Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Math Activity Books

Many times, we can get into a rut with learning and teaching math that focuses too much on set curriculum, usually focused on specific calculation skills. Both learner and instructor can lose the bigger picture of mathematics this way, and more disturbingly lose both the awareness of the very real existence of math in the world as well as the joy in abstract mathematical ideas. A good math activity book goes a long way in repairing the math doldrums and putting some much needed fresh air into the the inquiry of mathematics. The best books combine hands-on activities, applications in the real world, with the human history side of mathematics. Below are some recommended titles that are useful for classrooms, homes, and libraries alike. These books are useful for gifted students as well as struggling students in that they are at once hands-on and challenging. Homeschoolers can seriously consider putting the workbooks aside for a time to reinvigorate their math learning. Go Figure! A Totall cool book about numbers This colorful and well-laid out book is an excellent addition to your mathematics library. It begins at the beginning, with an entire section devoted to the history of counting and numbers. In my experience, this is a critical step in learning about mathematics that is often neglected. The other sections are titled, "Magic Numbers," Shaping Uo," and "The world of Math." The book is filled with interesting puzzles and activities with answers provided in the back. Also included is a very useful 4-page "Who's who" timeline of important figures in the history of mathematics. Carol Vordermarn's How Math Works: 100 ways parents and kids can share the wonders of mathematics resembles a science experiment book. It is chockful activities with step by step instructions and actual photographs of the experiments. This a thorough selection covering many topics as well as mathematics history. Major topics include: numbers, proportions, algebra, statistics, measurement, shape, and thinking

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Whether impassioned by mathematics or struggling to find meaning and perform competently in math, both educator and learner who embark on the study of the life of Leonardo of Pisa, known as Fibonacci, will find a wealth of inspiration, awe, beauty, and discovery.
I recommend Blockhead: The Life of Fibonnaci as an excellent example for accessing mathematics through a history approach. This biographical story of Fibonacci, although loosely based on a few known facts of his life, stands on its own as a story with international intrigue, the struggle against the imposition of other people’s limitations upon a person, and a discovery so wondrous that few can be left unchanged after reading this tale. No one can quite look at the universe in the same way again. This picture book is almost guaranteed to act as a springboard to a multitude of interesting mathematical explorations in the way of activities, problems, pattern finding, and nature observation.
A young boy from Pisa, Italy, is known as “Blockhead” throughout his town due to his lack of concentration on practical studies. But his love of numbers persists. He travels with his merchant father to other countries and there encounters a new way of writing numbers. Eventually, he poses a problem, called the rabbit problem, which leads to the discovery of a mysterious sequence of numbers that shows up in many places in nature: pinecones, flowers, pineapples, shells, and spirals, to name a few.
This book fits beautifully into a history-based approach to math. Both parent and child will be eager to follow this story with any of the following books that illustrate or expand the concepts and provide for engaging activities. For this reason, this book and the following are highly recommended. Grades 1-5.

Blockhead: The Life of FibonacciGrowing PatternsRabbits Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci TaleFascinating Fibonaccis (Dale Seymour Publications)Fibonacci Fun: Fascinating Activities with Intriguing Numbers

Monday, November 1, 2010

Visual Patterns and Problem-Solving

In Math For All Seasons (Scholastic Bookshelf), Greg Tang presents mathematical visual puzzles.  Items are presented on the page to be counted.  However, the child is challenged to ascertain the number of items more efficiently than by counting each individual item.  With each puzzle, a rhyme is given to go along with the vibrantly colored and enticing pictures.  Within the last two lines of the rhyme, a clue is given.  The puzzles usually involve grouping items, but often times grouping them in a way that is not the most immediately obvious.  In this selection, he focuses the child on being able to find groups of 5 or 10 that can then be counted easily by 5s and 10s respectively.  Also, he leads the child to visualize items that are missing to produce an easy grouping, and then subtract the missing items from this total.  For example, in the rhyme entitled "Not-So-Dandy Lions," two groups of 5 dandelions include 7 in bloom and 3 gone to seed.  Rather than count each blooming dandelion, the child counts all the dandelions by 5s, then subtracts the ones that have already gone to seed.  This title is also available in Spanish entitled, Un Dos Tres El Ano Se Fue/ One Two Three the Year Is Out (Coleccion Rascacielos) (Spanish Edition).Greg Tang's whole series of problem-solving books include multiple titles and is a very useful addition to any classroom or home library.  Ages 6-9.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Math

2 X 2 = Boo: A Set of Spooky Multiplication Stories by Loreen Leedy

2 X 2 = Boo: A Set of Spooky Multiplication StoriesThis is a simple, fun book to use during Halloween time for a review of the times table through 5.  It covers the times tables from 0 to 5 in six chapters, cleverly starting from "Chapter 0."  In Chapter 0, a witch named Griselda makes scary creatures disappear, starting with one vampire and ending with 5 ghosts, by multiplying them by zero.  In Chapter 1, a ghost brings in one bag of candy to Dr. Nelson, who then multiplies the one bag by 2,3,4, and 5 to create more bags of candy.  At the end of the chapter, they burst the machine by multiplying one by 99.  In Chapter 2 Griselda puts on "Dr. Spook's Doublevision Spectacles" and sees everything double: a moosehead, 2 boots, 3 witches hats, 4 brooms, and 5 books.  In Chapter 3, a hen and fox need a 3 scarecrows to frighten all the crows eating their corn.  They need 3 pumpkins for heads. Each pumpkin has 2 eyes and 3 teeth.  The scarecrows each need 4 limbs and 5 strings of hair.  In Chapter 4, a big bat shows that he is 4 times bigger than a small bat and needs more to eat.  He takes 1 cookie, 2 rotten apples, 3 slimy worms, 4 stinky fish, and 5 warty toads from the small bat and multiplies them by 4.  In Chapter 5, Mr. Bones and Mrs. Tibia are making a stew.  But the recipe is for one, and they will be serving 5.  So need need 5 times as many of each ingredient: one bouncy eyeball, 2 knobby knuckles, three pointy ears, 4 smelly toes, and 5 scaly tales.  At the end of the book, the 5 times tables are illustrated with pictures from the story.  Quick and easy read.  Ages 6-9.

Friday, October 22, 2010

One Grain Of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale

This wonderful book illustrates both visually and in story the doubling of a number from 1 to one billion.  In the story, a village girl in India outwits a raga who is hoarding the people's rice supply.  She cleverly catches rice that is being spilled from one of the raga's rice baskets in order to turn it in to him for a reward.  She at first modestly replies that he can reward her one grain of rice. When the raja insists on a more substantial reward, she instructs him to give her just one grain of rice that day; but each following day, for thirty days, he is to double the amount of rice he gave her the day before.  The story then illustrates the delivery of rice to the village girl day by day.  The book presents an engaging story, with equally engaging visuals.  The amount of rice presented over the 30 days is illustrated.  On the thirtieth day, the 2 pages of the book open up in additional folds to display together four pages of 256 elephants carrying baskets of rice containing 536,870,912 grains of rice.  This book not only illustrates number and the concept of doubling, it inspires the desire to be knowledgeable about and clever in math. The story, without the mathematical teaching point, stands on its own. Highly recommended.  Ages: K-upper elementary.