Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Math Teachers at Play Blog Carnival #113

Welcome everyone to the 113th Math Teachers at Play blog carnival! As usual, I'm lucky to have the best month to curate. 113 is the prime MTaP because:
  • 113 is prime
  • all permutations of the digits are prime
  • all 2 digit subsets of the digits are prime
  • the product of the digits is prime
  • the sum of the digits is prime
  • 113(4) (113 in base 4, the smallest base that is sensible) is also prime!
  • 2113 - 2 is divisible by 113. Wow! (see Jordan Ellenberg's Favorite Theorem)

October is for Play

October is a perfect month to talk about mathy play because of:

Later this week is the largest international games convention in Essen, Germany. I'm jealous of any of you who get to go. For the rest of us, I've collected a bunch of great math games and explorations to keep us happy.

Before we move off Spiel, though, take a look at the logo above again.
What do you notice?
What do you wonder?

Click this button to compare with another version of the logo:


Elementary

In the spirit of Malke Rosenfeld's Math in Your Feet, Mrs. Miracle's post about beat passing games can inspire a whole-body exploration of patterns. I like expanding beyond visual patterns and the fact even very small children can create their own beat pattern.

For some reason, this old Christopher Danielson post resurfaced on my RSS reader. While it is an old one, I hadn't seen it before, so maybe you missed it too or will appreciate reading it again: Armholes. Maybe it is easier to be patient while waiting for the kids to get dressed if we are also exploring math at the same time?

How many holes?


An online math competition for elementary kids: BRICS Math. I like using math competition questions as a jumping off point for further conversations and explorations. Sometimes the questions have natural extensions (what if we changed this number?) and other times we just talk about what the kids found interesting about the question or what it made them think about.

Iva Sallay (who has hosted the last edition of MTaP) makes a Halloween 10 Frame (just in time!)

Here are some wonderful images and gifs from Gábor Damásdi. They could be a good prompt for Notice & wonder for young kids and older ones:

AO Fradkin talks about a tricky game that helps develop mathematical language: A figure with pointy things...
This question: why do we bother with defined terms and mathematical language fits nicely with Chasing Number Sense's exploration of the definition of a polygon: Polygon is a shape that is really big.

Denise Gaskins, the wonderful unifying force behind this blog carnival, reminds us of 30+ things to do with a 100 chart. I have one more to add: our family first learned to play Go on a 100 chart with some small blue cubes and bananagram tiles, before we had a chance to buy our first dedicated board. Here's an old snap from the beginning of the year:


Middle School

If you like chained fraction puzzles (we do!) and you like thinking about concrete manipulatives (we do!!) then you'll enjoy this post from Bridget Dunbar: Thinking in th Concrete.

Another post from Iva Sallay uses candy to teach equation solving: Solve for X with candy. With Iva's help, we're certainly ready for a mathy Halloween.

Presh Talwalkar at Mind Your Decisions occasionally posts viral puzzles with some nice explanations. I enjoyed this one (octagon in a paralellogram) because it fit with a problem solving strategy we've been practicing recently: test a special case. Here, we tried starting with a square, then discussed whether that was really a "special case" or fit the general situation.

Mike Lawler, as usual, has some fun posts, this time I picked out his videos talking about Tim Gowers's intransitive dice.

Different from Tim Gowers's dice?

Huge jars of coins are wonderful, for so many reasons. Kristen (Mind of an April Fool) shares a fun 3-act lesson: Sassy Cents. Our family has gotten a lot of mileage out of doing notice and wonder at home with similar 3-act lessons.

Jim Propp contributed to the excitement of Global Math Week with a sort of History of Exploding Dots. I have an especially warm feeling for this story because he includes mention of the "minicomputer" idea created by Frederique Papy. These minicomputers figured prominently in my own elementary math education.

High School/More advanced

Continuing with the theme above around language, definitions, precision and math, Mr Orr gives us 3 Desmos Activities for Talkers & Drawers.

Curiousa Mathematica shares a Putnam exam question that is actually very accessible: Spots on a ball. Try to think about it before reading the solution.

Patrick Honner talks about some of the math related to gerrymandering in Wasted Votes. In his discussion, he describes a game that sounds very much like Mathpickle's A Little Bit of Aggression (pdf here.)

