Infinite Cake: Don Cohen’s Infinite Series for Kids

Math Concepts: division as equal sharing, naming fractions, adding fractions, infinitesimals, iteration, limits
Prerequisite: able to identify fractions as part of a whole

This is how I tell the story:

  • We have a cake to share, just the two of us. It’s not TOO big a cake, ‘cuz we don’t want to get sick. An 8 × 8 or 16 × 16 square on the graph paper should be just right. Can you cut the cake so we each get a fair share? Color in your part.

Bobby Flay German Chocolate Cake

  • How big is your piece compared to the whole, original cake?
  • But you know, I’m on a diet, and I just don’t think I can eat my whole piece. Half the cake is too much for me. Is it okay if I share my piece with you? How can we divide it evenly, so we each get a fair share? How big is your new piece? Color it in.
  • How much of the whole, original cake do you have now? How can you tell?
  • I keep thinking of my diet, and I really don’t want all my piece of cake. It looks good, but it’s still just a bit too big for me. Will you take half of it? How big is that piece?
  • Now how much of the whole, original cake do you have? How could we figure it out?
    [Teaching tip: Don’t make kids do the calculation on paper. In the early stages, they can visualize and count up the fourths or maybe the eighths. As the pieces get smaller, the easiest way to find the sum is what Cohen does in the video below‌—‌identify how much of the cake is left out.]
  • Even for being on a diet, I still don’t feel very hungry…

Continue reading Infinite Cake: Don Cohen’s Infinite Series for Kids

Reblog: Calculus Tidbits

[Feature photo above by Olga Lednichenko via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).]

This week I have a series of quotes about calculus from my first two years of blogging. The posts were so short that I won’t bother to link you back to them, but math humor keeps well over the years, and W. W. Sawyer is (as always) insightful.

I hope you enjoy this “Throw-back Thursday” blast from the Let’s Play Math! blog archives:

Finding the Limit

Eldest daughter had her first calculus lesson last night: finding the limit as delta-t approached zero. The teacher found the speed of a car at a given point by using the distance function, calculating the average speed over shorter and shorter time intervals. Dd summarized the lesson for me:

“If you want to divide by zero, you have to sneak up on it from behind.”

Harmonic Series Quotation

This kicked off my week with a laugh:

Today I said to the calculus students, “I know, you’re looking at this series and you don’t see what I’m warning you about. You look and it and you think, ‘I trust this series. I would take candy from this series. I would get in a car with this series.’ But I’m going to warn you, this series is out to get you. Always remember: The harmonic series diverges. Never forget it.”

—Rudbeckia Hirta
Learning Curves Blog: The Harmonic Series
quoting Alexandre Borovik

So You Think You Know Calculus?

Rudbeckia Hirta has a great idea for a new TV blockbuster:

Common Sense and Calculus


And here’s a quick quote from W. W. Sawyer’s Mathematician’s Delight:

If you cannot see what the exact speed is, begin to ask questions. Silly ones are the best to begin with. Is the speed a million miles an hour? Or one inch a century? Somewhere between these limits. Good. We now know something about the speed. Begin to bring the limits in, and see how close together they can be brought.

Study your own methods of thought. How do you know that the speed is less than a million miles an hour? What method, in fact, are you unconsciously using to estimate speed? Can this method be applied to get closer estimates?

You know what speed is. You would not believe a man who claimed to walk at 5 miles an hour, but took 3 hours to walk 6 miles. You have only to apply the same common sense to stones rolling down hillsides, and the calculus is at your command.

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Math Teachers at Play #52

[Photo by bumeister1 via flickr.]

Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — which is not just for math teachers! We have games, lessons, and learning activities from preschool math to calculus. If you like to learn new things and play around with mathematical ideas, you are sure to find something of interest.

Scattered between all the math blog links, I’ve included highlights from the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice, which describe the types of expertise that teachers at all levels — whether in traditional, experimental, or home schools — should seek to develop in their math students.

Let the mathematical fun begin…


By tradition, we start the carnival with a couple of puzzles in honor of our 52nd edition. Since there are 52 playing cards in a standard deck, I chose two card puzzles from the Maths Is Fun Card Puzzles page:

  • A blind-folded man is handed a deck of 52 cards and told that exactly 10 of these cards are facing up. How can he divide the cards into two piles (which may be of different sizes) with each pile having the same number of cards facing up?
  • What is the smallest number of cards you must take from a 52-card deck to be guaranteed at least one four-of-a-kind?

The answers are at Maths Is Fun, but don’t look there. Having someone give you the answer is no fun at all!

Continue reading Math Teachers at Play #52

Math Teachers at Play #46

Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — which is not just for math teachers! Here is a smorgasbord of ideas for learning, teaching, and playing around with math from preschool to pre-college. Some articles were submitted by their authors, others were drawn from the immense backlog in my blog reader. If you like to learn new things, you are sure to find something of interest.

Living Books for Math

A child’s intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find… We must put into their hands the sources which we must needs use for ourselves, the best books of the best writers.

For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body.

Charlotte Mason
Toward A Philosophy of Education

Princess Kitten and I took a longer than usual holiday break from homeschooling, but now I’m in plan-for-the-new-semester mode. I hope to include more living math in our schedule, so I decided to illustrate this edition of the MTaP carnival with a few of my favorite living math books. I’d love to hear more living book suggestions in the comments!

If you click on a book cover, the links take you to, where you can read reviews and other details (and where I earn a small affiliate commission if you actually buy the book), but all of these books should be available through your public library or via inter-library loan.

Let the mathematical fun begin…

Continue reading Math Teachers at Play #46

Quotable: From Calc 3

“We have 4 equations and only 4 unknowns so that gives us a fighting chance of actually solving it.”

— My daughter’s Calculus III teacher

“Of course, he was doing an easy problem compared to the homework. 😛 ”

— My daughter, Niner

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Math Teachers at Play #39

Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — which is not just for math teachers! If you like to learn new things and play around with ideas, you are sure to find something of interest.

Several of these articles were submitted by the bloggers; others were drawn from my overflowing blog reader. Don’t try to skim everything all at once, but take the time to enjoy browsing. Savor a few posts today, and then come back for another helping tomorrow or next week.

Most of the photos below are from the 2010 MAA Found Math Gallery; click each image for more details. Quotations are from Mike Cook’s Canonical List of Math Jokes.

Let the mathematical fun begin…

Continue reading Math Teachers at Play #39

Math Teachers at Play #35

35 is a tetrahedral number

Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — which is not just for math teachers.

Do you enjoy math? I hope so! If not, browsing these links just may change your mind. Most of these posts were submitted by the bloggers themselves; others are drawn from my overflowing Google Reader. From preschool to high school, there are plenty of interesting things to learn.

Let the mathematical fun begin…

Continue reading Math Teachers at Play #35