W.W. Sawyer’s Rules of Mathematics

“In the beginnings of arithmetic and algebra, the main purpose is not to get the pupil making calculations. The main purpose is to get him into the habit of thinking, and to show him that he can think the problems out for himself.

“Pupils ask ‘Am I allowed to do this?’ as if we were playing a game with certain rules.

“A pupil is allowed to write anything that is true, and not allowed to write anything untrue!

“These are the only rules of mathematics.”

—W. W. Sawyer, Vision in Elementary Mathematics

[THE FINE PRINT: I am an Amazon affiliate. If you follow the link and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you). But this book is a well-known classic, so you should be able to order it through your local library.]

Inspired by Sawyer’s Two Rules

I love this quote so much, I turned it into a printable math activity guide. I hope it helps inspire your students to deeper mathematical thinking.

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.

Help your students practice thinking for themselves as they follow the Two Rules of the Math Rebellion: “A pupil is allowed to write anything that is true, and not allowed to write anything untrue! These are the only rules of mathematics.”

Find Out More

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!

To Badger a Child

Here’s the full quote:

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

CREDITS: “Pismo Beach, United States” photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.

How to Build Math Literacy

Here’s the full quote:

We all know reading a book each day to our child develops their love of literacy… well, playing games is the equivalent in maths.

Through playing card games and board games (just short and sweet ones) children develop problem solving, counting and so many other skills.

Imagine if every time you play a game you say, “Let’s do some maths.” What a positive association your child will develop with maths!

—Ange Rogers
Instagram post

Discover more creative ways to play math with young children at the Number Doctors blog.

CREDITS: “Falling dice” photo by Riho Kroll on Unsplash.

Morning Coffee – 31 August 2020

Morning Coffee image

One of the best ways we can help our children learn mathematics (or anything else) is to always be learning ourselves.

Here are a few stories to read with your morning coffee this week:

  • David Butler’s post Twelve matchsticks: focus or funnel presents an interesting puzzle. But even better, it opened up a rabbit hole of thought-provoking posts about how to talk with children — or anyone.

“The approach where you have an idea in your head of how it should be done and you try to get the student to fill in the blanks is called funnelling. It’s actually a rather unpleasant experience as a student to be funnelled by a teacher. You don’t know what the teacher is getting at, and often you feel like there is a key piece of information they are withholding from you, and when it comes, the punchline feels rather flat.”

—David Butler
Twelve matchsticks: focus or funnel

Continue reading Morning Coffee – 31 August 2020

Morning Coffee – 24 August 2020

Morning Coffee image

One of the best ways we can help our children learn mathematics (or anything else) is to always be learning ourselves.

Here are a few stories to read with your morning coffee this week…

“We are all mathematicians. We all have the power to notice, describe, and generalize patterns. You have all had this ability since birth. If we believe this then every day we must plan lessons that allow students to act as mathematicians. We must put something in front of our students to notice. We must put something in front of our students to describe, to generalize.”

—Sara VanDerWerf
What is Math? What do Mathematicians do?

Continue reading Morning Coffee – 24 August 2020

Journaling Pages

This afternoon, I’ve been working on the printable pdf math activity booklets I’ll be sending out as stretch goals to the backers of my Math You Can Play Kickstarter campaign.

Some of the booklets include dot grid pages for student journaling.

I love dot grid pages for writing because I can start a line anywhere on the page, and the dots help me keep things in line. (They’re also great for doodling.)

As students wrestle their thoughts into shape and create explanations, they do the same sort of work that mathematicians do every day. It’s difficult for children (or anyone) to pin down a thought and put it into words. But it’s great practice for life.

Journaling is a great practice for adult learners, too — and don’t we all want to be lifelong learners?

So I thought I’d share the journaling pages with you all, in case you’d like to get your children writing about math. There are three styles, ranging from plain to ornate parchment. Enjoy!

Download the Journaling Pages

UPDATE: The Kickstarter deals have ended, but my playful math books are still available through your favorite online store or by special order at your local bookshop. (Except for the Prealgebra & Geometry Games book, scheduled for publication in early 2021. Sign up for my email list to get the latest news.)