Playing with Math Shapes

Playing-with-shapesI love it when a plan — or rather, a series of math thoughts — comes together.

On Monday, Emily Grosvenor (author of the Tessalation! picture book) asked me how parents who are insecure in math could help their children learn through play, and I responded with this quote from my Let’s Play Math book:

If you are intimidated by numbers, you can look for patterns of shape and color. Pay attention to how they grow. Talk about what your children notice.

But I wasn’t entirely satisfied with that answer. So many adults have come away from their own school experience thinking math is only numbers. Even with shapes, isn’t it the numbers about them — how many sides, what size of angles, calculate the the area or perimeter — that are important? That’s what school math tends to focus on.

Those of us who are comfortable with math know that there are many more things to notice and think about than just numbers. We know that it’s this noticing, thinking, and wondering that is at the heart of math. And that just playing with shapes can build a powerful foundation for future math learning.

And then yesterday, Malke Rosenfeld posted a beautiful article about a paper manipulative created by Paula Krieg. Which included this video:

The ability to create, and maintain, and manipulate shapes mentally — that’s the goal. Just like kids who can put numbers together in their heads, kids who can rotate, flip, and think of how shapes fit together in their heads have a powerful tool to analyze not only simple shape puzzles, but dividing up an area that’s a more complex room shape … to look at a piece of artwork … or look at a building … For these kids, all the world around becomes a playground to use mathematical ideas.

— Doug Clements
Problem Solving Development: Composing Shapes

Of course, pattern blocks are good for much more than just filling in worksheet pictures. But I love this peek into how a child’s understanding grows, in bits and spurts — without any numbers at all — until the world itself becomes a playground for mathematical ideas.

Want more?

You know what? Children like mathematics. Children see the world mathematically … When we do a puzzle, when we count things, when we see who’s got more, or who’s taller … Play and mathematics are not on opposite sides of the stage.

— Doug Clements
Why Early Childhood is the Right Time to Start Learning Math


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New Picture Book: Tessalation!

When I run a math circle or co-op class, I love starting with a picture book. This new beauty from Emily Grosvenor will be perfect.

You could say that Tessalation is a book about tessellations (repeating tiled patterns), but it is really a children’s picture book about discovering order in a chaotic world.

— Emily Grosvenor

Seeing Math in the World

In taking a playful approach to mathematics, I hope to open children’s eyes to math in their world. Schooly math lessons have led many of my math group kids to think a “pattern” has to be a strictly repeating (and rather boring) series of shapes or colors.

But in the real world, patterns are so important that American mathematician Lynn Arthur Steen defined mathematics as the science of patterns.

“As biology is the science of life and physics the science of energy and matter, so mathematics is the science of patterns,” Steen wrote. “We live in an environment steeped in patterns — patterns of numbers and space, of science and art, of computation and imagination. Patterns permeate the learning of mathematics, beginning when children learn the rhythm of counting and continuing through times tables all the way to fractals and binomial coefficients.”

Tessa Truman-Ling’s delight in patterns is contagious. And it will provide a wonderful jumping-off point for a variety of math activities.

Visit Grosvenor’s Kickstarter page to find out more about her lovely book:

Further Exploration


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Active Math Game: Rock

Gordon Hamilton of Math Pickle posted Rock, a new active math game for grades K–2. If you have a set of kids and a few minutes to spare, give it a try!

How to Play Rock

  • Everyone makes a rock shape with eyes closed.
  • Everyone chooses a number: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 …
  • Teacher calls out numbers consecutively, starting at 0.
  • When a student hears their number being called they immediately raise a hand. When the teacher tags the hand, they stand up.
  • If more than one hand was raised, those students lose. They become your helpers, tagging raised hands.
  • If only one hand was raised, that child wins the round.

Rock-game

“Each game takes about 45 seconds,” Hamilton says. “This is part of the key to its success. Children who have not learned the art of losing are quickly thrown into another game before they have a chance to get sad.”

The experience of mathematics should be profound and beautiful. Too much of the regular K-12 mathematics experience is trite and true. Children deserve tough, beautiful puzzles.

