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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.”

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.]

Since my publishing house opened its online store last month, I’ve been busy stocking the shelves with printable math activities for all ages.

It’s a fun collection of low- or no-prep ideas for playing math with your kids.

And it’s still growing. I’m pouring through old notes of my favorite projects from years of playing math with the kids in our math clubs and homeschool co-op enrichment classes, looking for ideas.

Which One Will You Try?

We’ve made the first two Geometric Coloring Designs books permanently free.

[The Let’s Play Math Sampler is also permafree, though it’s an ebook, so it’s on a different virtual shelf. You can find it under the “Free Books” section.]

For the rest, we’ve kept our prices as low as possible to fit struggling family budgets — less than a cup of coffee at my favorite cafe, back when we could still go out for a sweet, creamy cuppa.

Just go to our online store and click the “Printable Activity Guides” button to check out all the mathy fun.

Someday, I hope to combine these books into a creative math “uncurriculum” for homeschoolers. Stay tuned to this blog for more news about that. Eventually…

Or check out David Butler’s wonderful Solving Problems Poster, which encapsulates Pólya’s system in a visual, easy-to-follow way that works with younger students, too.

CREDITS: “Professor” cartoon (top) by André Santana via Pixabay.
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).

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.

With the pandemic still raging, most of us will have to adapt our normal holiday traditions to fit the new reality. We may not be able to have a big family gathering (except over Zoom), but we can still enjoy great food.

So for those of you who are planning ahead, here is a mathematician’s menu for next week’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Homeschooling friends, check out this new homeschool math program that’s fun, rigorous, and engaging — a delightful, hands-on course that helps parents (and their children) understand math.

I had the privilege of previewing this class as Sonya and Lacy put it together. I highly recommend it to anyone who struggles with math, or who wants to take a non-traditional approach.

By focusing on making sense of number relationships, and by teaching algebra before arithmetic, this course provides a stress-free path to rich mathematical mastery.

And for all they provide, including weekly live workshops and a slew of printable math journal pages that prompt deep thinking, the price is a steal!