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.


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).

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.

What Is Mathematics?

Here’s a bit of fun to brighten up your Monday:

Mathematics: Measuring x Laziness² by Zogg from Betelgeuse (Martin Kuppe).

For Further Exploration

James Grime explains the “Aldebaranian” curve calculator in this video:

And here is the “Map of Mathematistan”. Click to zoom in.


Credit: I contacted @ZoggTheAlien for permission to use the sketch. He said, “Feel free to use it. It’s a Galactic Commons license; you can use it if you don’t claim it’s made by one of your species.”

Please Add Your Comments Below


  • Do you have a favorite place in the Land of Mathematics? Why do you like it?
  • Most children find themselves stuck in the inner city of Arithmetics. How can we help them get out and explore the landscape?

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.

Unending Digits… Why Not Keep It Simple?


Unending digits …
Why not keep it simple, like
Twenty-two sevenths?

—Luke Anderson

Math Poetry Activity

Encourage your students to make their own Pi Day haiku with these tips from Mr. L’s Math:

And remember, Pi Day is also Albert Einstein’s birthday! Check out this series of short videos about his life and work: Happy Birthday, Einstein.

Wednesday Wisdom features a quote to inspire my fellow homeschoolers and math education peeps. Today’s quote is from Luke Anderson, via Background photo courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

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Quotable: I Do Hate Sums


I’ve been looking for quotes to put at the beginning of each chapter in my math games books. I found a delightful one by Mrs. LaTouche on the Mathematical Quotations Server, but when I looked up the original source, it was even better:

I am nearly driven wild with the Dorcas accounts, and by Mrs. Wakefield’s orders they are to be done now.

I do hate sums. There is no greater mistake than to call arithmetic an exact science. There are Permutations and Aberrations discernible to minds entirely noble like mine; subtle variations which ordinary accountants fail to discover; hidden laws of Number which it requires a mind like mine to perceive.

For instance, if you add a sum from the bottom up, and then again from the top down, the result is always different.

Again if you multiply a number by another number before you have had your tea, and then again after, the product will be different. It is also remarkable that the Post-tea product is more likely to agree with other people’s calculations than the Pre-tea result.

Try the experiment, and if you do not find it as I say, you are a mere sciolist*, a poor mechanical thinker, and not gifted as I am, with subtle perceptions.

Of course I find myself not appreciated as an accountant. Mrs. Wakefield made me give up the book to [my daughter] Rose and her governess (who are here), and was quite satisfied with the work of those inferior intellects.

— Maria Price La Touche
The Letters of A Noble Woman
London: George Allen & Sons, 1908

*sciolist: (archaic) A person who pretends to be knowledgeable and well informed. From late Latin sciolus (diminutive of Latin scius ‘knowing’, from scire ‘know’) + -ist.

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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 That Is Fun: Infinite Primes

Oh, my! Ben Orlin over at Math with Bad Drawings just published my new favorite math proof ever:

I had a fight with Euclid on the nature of the primes.
It got a little heated – you know how the tension climbs.

It started out most civil, with a honeyed cup of tea;
we traded tales of scholars, like Descartes and Ptolemy.
But as the tea began to cool, our chatter did as well.
We’d had our fill of gossip. We sat silent for a spell.
That’s when Euclid turned to me, and said, “Hear this, my friend:
did you know the primes go on forever, with no end?” …


Click here to read the whole post at Math with Bad Drawings.

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Math Teachers at Play #58

No 58 - gold on blue[Feature photo (above) by Alex Kehr. Photo (right) by kirstyhall via flickr.]

Welcome to the Math Teachers At Play blog carnival — a smorgasbord of ideas for learning, teaching, and playing around with math from preschool to pre-college. If you like to learn new things and play around with ideas, you are sure to find something of interest.

Let the mathematical fun begin…


By tradition, we start the carnival with a pair of puzzles in honor of our 58th edition. Click to download the pdf:

How CRAZY Can You Make It

Continue reading Math Teachers at Play #58