SolveMyMaths has done a series this month on trig identities. These build step-by-step pictures to help understand what is going on, for example, in the angle addition formulas. Take a look (they are easier to understand than this final step picture, but it is one of my favorites):


Teaching Resources

For all of us who sometimes have to find a math curriculum for our kids, David Wees has created his checklist of necessary characteristics: Questions about Curriculum.

What makes a good school? Jane Mouse (in russian) explains that there is no "best" school. For those of us who teach our own kids, one interpretation is that we should try to expose the kids to a variety of modes and styles. Also, what is working now might change over time.

Sam Shah offers a number of hacks for making your own material. My personal recommendation is for you to try this out with your kids: make problems together and discuss the process. What makes a good question? What makes a hard vs an easy question? Can you create problems with only one, more than one, or no answers?

Resourceaholic (Jo) has, you guessed it, a presentation on resources: Power of Six presentation. Be sure to take a look at Jo's Resource Library for ideas when you need secondary school material.

I'm sure there are a lot of other great posts with families and teachers sharing their math games and explorations. Please add comments to let me know about your favorites from the month (or older ones)!

Friday, July 28, 2017

math recommendations for a 3 year old

I was recently asked for suggestions by a parent of a 3 year old.

There are a lot of different resources I could suggest, but they really depend on the child and the parents. The main question for customization is about the parents: what are their starting assumptions about math/math learning and how much do they want to engage on selecting/planning activities?

For example, if a parent doesn't really get the growth mindset, I would advise a heavy dose of Jo Boaler. If the parent wants open explorations and can build their own specific tasks, maybe the Vi Hart videos are good inspiration.

That aside, there are a few resources/products good enough that I’m willing to give blanket recommendations:

  1. Lots of tools for measuring. Playing with measuring has so many benefits, I can’t list them all, but some of the highlights are (a) seeing math and numbers all around us, (b) tactile engagement, (c) inherent process of comparison, and (d) natural connection with language as the kids and parents talk about what they are measuring/why. The links I've provided just show examples, I am not necessarily recommending them over other versions.
    1. Set of plastic measuring cups (imperial units and fractions)
    2. Tape measure (we just used standard adult tape measures, but as a recommendation, you need to be careful about tape measures that have fast return springs for cutting or catching small fingers)
    3. Balance scale and set of standard weights (this math balance is a good option and one we bought)
    4. Timer (we liked this one)
    5. For older kids, a step counter, GPS wrist-watch showing speed, thermometer, pH meter, electricity meter are all interesting additional measuring devices.
  2. Talking Math with your Kids:
    1. E-book
    2. Blog. I recommend reading all the posts, I think they are a superset of the material in the e-book, so this is a better resource unless you want the “curated” highlights. This link goes directly to posts tagged 3 years old.
    3. Tiling toys and shapes book in the TMWYK store. I particularly like Which on doesn’t belong? A better shapes book.
  3. Denise Gaskin’s Playful Math books: these talk about general habits and methods in an intro section, then specific activities (mostly games) in the rest of the book.
  4. I got a lot out of these storybooks (free to print) with my kids: CSMP Math Storybooks.
  5. Standard gambling tools: playing cards and dice (I like pound-o-dice for the assorted colors, sizes, shapes)
There are some computer games/systems, a lot of board games, and mechanical puzzles, but the stuff above is where I think parents should start for young children.

What do you think of my recommendations? Any additions you think are worth adding to make a top 10?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Math Teachers At Play Carnival #110 Summer Vacation Edition


Hello again math folks! I've been in the middle of a major transition, moving between Asia and North America, so haven't really had time to post recently. Putting together this month's carnival was a nice opportunity to see what everyone else has been writing about and get some new ideas!

As you scan through the links I've highlighted, please don't get too fixated on the grade level splits. These are really approximate and I expect you will find worthwhile activities for all ages in every section.

In Memoriam: Maryam Mirzakhani

On the 14th of July, Maryam Mirzakhani passed away. She was the first woman to win the Fields Medal. It would be wonderful if you could do some exploration in her honor this month. One of her areas of research was on pool tables. Here are some places to get an idea of the way mathematicians have been inspired by this game:

If you find other kid-friendly projects related to Mirzakhani's work, please tell me in the comments!

