Beauty in Math: A Fable

Have you ever wondered what mathematicians mean when they talk about a “beautiful” math proof?

“Beauty in mathematics is seeing the truth without effort.”

George Pólya

“There’s something striking about the economy of the counselor’s construction. He drew a single line, and that totally changed one’s vision of the geometry involved.

“Very often, there’s a simple introduction of something that’s not logically within the framework of the question — and it can be very simple — and it utterly changes your view of what the question really is about.”

Barry Mazur
The Moral of the Scale Fable

CREDITS: Castle photo (top) by Rachel Davis via Unsplash. “A Mathematical Fable” via YouTube. Story told by Barry Mazur. Animation by Pete McPartlan. Video by Brady Haran for Numberphile.

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.

Confession: I Am Not Good at Math

I want to tell you a story. Everyone likes a story, right? But at the heart of my story lies a confession that I am afraid will shock many readers.

confessionPeople assume that because I teach math, blog about math, give advice about math on internet forums, and present workshops about teaching math — because I do all this, I must be good at math.

Apply logic to that statement.

The conclusion simply isn’t valid.

Continue reading Confession: I Am Not Good at Math

A New Graph-It Puzzle

Since I’ve been posting new Alexandria Jones stories this week (beginning here), I’ve gone back and re-read the old Christmas posts. I noticed that the original Graph-It Game included a religious design, but nothing for those who don’t celebrate Christmas.

So I updated the post with a new, non-religious puzzle. Here it is, if you want to play…

Graph-It Game Design

For this design, you will need graph paper with coordinates from −8 to +8 on both the x- and y-axis. Connect the points in each line. Stop at the periods, and then start a new line at the next point.

(-8,8) – (-8,0) – (0,8) – (-8,8) – (-4,4) – (0,4) – (0,8) – (8,8) – (4,4) – (0,8).

(8,8) – (8,0) – (4,0) – (4,-4) – (8,0) – (8,-8) – (0,-8) – (4,-4) – (0,-4) – (0,-8) – (-8,0) – (-8, -8) – (0,-8).

(-8,-8) – (4,4) – (0,4) – (4,0) – (4,4) – (8,0).

(8,-8) – (-4,4) – (-4,-4) – (0,-4) – (-4,0) – (-8,0).

(0,-2) – (0,-4) – (4,0) – (2,0) – (2,-2) – (-2,-2) – (-2,2) – (2,2) – (2,0) – (1,1) – (1,0) – (2,0) – (0,-2) – (-2,0) – (0,2) – (1,1) – (-1,1) – (-1,-1) – (1,-1) – (1,0) – (-4,0) – (0,4) – (0,-1) – (-1,0) – (0,1) – (1,0) – (0,-1) – (0,-2).

Color in your design and hang it up for the whole family to enjoy!

Now Make Your Own

Of course, the fun of the Graph-It Game is to make up your own graphing puzzle. Can you create a coordinate design for your friends to draw?

Want More?

You can see all the Alexandria Jones Christmas posts at a glance here:

“Love Christmas Lights” photo by Kristen Brasil via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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

Review: Math & Magic in Wonderland

Are you looking for a fun book to read over the summer? I just finished Lilac Mohr’s delightful Math & Magic in Wonderland, and I loved it.

Highly recommended, for kids or adults!

About the Book

Math-Magic-WonderlandA Jubjub bird disguised as a lark,
Borogroves concealing a snark,
When you’re in Tulgey Wood, you must
Be careful whom it is you trust…

With the discovery of Mrs. Magpie’s Manual of Magic for Mathematical Minds, Lulu and Elizabeth embark on an exciting journey to a realm inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poetry. The twins must use ingenuity and sagacity to solve classic logic puzzles that promise to uncover the book’s secrets and earn them The Vorpal Blade. In this interactive novel, the reader is invited to play along with the two heroines on their grand mathematical adventure.

Do you have the smarts to help Lulu and Elizabeth outwit the frumious Bandersnatch?

It’s time to enter Wonderland and find out!

–from the back cover of Math & Magic in Wonderland by Lilac Mohr

What I Liked

Puns, poetry, and plenty of puzzles. Tangrams, tessellations, truth-tellers and liars. History tidbits and many classics of recreational mathematics.

The sisters Lulu and Elizabeth seem real — though perhaps more widely read than most of us. They are different from each other. They make mistakes and have disagreements. But they never deteriorate into the cliché of sibling rivalry that passes for characterization in too many children’s books.

In each chapter, the girls must solve a language, math, or logic puzzle to proceed along their journey. Then a “Play Along” section offers related puzzles for the reader to try.

No matter how challenging the topic, the book never talks down to the reader.

