Can You Do the Math Salute?

Did your device hide the video? Find it on YouTube here.

How Is This Math?

The idea that math is only about numbers, calculations, and textbook exercises is one of the greatest lies we learn in school. Of course, nobody ever comes straight out and actually says that. But the whole system teaches us every day what counts for math and what doesn’t.

James Tanton’s math salute is a physical puzzle.

How in the world did he do that?

Physical puzzles don’t fit into our cultural understanding of math. But the process of figuring out the puzzle is the same problem-solving process we use to figure out other puzzles — including the puzzles we call math.

In fact, real mathematics is all about figuring out puzzles without a teacher showing you what to do. Problem-solving is a universally useful skill.

As master teacher W. W. Sawyer said:

“Everyone knows that it is easy to do a puzzle if someone has told you the answer. That is simply a test of memory. You can claim to be a mathematician only if you can solve puzzles that you have never studied before. That is the test of reasoning.”

—W. W. Sawyer, Mathematician’s Delight

So tackle the puzzle of the math salute. Show it to your kids. (And don’t be surprised if they figure it out before you do!)

[THE FINE PRINT: I am an Amazon affiliate. If you follow the link and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you). But this book is a well-known classic, so you should be able to order it through your local library.]

New Printable Puzzle Books: Diffy Inception

The best way to practice math is to play with it—to use the patterns and connections between math concepts in your pursuit of something fun or beautiful.

Diffy Inception puzzles have their own symmetric beauty, but mostly they are just plain fun. Students can practice subtraction and look for patterns in the difference layers.

I just published four new activity books to our online store:

Notes to the teacher include puzzle instructions, game variations, journaling prompts, and more. Plus answers for all puzzles.

Available with 8 1/2 by 11 (letter size) or A4 pages.

Click for a Preview

My publishing company runs this online store, so you can find all my playful math books there — including an exclusive pre-publication ebook edition of my newest title, Prealgebra & Geometry: Math Games for Middle School. Click here to browse the Tabletop Academy Press store.

The Value of Puzzles

I love puzzles. Don’t you?

Here are several examples of river-crossing puzzles you and your kids can try. They date back at least to the time of Alcuin, the famous scholar from the court of Charlemagne.

I wish someone would write a whole math curriculum devoted entirely to puzzles.

W.W. Sawyer on the Value of Puzzles

Master teacher W.W. Sawyer didn’t write a curriculum, but he often used puzzles in the classroom.

“It is quite possible to use simultaneous equations as an introduction to algebra. Within a single lesson, pupils who previously did not know what x meant can come not merely to see what simultaneous equtions are, but to have some competence in solving them.

“No rules need to be learnt; the work proceeds on a basis of common sense.

“The problems the pupils solve in such a first lesson will not be of any practical value. They will be in the nature of puzzles.

“Fortunately, nature has so arranged things that until the age of twelve years or so, children are more interested in puzzles than in realistic problems.”

—W. W. Sawyer, Vision in Elementary Mathematics

Then he gives this example:

“A man has two sons. The sons are twins; they are the same height. If we add the man’s height to the height of one son, we get 10 feet. The total height of the man and the two sons is 14 feet. What are the heights of the man and his sons?”

Try This at Home

Not only can children solve puzzles like this, but even better — they can make up story puzzles of their own. You could spend a whole week or more making up silly height puzzles for each other to solve. By the time you were done, your kids would have a great introduction to algebra!

Maybe I never grew up. Because I still prefer puzzles over “real world” math problems.

What are your favorite kinds of puzzles? Please share in the comments section.

CREDITS: “Boat puzzles” comic from xkcd.com.
[THE FINE PRINT: I am an Amazon affiliate. If you follow the book link and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you). But this book is a well-known classic, so you should be able to order it through your local library.]

More Dover Samples

“Without mathematics you can’t do anything! Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.”

—Anna Claybourne, I Can Be a Math Magician


Dover Publications sent out a new email today with fun coloring and craft samples. And several puzzles from I Can Be a Math Magician: Fun STEM Activities for Kids by Anna Claybourne.

Enjoy!

If you’d like to receive future Dover Sampler emails, you can sign up here.

THE FINE PRINT: I am an Amazon affiliate. If you follow the book link above and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you).

Free Number Sense Resources from Steve Wyborney

If you teach children in the primary grades, you’ll enjoy this new series from the wonderful Steve Wyborney. Every day for the rest of the school year, Steve will post a new estimation or number sense resource for grades K–8 (or any age!) at his blog:

“This is my way of providing support and encouragement – as well as bringing math joy to your classroom… I’m going to stick with you all year long.”

—Steve Wyborney

Click to visit Steve’s blog

Free Sample: The Bogotá Puzzles

“Mathematics, besides being beautiful and useful, is fun. I hope [my book] brings mathematical joy to many.”

—Bernardo Recamán, The Bogotá Puzzles


Dover Publications occasionally posts free samples from some of their wonderful collection of books. This month’s sampler includes several puzzles from The Bogotá Puzzles by Bernardo Recamán.

Inspired by such illustrious collections as The Canterbury Puzzles, The Moscow Puzzles, and The Tokyo Puzzles. Colombian mathematician and professor Bernardo Recamán assembled these 80 brainteasers, word problems, sudoku-style challenges, and other math-based diversions while living and working in Bogotá.

Enjoy!

If you’d like to receive future Dover Sampler emails, you can sign up here.

THE FINE PRINT: I am an Amazon affiliate. If you follow the book link above and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you).

Kenken is Mathematical Play

It’s back-to-school time here in the States. And that means it’s time for the Kenken Classroom Newsletter. Yay for math puzzles!

KenKen arithmetic puzzles build mental math skills, logical reasoning, persistence, and mathematical confidence.

Free via email every Friday during the school year.

What a great way to prepare your children for success in math!

Sign up anytime:

Click Here for KenKen Classroom Newsletter

Continue reading Kenken is Mathematical Play

Math for Star Wars Day

May the Fourth be with you!

Here is a math problem in honor of one of our family’s favorite movies…

Han Solo was doing much-needed maintenance on the Millennium Falcon. He spent 3/5 of his money upgrading the hyperspace motivator. He spent 3/4 of the remainder to install a new blaster cannon. If he spent 450 credits altogether, how much money did he have left?

Stop and think about how you would solve it before reading further.

Continue reading Math for Star Wars Day

2020 Mathematics Game — Join the Fun!

New Year’s Day

Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time.

However, go in, community. New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.

— Mark Twain
Letter to Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Jan. 1863
quoted in Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 1: 1851-1864 (affiliate link)

If you’d like to enjoy a mathematical New Year’s Resolution, may I recommend Evelyn Lamb’s Math Reading Challenge? I haven’t decided if I’m going to follow along, but it does look like fun.

Meanwhile, I do resolve to challenge myself with more math puzzles this year. Would you like to join me?

Here’s a great way to start: with the 2020 Mathematics Game!

Click here to continue reading.

A Puzzle for Palindromes

If you haven’t seen the meme going around, this is a palindrome week because the dates (written American style and with the year shortened to ’19) are the same when reversed.

Here’s a math puzzle for palindrome week — or any time you want to play with math:

  • Print a 100 chart.
  • Choose a color code.
  • Play!

What do you think: Will all numbers eventually turn into palindromes?

Links

You can find all sorts of hundred charts on my Free Math Printable Files page.

Read about the history of palindromes on Nrich Math’s Palindromes page.

Find out more about the Palindromic Number Conjecture in Mark Chubb’s article An Unsolved Problem your Students Should Attempt.

Or play with Manan Shah’s advanced palindromic number questions.