Some 110 facts

This was the best number carnival to be able to host, because:
  • 110 = 10 * 11. That means it is pronic, the product of two consecutive integers.
  • 110 looks suspiciously like a binary number. Binary 110 = decimal 6. Decimal 110 = Binary 1101110, which I like to read as 110 1 110
  • Because it has an odd number of 1s in its binary expansion, 110 is odious
  • 110 is a Harshad number because it is divisible by the sum of its digits
  • The element with atomic number 110 is Darmstadtium (Ds).
  • 110 is the number of millions of dollars spent in March for a Basquiat painting, the highest amount paid at auction for a work by an American artist.

A number talks picture that caught my eye

I'm not sure there is anything especially 110 about this picture, but there are a lot of mathematical questions to ask and things to observe here:


In a related vein, if you and your kids need some mesmerizing math gifs, take a look at Symmetry.

Elementary skills

Denise Gaskins has written a lot to help parents engage playfully and mathematically with their kids. In this blog post, she has collected highlights that are great with young students and worth remembering for older ones, too: How to Talk Math with Your Kids.

I love board games and think there is still tremendous value in the physical games that electronic versions miss. Here's an example from Sasha Fradkin, where cleaning up after playing gives us a chance to think about whether skip counting is just a chant or if the words mean something: Skip counting or word skipping

While she's at it, Sasha Fradkin also has a nice puzzle activity with Numicons. I would think of this as a progression step toward tangram and other dissection puzzles.

Which one doesn't belong is a math meme you should know already. If you don't, ask in the comments and I'll point you in the right direction. Christopher Danielson has recently introduced Which Poster Doesn't Belong? While you are visiting his blog, enjoy his story about The Three Year Old Who is Not a Monster.

Exploding Shapes is a catalyst for notice and wonder from The Math Forum. I really like this because here are many different directions to go and no single "right" answer. Also, let's give a cheer because it looks like this recent set of posts shows the math forum folks have returned to posting nice conversation starters.

Swine on a Line by Jim Propp is a nice game/puzzle that seems a great companion to James Tanton's Exploding Dots. Hmm, maybe July 4th inspired me to look for lots of explosions...?

Middle school(ish)

Rupesh Gesota starts with a nice puzzle and shows us how it was analyzed by several different students: One Puzzle, Many Students, Many Approaches. I particularly like how the introduction to the puzzle encourages us to think of different methods.

Mike Lawler has done a huge number of really great explorations with his kids. Here are some recent projects with books from the Park City Mathematics Institute: Playing Around. If you haven't been following Mike and his kids, I really encourage you to go through his past posts.This blog is fantastic for great projects and connections with other resources.

Curious Cheetah shows us several ways to calculate square roots. I would say, like long division, the value isn't in memorizing the algorithms, but understanding how they work and using them to play with numbers.

Manan Shah has a couple of nice summer explorations. The first is an excursion into the digits of prime numbers: Prime Numbers. The second is a coin flipping and gambling game to ponder during these warm vacation months: Summer Excursion Coin Flipping.

There are other, problem-based, posts on Benjamin Leis's blog, but this one made me jealous of his recent purchase of the A Decade of the Berkeley Math Circle.

High school/more advanced

Thinking Inside the Box, Simon Gregg takes a new look at a familiar shape, the cube. His comment about the exploration really nicely captures something that is beautiful about mathematical exploration: "I came back to a familiar place from an unfamiliar starting place."

A cute absolute value game now appears as a nicely animated game: Absolute Value. I think this is a nice simplification and implementation of the original game.

There's an improv game where the players have to switch between movie genres. Film noire or "hard boiled detective" comes up every time. This TedEd video could introduce fractals and this film genre at the same time.

Michael Pershan puzzles over two measures of steepness in his trigonometry class: When Measures of Steepness Disagree. I really like the questions he raises about how to use two different scales that measure the same concept, but are not linearly related.

Also, Michael links to the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory, with a nice graphic showing a case where the greatest danger of avalanche is in the middle of a slope range:



Dave Richeson breaks down an impressive rainbow photo:



Fair sharing is a really interesting theme to motivate a lot of great math. Tanya Khovanova looks at a couple of fair sharing problems and strategies in Fair share sequences.

