My favorite playful math lessons rely on adult/child conversation — a proven method for increasing a child’s reasoning skills. What better way could there be to do math than snuggled up on a couch with your little one, or side by side at the sink while your middle-school student helps you wash the dishes, or passing the time on a car ride into town?
As soon as your little ones can count past five, start giving them simple, oral story problems to solve: “If you have a cookie and I give you two more cookies, how many cookies will you have then?”
The fastest way to a young child’s mind is through the taste buds. Children can easily visualize their favorite foods, so we use mainly edible stories at first. Then we expand our range, adding stories about other familiar things: toys, pets, trains.
We continue with our counting lessons — and once again, Kitten proves that she doesn’t think the same way I do. In fact, her solution is so elegant that I think she could have a future as a mathematician. After all, every aspiring novelist needs a day job, right?
If only I could get her to give up the idea that she hates math…
Permutations with Complications
How many of the possible distinct arrangements of 1-6 have 1 to the left of 2?
In a lazy, I-don’t-want-to-do-school mood, Princess Kitten was ready to stop after three math problems. We had gotten two of them correct, but the last one was counting the ways to paint a cube in black and white, and we forgot to count the solid-color options.
For my perfectionist daughter, one mistake was excuse enough to quit. She leaned her head against me as we sat together on the couch and said, “We’re done. Done, done, done.” If she could, she would have started purring — one of the most manipulative noises known to humankind. I’m a soft touch. Who can work on math when there’s a kitten to cuddle?
Still, I managed to squeeze in one more puzzle. I picked up my whiteboard marker and started writing:
Kitten complained that some math programs keep repeating the same kind of problems over and over, with bigger numbers: “They don’t get any harder, they just get longer. It’s boring!”
So we pulled out the Counting lessons in Competition Math for Middle School. [Highly recommended book!] Kitten doesn’t like to compete, but she enjoys learning new ideas, and Batterson’s book gives her plenty of those, well organized and clearly explained.
Pizzas at Mario’s come in three sizes, and you have your choice of 10 toppings to add to the pizza. You may order a pizza with any number of toppings (up to 10), including zero. How many choices of pizza are there at Mario’s?
[The book said 9 toppings, but I was skimming/paraphrasing aloud and misread.]
When a kid is feeling bad about being stuck with a problem, or just very anxious, I sometimes ask him to make as many mistakes as he can, and as outrageous as he can. Laughter happens (which is valuable by itself, and not only for the mood — deep breathing brings oxygen to the brain). Then the kid starts making mistakes. In the process, features of the problem become much clearer, and in many cases a way to a solution presents itself.
Alex and Leon enjoyed their baby sister, but they were amazed at how much work taking care of a baby could be. One particularly colicky night, everyone in the family took turns holding the baby, rocking the baby, patting her back, and walking her around before she finally succumbed to sleep.
Then Alex collapsed on the couch, and Leon sank into the recliner. They teased each other with these story problems.
Remember the Math Adventurer’s Rule: Figure it out for yourself! Whenever I give a problem in an Alexandria Jones story, I will try to post the answer soon afterward. But don’t peek! If I tell you the answer, you miss out on the fun of solving the puzzle. So if you haven’t worked these problems yet, go back to the original posts. If you’re stuck, read the hints. Then go back and try again. Figure them out for yourself — and then check the answers just to prove that you got them right.
This post offers hints and answers to puzzles from these blog posts:
If a girl and a half
can read a book and a half
in a day and a half,
then how many books can one girl read in the month of June?
Kitten reads voraciously, but she decided to skip our library’s summer reading program this year. The Border’s Double-Dog Dare Program was a lot less hassle and had a better prize: a free book! Of course, it didn’t take her all summer to finish 10 books.
The elementary grades 1-4 laid the foundations, the basics of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions. In grade 5, students are expected to master most aspects of fraction math and begin working with the rest of the Math Monsters: decimals, ratios, and percents (all of which are specialized fractions).
Word problems grow ever more complex as well, and learning to explain (justify) multi-step solutions becomes a first step toward writing proofs.