play dough. Discuss findings as you play and explore.

  • In the video, I posed the question: how many sections do you get if you make only three cuts? Try it and see.
  • Does the number of pieces change if you use a shape other than a flat circle?
  • Discuss making straight cuts that will intersect or be parallel. Bring in more geometry terms.
  • Experiment with a different number of cuts.

7. Weigh It

Pull out a kitchen scale or balancing scales to use with dough.

  • Older children can make conversions between ounces to grams. They can make calculations about doubling or multiplying the measured weight. With younger kids, try using balancing scales. Compare the weights between pieces.
  • Try making two pieces that weigh exactly the same. This is harder than it sounds! For small children, this gives them the opportunity to see that the mass (weight) of an object can come in different shapes.

8. Measure It

Use a ruler or measuring tape while you play. There are several ways you can measure your dough — height, width, and length.

  • How long can you extend one ounce of dough? Pick your own size/weight of play dough and see who can get the longest. What fraction of a yard or meter is it?
  • Discuss height and what it takes to make dough stand vertically. How tall can you get three ounces to stand? Can anything help make it taller?

9. Roll It

Make sure you have plenty of room for this activity. Playing outside or on smooth floors works best.

  • With one push how far does your play dough roll? Is there an ideal size for a piece? Is there an ideal weight for rolling?
  • Is the ground sloped? What effects does the rolling surface have?
  • Why do some shapes roll easily while others don’t? Can you create a not-round shape that will roll?

10. Compare It

Compare similarities and differences between dough colors and types. Consider comparing the previously listed activities

  • If you made your own dough, compare consistency between batches. Is homemade dough denser or lighter than store-bought dough?
  • What are differences between the dough you played with and the dough that has not been touched?
  • Which of these activities do you think will take the shortest amount of time? The longest? Or put the activities in order based on how much dough you will need — least to greatest.

May you and your students have fun as you play with dough!


About the Author

Lucy blogs at kidsmathteacher.com and is the author/creator of Kids Menu Books. The first book in that series is The Pancake Menu, an interactive book that lets kids practice math as they play restaurant.

And be sure to visit Lucy’s Kickstarter project! She’s teamed up with artist Trav Hanson to create the delightful picture book Trouble with Monkeys: A math concept story of place value.

Education Bloggers: Share Your Post!

photo by Omar Omar via flickr
photo by Omar Omar via flickr

If you are a homeschooler or classroom teacher, student or independent learner, or anyone else who writes about math, now is the time to send in your favorite blog post for this month’s Math Teachers at Play (MTaP) math education blog carnival.

Click here to enter your blog post

Don’t Procrastinate! Time flies, and we’ll miss your entry.

The deadline for submissions is Friday, June 23. The Math Teachers at Play carnival will be posted at Math Mama Writes… blog.

Need an Idea-Starter?

If you haven’t written anything about math lately, here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing…

  • Elementary Concepts: As Liping Ma showed, there is more to understanding and teaching elementary mathematics than we often realize. Do you have a game, activity, or anecdote about teaching math to young students? Please share!
  • Arithmetic/Pre-Algebra: This section is for arithmetic lessons and number theory puzzles at the middle-school-and-beyond level. We would love to hear your favorite math club games, numerical investigations, or contest-preparation tips.
  • Beginning Algebra and Geometry: Can you explain why we never divide by zero, how to bisect an angle, or what is wrong with distributing the square in the expression \left(a + b \right)^2 ? Struggling students need your help! Share your wisdom about basic algebra and geometry topics here.
  • Advanced Math: Like most adults, I have forgotten enough math to fill several textbooks. I’m eager to learn again, but math books can be so-o-o tedious. Can you make upper-level math topics come alive, so they will stick in my (or a student’s) mind?
  • Mathematical Recreations: What kind of math do you do, just for the fun of it?
  • About Teaching Math: Other teachers’ blogs are an important factor in my continuing education. The more I read about the theory and practice of teaching math, the more I realize how much I have yet to learn. So please, fellow teachers, don’t be shy — share your insights!

I Need Volunteers! Would You Like to Host the Carnival?

Hosting the blog carnival can be a lot of work, but it’s fun to “meet” new bloggers through their submissions. And there’s a side-benefit: The carnival usually brings a nice little spike in traffic to your blog. If you think you’d like to join in the fun, read the instructions on our Math Teachers at Play page. Then leave a comment or email me to let me know which month you’d like to take.

Explore the Other Math Carnivals

While you’re waiting for next week’s Math Teachers at Play carnival, you may enjoy:


howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and you’ll be among the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.


Math Humor and Copywork

Homeschooling Memories…

The more years we spent homeschooling, the more I appreciated Charlotte Mason’s work and tried to incorporate her ideas into our laid-back, eclectic, not-quite-unschooling program.

We never fit the typical Charlotte Mason mold. Mosquitos and natural laziness limited our nature walks, and our version of narration was much too informal.

But those are just techniques, methods.

What really interests me in Mason’s writing is the philosophy behind the methods. Two points resonated: That we must respect our children as persons in their own right. And that we must provide a generous, wide-ranging feast to their minds.

Striving to live out those principles had a profound influence on our day-to-day homeschooling.

Which Brings Me to Copywork

I’ve never managed to keep a diary-style journal, though as the years roll by, I wish I had. But I’ve always enjoyed saving favorite tidbits from the books I read.

Mason called it a commonplace book. I call it my “magpie” journal, where I collect my treasure of shiny things.

And so I brought copywork into my homeschooling system. I taught English spelling, grammar, and mechanics through living language. My favorite exercise was to write a short quotation on the whiteboard, leaving out all punctuation and capital letters, for my children to edit.

Do you use copywork or keep a commonplace book? I’d love to hear your experiences or read one of your favorite quotations.

