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:

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.

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…

My book Prealgebra & Geometry: Math Games for Middle School is scheduled for release to regular bookstores in February, 2021. Because no publisher wants to send a new book into the world during such hectic, unsettled times as a big election, the winter holidays, or during inauguration season.

But preorder links are beginning to appear at several of the major online booksellers. And more stores will join them, as the information filters through their website systems.

The paperback will also be up for preorder, whenever the sites catch that update.

And remember: If you don’t favor a particular bookstore, you can buy the early-release ebook right now at my publisher’s webstore — and get a 10% discount if you order before 15 October.

I believe this was the first math game I ever invented. Of course, ideas are common currency, so I’m sure other math teachers thought of it before I did. But to me, it was original.

I’ve blogged about the game before, but here’s the updated version as it appears in my new book Prealgebra & Geometry: Math Games for Middle School — scheduled for publication in early 2021. Sign up for my newsletter to get updates.

Hit Me

Math Concepts: integer addition, absolute value.

Players: two or more.

Equipment: playing cards (two decks may be needed for a large group).

The all-time most-visited page on this site is my post about Math War: The Game That Is Worth 1,000 Worksheets. It’s easy to adapt to almost any math topic, simple to learn, and quick to play. My homeschool co-op students love it.

But Math War isn’t just for elementary kids. Several teachers have shared special card decks to help middle and high school students practice math by playing games.

Take a look at the links below for games from prealgebra to high school trig. And try the Math War Trumps variation at the end of the post to boost your children’s strategic-thinking potential.

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.

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?

Did you know that numbers can be polite? In math, a polite number is any number we can write as the sum of two or more consecutive positive whole numbers.

(Consecutive means numbers that come one right after another in the counting sequence.)

For example, five is a polite number, because we can write it as the sum of two consecutive numbers:
5 = 2 + 3

Nine is a doubly polite number, because we can write it two ways:
9 = 4 + 5
9 = 2 + 3 + 4

And fifteen is an amazingly polite number. We can write fifteen as the sum of consecutive numbers in three ways:
15 = 7 + 8
15 = 4 + 5 + 6
15 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5

How many other polite numbers can you find?

What Do You Notice?

Are all numbers polite?

Or can you find an impolite number?

Can you make a collection of polite and impolite numbers? Find as many as you can.

How many different ways can you write each polite number as a sum of consecutive numbers?

What do you notice about your collection of polite and impolite numbers?

Can you think of a way to organize your collection so you can look for patterns?

What Do You Wonder?

Make a conjecture about polite or impolite numbers. A conjecture is a statement that you think might be true.

For example, you might make a conjecture that “All odd numbers are…” — How would you finish that sentence?

Make another conjecture.

And another.

Can you make at least five conjectures about polite and impolite numbers?

What is your favorite conjecture? Does thinking about it make you wonder about numbers?

Can you think of any way to test your conjectures, to know whether they will always be true or not?

Real Life Math Is Social

This is how mathematics works. Mathematicians play with numbers, shapes, or ideas and explore how those relate to other ideas.

After collecting a set of interesting things, they think about ways to organize them, so they can look for patterns and connections. They make conjectures and try to imagine ways to test them.

And mathematicians compare their ideas with each other. In real life, math is a very social game.

So play with polite and impolite numbers. Compare your conjectures with a friend.

This fall, my homeschool co-op math class will play with math journaling.

But my earlier dot-grid notebooks were designed for adults. Too thick, too many pages. And the half-cm dot grid made lines too narrow for young writers.

So I created a new series of paperback dot-grid journals for my elementary and middle school students.

I’m sure we’ll use several of these activities in my homeschool co-op math class this fall.

Noticing and Wondering

Learning math requires more than mastering number facts and memorizing rules. At its heart, math is a way of thinking.

So more than anything else, we need to teach our kids to think mathematically — to make sense of math problems and persevere in figuring them out.

Help your children learn to see with mathematical eyes, noticing and wondering about math problems.

Whenever your children need to learn a new idea in math, or whenever they get stuck on a tough homework problem, that’s a good time to step back and make sense of the math.

Kids can write their noticings and wonderings in the math journal. Or you can act as the scribe, writing down (without comment) everything child says.

For more tips on teaching students to brainstorm about math, check out these online resources from The Math Forum:

Problem-solving is a habit of mind that you and your children can learn and grow in. Help your kids practice slowing down and taking the time to fully understand a problem situation.

Puzzles Are Math Experiments

Almost anything your child notices or wonders can lead to a math experiment.

For example, one day my daughter played an online math game…

A math journal can be like a science lab book. Not the pre-digested, fill-in-the-blank lab books that some curricula provide. But the real lab books that scientists write to keep track of their data, and what they’ve tried so far, and what went wrong, and what finally worked.

Here are a few open-ended math experiments you might try:

Explore Shapes

Pick out a 3×3 set of dots. How many different shapes can you make by connecting those dots? Which shapes have symmetry? Which ones do you like the best?

What if you make shapes on isometric grid paper? How many different ways can you connect those dots?

Limit your investigation to a specific type of shape. How many different triangles can you make on a 3×3 set of dots? How many different quadrilaterals? What if you used a bigger set of dots?

Explore Angles

On your grid paper, let one dot “hold hands” with two others. How many different angles can you make? Can you figure out their degree without measuring?

Are there any angles you can’t make on your dot grid? If your paper extended forever, would there be any angles you couldn’t make?

Does it make a difference whether you try the angle experiments on square or isometric grid paper?

Explore Squares

How many different squares can you draw on your grid paper? (Don’t forget the squares that sit on a slant!) How can you be sure that they are perfectly square?

Number the rows and columns of dots. Can you find a pattern in the corner positions for your squares? If someone drew a secret square, what’s the minimum information you would need to duplicate it?

Does it make a difference whether you try the square experiments on square or isometric grid paper?

I’d love to hear your favorite math explorations or journaling tips!

Please share in the comments section below.

P.S.: Do you have a blog? If you’d like to feature a math journal review and giveaway, I’ll provide the prize. Send a message through my contact form or leave a comment below, and we’ll work out the details.