Say What You Mean

Continuing my project of rewriting the Standards for Mathematical Practice into student-friendly language.

Here’s my version of SMP6…

Math Tip #6: Say What You Mean.

  • Words can be tricky, so watch your language.
  • Label drawings and graphs to make them clear.
  • If you use a variable, tell what it means.
  • Care about definitions and units.
  • Pay attention to rules (like the order of operations).
  • Use symbols properly (like the equal sign).
  • Understand precision. Never copy down all the digits on a calculator.

Continue reading Say What You Mean

Master Your Tools

As I’ve mentioned before, I decided to try my hand at rewriting the Standards for Mathematical Practice into student-friendly language.

Here’s my version of SMP5…

Math Tip #5: Master Your Tools.

  • Collect problem-solving tools.
  • Practice until you can use them with confidence.
  • Classic math tools: pencil and paper, ruler, protractor, compass.
  • Modern tools: calculator, spreadsheet, computer software, online resources.
  • Physical items: dice, counters, special math manipulatives.
  • Tools for organizing data: graphs, charts, lists, diagrams.
  • Your most important weapon is your own mind. Be eager to explore ideas that deepen your understanding of math concepts.

Continue reading Master Your Tools

FAQ: Playful Math for Older Students

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…

Continue reading FAQ: Playful Math for Older Students

Look Beneath the Surface

So, I decided to try my hand at rewriting the Standards for Mathematical Practice into student-friendly language.

Here’s the fourth installment…

Math Tip #4: Look Beneath the Surface.

  • Notice the math behind everyday life.
  • Examine a complex situation. Ignore the parts that aren’t relevant.
  • Pay attention to the big picture, but don’t lose track of the details.
  • Make assumptions that simplify the problem.
  • Express the essential truth using numbers, shapes, or equations.
  • Test how well your model reflects the real world.
  • Draw conclusions. Explain how your solution relates to the original situation.

Continue reading Look Beneath the Surface

Know How to Argue

You may remember, I decided to try my hand at rewriting the Standards for Mathematical Practice into student-friendly language.

My kids loved to argue. Do yours?

Math Tip #3: Know How to Argue.

  • Argue respectfully.
  • Analyze situations.
  • Recognize your own assumptions.
  • Be careful with definitions.
  • Make a guess, then test to see if it’s true.
  • Explain your thoughts. Give evidence for your conclusions.
  • Listen to other people. Ask questions to understand their point of view.
  • Celebrate when someone points out your mistakes. That’s when you learn!

Continue reading Know How to Argue

Free Number Sense Resources from Steve Wyborney

If you teach children in the primary grades, you’ll enjoy this new series from the wonderful Steve Wyborney. Every day for the rest of the school year, Steve will post a new estimation or number sense resource for grades K–8 (or any age!) at his blog:

“This is my way of providing support and encouragement – as well as bringing math joy to your classroom… I’m going to stick with you all year long.”

—Steve Wyborney

Click to visit Steve’s blog

Don’t Panic

As I mentioned last Saturday, I decided to try my hand at rewriting the Standards for Mathematical Practice into student-friendly language.

Here’s the second installment…

Math Tip #2: Don’t Panic.

  • Don’t let abstraction scare you.
  • Don’t freeze up when you see complex numbers or symbols.
  • Break them down into simpler parts.
  • Take each problem one step at a time.
  • Know the meaning of the math, how it relates to the “real world.”
  • But if it gets in your way, ignore the “real world” situation. Revel in the abstract fantasy.

Continue reading Don’t Panic

Never Give Up

Have you read the Standards for Mathematical Practice? Good idea in theory, but horribly dull and stilted. Like math standards in general, the SMPs sound as if they were written by committee. (Duh!)

I’ve seen several attempts to rewrite the SMPs into student-friendly language. Many of those seem too over-simplified, almost babyish.

Probably I’m just too critical.

Anyway, I decided to try my hand at the project. Here’s the first installment…

Math Tip #1: Never Give Up.

  • Fight to make sense of a problem.
  • Think about the things you know.
  • Ponder what a solution might look like.
  • Compare this problem to those you solved in the past.
  • If it seems too hard, make up a simpler version. Can you solve that one?
  • If one approach doesn’t work, try something else.
  • When you get an answer, ask yourself, “Does it truly makes sense?”

Download the poster, if you like:

What do you think? Would this resonate with your students?

What changes do you suggest?

You can find the whole SMP series (eventually) under the tag: Posters.

Update: I Made a Thing

I had so much fun making these posters that I decided to put them into a printable activity guide. It includes the full-color poster shown above and a text-only version, with both also in black-and-white if you need to conserve printer ink.

Here’s the product description…

Join the Math Rebellion: Creative Problem-Solving Tips for Adventurous Students

Take your stand against boring, routine homework.

Fight for truth, justice, and the unexpected answer.

Join the Math Rebellion will show you how to turn any math worksheet into a celebration of intellectual freedom and creative problem-solving.