Please comment below!

Math Humor Quotes

As you probably guessed, my personal magpie journal overflows with mathematics. Inspirational, insightful, or simply instructive — if it catches my eye, I grab it. But my kids always prefer the funny bits.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Arithmetic is neither fish nor beast; therefore it must be foul.

—Anonymous

Mathematics: a wonderful science, but it hasn’t yet come up with a way to divide one tricycle among three little boys.

—Earl Wilson

Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.

—Anonymous (similar to a comment by Morris Kline)

You propound a complicated mathematical problem: give me a slate and a half an hour’s time, and I can produce a wrong answer.

—George Bernard Shaw

I pulled these quotations from the (out of print) Dictionary of Mathematical Quotations by Donald Spencer. Quotes range from thought-provoking to inane, including an assortment of “anonymous” bumper-sticker or T-shirt-style quotes not usually included in a quotation book. I do wish Spencer had included documentation with the quotes. Even though I’d probably never look them up, I’m still curious about where the quotes came from.

If you’d like to add mathematical copywork to your school repertoire, you’ll find the following online sources useful:


CREDITS: Feature photo (top) by Bruce Guenter via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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.


New Book: Word Problems from Literature

The posts on my Let’s Play Math blog are, for the most part, first-draft material. Of course, I’ve proofread each post — many times! because I’m a perfectionist that way, and yet I still miss typos :-/ — but these articles haven’t gotten the sort of feedback that polishes a book manuscript.

Well, now I’m taking some of the best of my old blog posts, expanding them with a few new games or activities, and giving them that book-quality polish. Let me introduce my newest series, the Playful Math Singles.

Under Construction …

The Playful Math Singles from Tabletop Academy Press will be short, topical books featuring clear explanations and ready-to-play activities.

I’m hoping to finish up two or three of these this year. Watch for them at your favorite online bookstore.

The first one is done …

Word Problems from Literature: An Introduction to Bar Model Diagrams

You can help prevent math anxiety by giving your children the mental tools they need to conquer the toughest story problems.

Young children expect to look at a word problem and instantly see the answer. But as they get older, their textbook math problems also grow in difficulty, so this solution-by-intuitive-leap becomes impossible.

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

But with guided practice, any student can learn to master word problems.

Word Problems from Literature features math puzzles for elementary and middle school students from classic books such as Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Hobbit.

For each puzzle, I demonstrate step by step how to use the problem-solving tool of bar model diagrams, a type of pictorial algebra. For children who are used to playing with Legos or other blocks — or with computer games like Minecraft — this approach reveals the underlying structure of a math word problem. Students can make sense of how each quantity in the story relates to the others and see a path to the solution.

And when you finish the puzzles in this book, I’ll show you how to create your own word problems from literature, based in your children’s favorite story worlds.

Free Online Preview

Buy now at your favorite online bookstore.

If you’re using these word problems with your children, consider buying them the paperback companion Word Problems from Literature Student Workbook.

… and People Like It!

A screen shot from this past weekend:

“I found this method really clarified for me what was going on visually and conceptually. Particularly when it came to more complex questions, for which I would normally write out an equation, I felt that thinking about what was going on with the bars actually made more sense … This is a wonderful book for those who want to support their children in finding better ways to work on word problems.”

—Miranda Jubb, Amazon customer reviewer


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.


Playful Math on Kickstarter

Have you noticed that we live in a wonderful era of mathematical innovation? Not only at the “it’s all over my head” level — which is growing faster than anyone can keep up with — but also at the Cool Math For Kids level.

For instance, our children can enjoy Patterns of the Universe, and Prime Climb, and This is Not a Maths Book, and Which One Doesn’t Belong?, and Tiny Polka Dot, and Math & Magic in Wonderland, and Spiraling Pentagons, and …

So many things! I’m sure I forgot one (or several) of your favorite modern-classic math books or toys. I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

And here are a few bits of new playful math. Click, support, and share!

Math Renaissance

In alternating chapters, Rodi Steinig tells stories about her math circle and exactly what happens there, while her daughter Rachel discusses why so many kids hate math, documents the ways math is taught in the classroom — and ways that can be improved.

I first discovered Rodi’s work through her chapter in Sue VanHattum’s wonderful collection Playing with Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers. I’ve been a fan of Rodi’s math circle blog for years, and I can’t wait to get my hands on her new book.

Funville Adventures

When 9-year-old Emmy and her 5-year-old brother Leo go down an abandoned dilapidated slide, they are magically transported into Funville — a land inhabited by ordinary-looking beings, each with a unique power to transform objects.

I had the fun of previewing this book. It’s a cute little fairy tale that should help launch family conversations about math.

Trouble with Monkeys

A boy wants to surprise his dad, but meddlesome monkeys keep getting in the way. The boy is interviewed by the local news, and the story escalates to involve pirates, ballerinas, ninjas — and the magic of our place value number system.

Lucy Ravitch, math blogger and author of The Pancake Menu, teams up with artist Travis Hanson (one of my favorite comic bloggers) to create a story that will build number sense.

This story reminds me of the Cookie Factory Model for long division. Place Value is a key to understanding many things in math.

GregTangMath Home Kit

I haven’t seen these games in person, but they sure look like fun.

And Others?

If you know a project we should all check out, please share in the Comments section below.


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.


Playful Math Carnival #108 via Math Hombre

Check out the new Math Teachers at Play blog carnival at Math Hombre blog. You’re sure to enjoy this month’s collection of playful math for all ages.

The carnival features numberless problems, math circles, bookmaking, talking with kids, infinite series, division, number routines, calculus, inspiring tips for teachers, and much more.

Click here to go read the carnival blog!

Past carnivals are still full of mathy treasure. Check them out:


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.