Cultivate Mathematical Curiosity

“Cultivating thinking skills is the main reason for teaching math. It is the mind’s perfect playground for shaping up.

To begin developing thinking, you must first have a child who is curious. For without curiosity, there is only forced thinking.

The problem with traditional math is it jumps to the punchline.

Absolutely no mystery or suspense is developed in traditional math books. Why? Apparently, someone thought math was without mystery. That math is a definitive subject of rules and algorithms that all have been discovered.

We must persuade children that math is a worthy pursuit through interesting stories, examining quirky math properties, and asking good questions.”

— Lacy Coker
5 Tips to Cultivate Math Curiosity

The Mind’s Perfect Playground

My K-2nd-grade homeschool co-op math class will be following many of the tips in Lacy’s article.

Our topic is “Math Storytime,” so we’ll be starting with picture books, exploring the ideas they bring up, and finding things to notice and wonder about.

I’m looking forward to it.

But picture books aren’t just for little kids. They can be great discussion-starters at any age. Have you enjoyed math books with your students?

I’d love to hear your suggestions!


Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Background photo courtesy of Bekah Russom on Unsplash.

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Learning Mathematics Is a Deep Mystery

Of all the myths about mathematics, the one I find most blatantly wrong is the idea that some people are just born knowing the answers. In my experience, when you confront a genuine puzzle, you start out not knowing, no matter who you are.

Moreover, “knowing” the answers can be a trap; learning mathematics is about looking at what you thought you understood and seeing that there’s deeper mystery there than you realised.

— Dan Finkel
A Mathematician at Play Puzzle #1

Puzzles for Learning Mathematics

If you’d like to practice learning mathematics by confronting genuine puzzles, Dan’s “A Mathematician at Play” series looks like a wonderful place to start.

Some of these puzzles are classics, others are original. All of them involve some kind of thinking or insight that strikes me as pretty, or surprising, or delightful.

— Dan Finkel
A Mathematician at Play Puzzle #1

Dan plans to post new puzzles on the Math 4 Love blog every Monday for the next few months. And sharing spoilers on each following Friday, if you want to verify your answers.

Check it out!


Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Background photo courtesy of Amy on Unsplash.

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Learning Math Requires Imagination

“Teach mathematics the way we learn any other subject: Make it visual, make it concrete, not dependent on meaningless, abstract symbols, employ all the senses!

If math is such an important subject (and it is) why teach it in a way that is dependent on a child’s weakest mental ability: memory, rather than her strongest mental ability: imagination?”

— Geoff White
The Grade 10 Math Crunch, or Hitting the Wall at Grade 10

Mathematics and Imagination

How can we stir up our students’ imagination?

Teachers have struggled with this question for years — perhaps since the beginning of the profession.

Consider these comments by W. W. Sawyer in Mathematician’s Delight:

“Earlier we considered the argument, ‘Twice two must be four, because we cannot imagine it otherwise.’ This argument brings out clearly the connexion between reason and imagination: reason is in fact neither more nor less than an experiment carried out in the imagination.

“People often make mistakes when they reason about things they have never seen. Imagination does not always give us the correct answer. We can only argue correctly about things of which we have experience or which are reasonably like the things we know well. If our reasoning leads us to an untrue conclusion, we must revise the picture in our minds, and learn to imagine things as they are.

“When we find ourselves unable to reason (as one often does when presented with, say, a problem in algebra) it is because our imagination is not touched. One can begin to reason only when a clear picture has been formed in the imagination.

“Bad teaching is teaching which presents an endless procession of meaningless signs, words and rules, and fails to arouse the imagination.”


Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Background photo by Mehmet Kürşat Değer on Unsplash.

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.

Mindset for Learning Math

Playing with a new image editor, I came across this Winston Churchill quote. What a great description of how it feels to learn math!

If you have a student who struggles with math or is suffering from a loss of enthusiasm, check out Jo Boaler’s free online course on developing a mathematical mindset:

Or explore some of the playful activity ideas for all ages in her Week of Inspirational Math.