Gordon Hamilton

What Happens When Grownups Play Rock

What are the best numbers to pick? Patrick Vennebush hosted on online version of the game at his Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog a few years back, though we didn’t have to bend over into rocks‌—‌which is a good thing for some of us older folks.

Vennebush also posted a finger-game version suitable for small groups of all ages, called Low-Sham-Bo:

  • On the count of 1-2-3, each person “throws” out a hand showing any number of fingers from zero to five.
  • The winner is the person who throws the smallest unique number.

You may want to count “Ready, set, go!” for throwing out fingers, so the numbers in the count don’t influence the play.

The official name for this sort of game is Lowest Unique Bid Auction.


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Socks Are Like Pants, Cats Are Like Dogs

Dancing-variables-600

Support This New Book from Natural Math

Socks Are Like Pants, Cats Are Like Dogs by Malke Rosenfeld and Gordon Hamilton is filled with a diverse collection of math games, puzzles, and activities exploring the mathematics of choosing, identifying and sorting. The activities are easy to start and require little preparation.

The publisher’s crowdfunding goal is $4,000. The book is almost ready to go to press, and I can hardly wait to see it!


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Math Game: Chopsticks

malihand

Feature photo above by Harry (Phineas H) via Flicker (CC BY 2.0).

Math Concepts: counting up to five, thinking ahead.
Players: two or more.
Equipment: none.

How to Play

Each player starts with both hands as fists, palm down, pointer fingers extended to show one point for each hand. On your turn, use one of your fingers to tap one hand:

  • If you tap an opponent’s hand, that person must extend as many extra fingers on that hand (in addition to the points already there) as you have showing on the hand that tapped. Your own fingers don’t change.
  • If you force your opponent to extend all the fingers and thumb on one hand, that makes a “dead hand” that must be put behind the player’s back, out of the game.
  • If you tap your own hand, you can “split” fingers from one hand to the other. For instance, if you have three points on one hand and only one on the other, you may tap hands to rearrange them, putting out two fingers on each hand. Splits do not have to end up even, but each hand must end up with at least one point (and less than five, of course).
  • You may even revive a dead hand if you have enough fingers on your other hand to split. A dead hand has lost all its points, so it starts at zero. When you tap it, you can share out the points from your other hand as you wish.

The last player with a live hand wins the game.

When a two-points hand taps a one-point hand, that player must put out two more fingers.
When a two-points hand taps a one-point hand, that player must put out two more fingers.

Continue reading Math Game: Chopsticks

Quotable: Focus on Being Silent

Children Reading Pratham Books and Akshara[Photo by Pratham Books via flickr (CC BY 2.0).]

I discovered this gem in my blog reading today. One of the secrets of great teaching:

Audrey seemed, for once, at a loss for words. She was thinking about the question.

I try to stay focused on being silent after I ask young children questions, even semi-serious accidental ones. Unlike most adults, they actually take time to think about their answers and that often means waiting for a response, at least if you want an honest answer.

If you’re only looking for the “right” answer, it’s fairly easy to gently badger a child into it, but I’m not interested in doing that.

Thomas Hobson
Thank You For Teaching Me

Learn Math by Asking Questions

The best way for children to build mathematical fluency is through conversation. For more ideas on discussion-based math, check out these posts:

And be sure to follow Christopher Danielson’s Talking Math with Your Kids blog!


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Every Day Is Math Day

Happy 11-12-13

Happy 11/12/13, otherwise known as “tenty-one, tenty-two, tenty-three.”

Do your young children have trouble counting in the teens? Try making up Funny Numbers to help them! It’s a great habit to develop, because Funny Numbers will come in handy as mental math tools throughout their school math career.

If you’d like to make your own Happy Math Day post, check out the instructions here: Every Day Is Mathematics Day. And please share a link in the comments section below — I’d love to see what math holiday you invent!

Update: The numbers 11, 12, and 13 form an arithmetic progression. If that sounds too scary for your kids, check out Patrick’s bedtime math discussion Making Progress, Arithmetically.


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