What I Didn’t Like

… Um … Honestly, I can’t think of anything.

Since it’s traditional to criticize the editing of self-published books, I will say this: There was at least one place where the wording seemed a bit awkward. I would have phrased the sentence differently. But don’t ask me to identify the page — I was too caught up in the story to bother jotting down such a quibble. And I tried flipping through the book as I wrote this post, but I can’t find it again.

Buy, or Don’t Buy?

Buy. Definitely buy.

Unless you hate logic puzzles and despise Lewis Carroll’s poetry.

But for everyone else, this book is truly a gem. If you like The Cat in Numberland or The Man Who Counted, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy Math & Magic in Wonderland.

Useful Links

Disclaimer: Like almost all book links on my blog, the links in this post take you to, where you can read descriptions and reviews. I make a few cent’s worth of affiliate commission if you make a purchase — but nowhere near enough to influence my opinion about the book.

And Now for the Giveaway

Math-Magic-WonderlandLilac offered a paperback copy of Math & Magic in Wonderland for one lucky reader of Let’s Play Math blog.

The giveaway is done. Congratulations, Keshua!

But the comments section below remains open, and I’d still love to hear your answers:

  • Tell us about your favorite language, math, or logic puzzle book! Or share a book you’ve been wanting to read.

Noticing Fractions in a Sidewalk


My daughters didn’t want to admit to knowing me, when I stopped to take a picture of the sidewalk along a back street during our trip to Jeju. But aren’t those some wonderful fractions?

What do you see? What do you wonder?

Here is one of the relationships I noticed in the outer ring:

\frac{4 \frac {2}{2}}{20} = \frac {1}{4}


And this one’s a little trickier:

\frac{1 \frac {1}{2}}{12} = \frac {1}{8}

Can you find it in the picture?

Each square of the sidewalk is made from four smaller tiles, about 25 cm square, cut from lava rock. Some of the sidewalk tiles are cut from mostly-smooth rock, some bubbly, and some half-n-half.

I wonder how far we could go before we had to repeat a circle pattern?

Continue reading Noticing Fractions in a Sidewalk

Math Games with Factors, Multiples, and Prime Numbers

Students can explore prime and non-prime numbers with these free favorite classroom games:

For $15-20 you can buy a downloadable file of the beautiful, colorful, mathematical board game Prime Climb. Or pick up the full Prime Climb game box at Amazon.

Or you can try the following game by retired Canadian math professor Jerry Ameis:

Factor Finding Game


Math Concepts: multiples, factors, composite numbers, and primes.
Players: only two.
Equipment: pair of 6-sided dice, 10 squares each of two different colors construction paper, and the game board (click the image to print it, or copy by hand).

On your turn, roll the dice and make a 2-digit number. Use one of your colored squares to mark a position on the game board. You can only mark one square per turn.

  • If your 2-digit number is prime, cover a PRIME square.
  • If any of the numbers showing are factors of your 2-digit number, cover one of them.
  • BUT if there’s no square available that matches your number, you lose your turn.

The first player to get three squares in a row (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) wins. Or for a harder challenge, try for four in a row.

Feature photo at top of post by Jimmie via flickr (CC BY 2.0). This game was featured in the Math Teachers At Play (MTaP) math education blog carnival: MTaP #79. Hat tip: Jimmie Lanley.

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.

April 2015 Math Calendar

Feature photo above by Kelly Sikkema via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).


Six years ago, my homeschool co-op classes had fun creating this April calendar to hand out at our end-of-semester party. Looking at my regular calendar today, I noticed that April this year starts on Wednesday, just like it did back then. I wonder when’s the next time that will happen?

A math calendar is not as easy to read as a traditional calendar — it is more like a puzzle. The expression in each square simplifies to that day’s date, so your family can treat each day like a mini-review quiz: “Do you remember how to calculate this?”

The calendar my students made is appropriate for middle school and beyond, but you can make a math calendar with puzzles for any age or skill level. Better yet, encourage the kids to make puzzles of their own.

How to Use the Math Calendar

At home:
Post the calendar on your refrigerator. Use each math puzzle as a daily review “mini-quiz” for your children (or yourself).

In the classroom:
Post today’s calculation on the board as a warm-up puzzle. Encourage your students to make up “Today is…” puzzles of their own.

As a puzzle:
Cut the calendar squares apart, then challenge your students to arrange them in ascending (or descending) order.

Help Us Make the Next Math Calendar

If you like, you may use the following worksheet:

Submission details here: Kids’ Project — More Math Calendars?

Free-Learning-Guide-Booklets2Claim your two free learning guide booklets, and be one of the first to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.