This 42-page printable activity guide features a series of Math Tips Posters (in color or ink-saving black-and-white) that transform the Standards for Mathematical Practice to resonate with upper-elementary and older students.

Available with 8 1/2 x 11 (letter size) or A4 pages.

Check It Out

Playful Math Education 142

Welcome to the 142nd edition of the Playful Math Education Blog Carnival — a smorgasbord of delectable tidbits of mathy fun. It’s like a free online magazine devoted to learning, teaching, and playing around with math from preschool to high school.

Bookmark this post, so you can take your time browsing.

Seriously, plan on coming back to this post several times. There’s so much playful math to enjoy!

By tradition, we start the carnival with a puzzle/activity in honor of our 142nd edition. But if you’d rather jump straight to our featured blog posts, click here to see the Table of Contents.

Activity: Planar Graphs

According to the OEIS Wiki, 142 is “the number of planar graphs with six vertices.”

What does that mean?

And how can our students play with it?

A planar graph is a set of vertices connected (or not) by edges. Each edge links two vertices, and the edges cannot intersect each other. The graph doesn’t have to be fully connected, and individual vertices may float free.

Children can model planar graphs with three-dimensional constructions using small balls of playdough (vertices) connected by toothpicks (edges).

Let’s start with something smaller than 142. If you roll four balls of playdough, how many different ways can you connect them? The picture shows five possibilities. How many more can you find?

Sort your planar graphs into categories. How are they similar? How are they different?

A wise mathematician once said, “Learning is having new questions to ask.” How many different questions can you think of to ask about planar graphs?

Play the Planarity game to untangle connected planar graphs (or check your phone store for a similar app).

Or play Sprouts, a pencil-and-paper planar-graph game.

For deeper study, elementary and middle-school students will enjoy Joel David Hamkins’s Graph coloring & chromatic numbers and Graph theory for kids. Older students can dive into Oscar Levin’s Discrete Mathematics: An Open Introduction. Here’s the section on planar graphs.

[“Geöffneter Berg” by Paul Klee, 1914.]

Click here for all the mathy goodness!

The Gerrymander Math Project

With a big election on the horizon, now is a great time to talk about the math of politics.

Does “One person, one vote” make a fair democracy?

Or does it give the majority license to trample a minority?

How can planners arrange voting districts to give everyone the best representation? And is that really what politicians would do, if they had the choice?

Try the Gerrymander Project with your students to investigate these questions and spark real-world mathematical discussion.

First, Create a Map

[Or buy a copy of my printable activity guide, The Gerrymander Project: Math in the World of Politics, which includes a prepared city map with more detailed instructions, answers, and journaling prompts. My publisher has extended the 10% discount code TBLTOP10 through to Election Day, 3 November 2020.]

  • Print a blank hundred chart or outline a 10×10 square on grid paper. This represents your city. Give it a name.
  • Pull out your colored pencils. Choose one color for your city’s Majority Party and another for the Minority Party.
  • Color 10 squares in a neutral color for non-voting areas. These might be malls or parks or the downtown business district — your choice.
  • Color the remaining 90 blocks in a random distribution so that 60% are the Majority color and 40% the Minority. How will you choose which squares to make which colors? Can you think of a way to use dice or playing cards to make your choices random, yet still get the right proportion?

Slip your finished map into a clear page protector, so you can mark on it with dry-erase markers. Or make several copies, so you can write on them without destroying the original.

Then Gerrymander Your City

“Gerrymandering” is the American political tradition of adjusting the voting district boundaries to favor one’s own party at the expense of one’s opponents.

The city has hired you to mark out 10 new voting districts of 9 squares each (not counting the neutral squares, which can go in any district). The squares in each district must touch side-to-side, not just meet at a corner.

So now you get to play “political hack.”

First, see how fair you can make the map:

  • What happens if you ignore the party colors and make your districts as compact as possible, so the people living nearest to each other vote together? Will the Majority Party always win?
  • Can you give all your voters a proportional representation? Both parties should win the number of districts that most closely matches their percentage of the voting population.

Next, try your hand at gerrymandering, but make sure all the squares in each district stay connected. Can you create ten voting districts that will guarantee:

  • A come-from-behind triumph for the Minority Party? They need to carry at least six districts to wrest control of the City Council from their opponents.
  • The greatest possible margin of victory for the Majority Party? Can you keep the Minority from winning any districts at all?

Share Your Thoughts

I’d love to hear your students’ reaction to this project. Please share in the comments section below.

For myself, the more I play with this project, the more I admire the work done by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Our Electoral College divides the country into “districts” based on state boundaries, giving each a vote roughly proportional to its population — but in a way that slightly strengthens the Minority Party. The system may not be perfect, but it’s done an amazing job through the centuries of maintaining a balance of power, making sure that neither major political party can destroy the other.

Which is NOT to say that our country always protects the rights of true minorities. Clearly, that’s an ongoing struggle.

But overall, the political parties stay relatively balanced, making for a stable government. After more than two centuries, we still have, as Ben Franklin said, “a republic, if you can keep it.”