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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).

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Quotable: Then and Now

“I used to think my job was to teach students to see what I see. I no longer believe this. My job is to teach students to see; and to recognize that no matter what the problem is, we don’t all see things the same way. But when we examine our different ways of seeing, and look for the relationships involved, everyone sees more clearly; everyone understands more deeply.”

Joe Schwartz
Then and Now


[Feature photo (above) by jenn.davis via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).]

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Math Inspirations: Why Study Mathematics?

why-study-math

What teacher hasn’t heard a student complain, “When am I ever going to have to use this?” Didn’t most of us ask it ourselves, once upon a time?

And unless we choose a math-intensive career like engineering, the truth is that after we leave school, most of us will never again use most of the math we learned.

But if math beyond arithmetic isn’t all that useful, then what’s the point?

If you or your student is singing the “Higher Math Blues,” here are some quotations that may cheer you up — or at least give you the strength of vision to keep on slogging.

We Study Mathematics…

To Understand Creation

I don’t want to convince you that mathematics is useful. It is, but utility is not the only criterion for value to humanity. Above all, I want to convince you that mathematics is beautiful, surprising, enjoyable, and interesting. In fact, mathematics is the closest that we humans get to true magic. How else to describe the patterns in our heads that — by some mysterious agency — capture patterns of the universe around us? Mathematics connects ideas that otherwise seem totally unrelated, revealing deep similarities that subsequently show up in nature.

— Ian Stewart
The Magical Maze

That vast book which stands forever open before our eyes, the universe, cannot be read until we have learnt the language in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.

— Galileo Galilei
quoted by Clifford Pickover, A Passion for Mathematics

To Train Our Minds

The investigation of mathematical truths accustoms the mind to method and correctness in reasoning, and is an employment peculiarly worthy of rational beings.

— George Washington
quoted by William Dunham, The Mathematical Universe

I told myself, “Lincoln, you can never make a lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means.” So I left my situation in Springfield, went home to my father’s house, and stayed there till I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight. I then found out what “demonstrate” means, and went back to my law studies.

— Abraham Lincoln
quoted by William Dunham, The Mathematical Universe

To Understand History

In most sciences, one generation tears down what another has built, and what one has established another undoes. In mathematics alone, each generation adds a new story to the old structure.

— Herman Henkel
quoted by Noah benShea, Great Quotes to Inspire Great Teachers

Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals — the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned, if at all.

— Martin Gardner
quoted by G. Simmons, Calculus Gems

I will not go so far as to say that constructing a history of thought without profound study of mathematical ideas is like omitting Hamlet from the play named after him. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charming. . . and a little mad.

— Alfred North Whitehead
quoted in The Viking Book of Aphorisms

To Appreciate the Beauty

The mathematician does not study pure mathematics because it is useful, he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.

— Henri Poincaré
quoted by Theoni Pappas, More Joy of Mathematics

A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful. The ideas, like the colors or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics.

— Godfrey H. Hardy
A Mathematician’s Apology

And Most of All, to Play

Mathematics is a world created by the mind of men, and mathematicians are people who devote their lives to what seems to me a wonderful kind of play!

Constance Reid

At age eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as tutor. This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined there was anything so delicious in the world.

— Bertrand Russell
The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell

I love mathematics … principally because it is beautiful, because man has breathed his spirit of play into it, and because it has given him his greatest game — the encompassing of the infinite.

Rózsa Péter
quoted by Rosemary Schmalz, Out of the Mouths of Mathematicians

Did you enjoy these? You can find plenty more on my Math & Education Quotations page.

  • I would LOVE to hear YOUR favorite mathematics, education, or inspirational quote. Please share in the Comments section below!

 photo exploreMTBoS_zpsf2848a9a.jpgNever Ending Math Problem photo (above) by Danny via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). This post is part of the #MTBoS #MtbosBlogsplosion blogging challenge.


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