Also, check out the sister carnival to this one: The Carnival of Mathematics over at The Aperiodical.

Techniques for teaching

This post is an old classic, but I've been reminded of it because it is used in a workshop that I frequently attend: using student reflections.

Have you visited NRICH recently? No?!?! Go over now (here's the link) and find a really cool activity to do with your kids. Seriously!

Some tips on giving feedback: Effective feedback for deeper learning.

Using Desmos to check your work: Desmos is the new back of the book.

A thought piece on the modern role of teachers: Teachers Sow Thirst for Learning. If you can read Indonesian (which I can't) you may find some other interesting pieces here on math education.

A special announcement

James Tanton is leading a project for a world-wide week of math this fall. Please take a look at the project page Global Math Week




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Some simple dice games

J3 and I played several simple games recently that I want to record. One of them, race to the top, is a variation of a more sophisticated game that can be used more generally.

Digits three in a row

Materials: a 100-board, 2d10, colored tiles
Players: 2
Goal: mark three spaces in a row
Basic play:
Two players take turns rolling the two dice. On a player's turn, they form a 2 digit number using the two digits and then claim that space on the 100 board. If the space has previously been claimed, they lose their turn.

The first player to claim three adjacent spaces in a line (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) is the winner.

Variations:
(1) we used one dice marked 0-9 and another marked 00 - 90 (all multiples of 10) and then added the values to get our two digit numbers. This eliminated any player choice, but helped reinforce the idea that the value in the 10's digit is the number of tens.

(2) the winning condition can be increased to require a line of 4 spaces

(3) the winning condition can be changed to allow any three (or four) spaces that are colinear; these spaces would not have to be adjacent.

Notes:
This is a very simple game, especially the variation we played, but J3 found it fun. It was a useful exercise to practice locating the numbers on the 100 board.

Race to the top

Materials: An 11x 6 grid with one side labelled 2 to 12, 4d6, 3 tokens. Optional: 11 distinct tokens/small objects per player.
Players: 2 - 4
Goal: capture 3 columns.
Basic play:
This game is fairly simple, but has resisted our attempts to succinctly summarize the rules. Here is an explanation as we play two turns.

Here's our playing material, the three green squares are temporary markers:

First player, J1 rolls two ones and two fours. With this roll, J1 could group them into two fives or a two and an eight:

J1 decides on two fives and puts a temporary marker on the second level of the 5's column. After you understand the rules consider whether this choice is better or worse than the 2 and 8.

J1 chooses to continue rolling and gets 1, 1, 4, and 6. J1 groups these as a 5 and a 7, then moves the temporary marker in the 5's column up one level and adds a marker at the bottom of the 7's column.

J1 rolls a third time, getting 1, 1, 2, and 6. The only option is to group these as 3 and 7, so J1 places a temporary marker in the 3's column and advances the marker in the 7's column.

At this point, J1 ends his turn and marks his progress. On his next turn, if he gets a 5, for example, the temporary marker will start at the fourth level of the 5's column (building on his consolidated progress).

D has the next turn. He gets 1, 4, 4, and 5, which he chooses to group as 5 and 9:

D chooses to roll again, getting 4, 5, 5, and 6. This has to be grouped as 9 (advancing in that column) and 11:

D chooses to roll again and gets 2, 3, 5, and 6. This is a lucky roll that can be grouped as 5 and 11, allowing two tokens to advance:

D presses his luck and rolls a fourth time, getting 1, 3, 3 and 5. The dice can't be paired to get a 5, 9 or 11 and there are no more temporary markers available to place, so D loses his progress. J1 will have the next turn.

To be clear about the failure condition: the player must be able to place or advance a temporary token for both pairs of dice. For example, if D had rolled 1, 3, 3, and 6, he still would have lost his progress.

Further rules:

  • the first person to end their turn on the sixth level of a column "claims" that column.
  • the first person to claim 3 columns wins the game.
  • columns that have been claimed by any player are safe values for all players. Players do not need to allocate a temporary token to those columns.
  • Players can occupy a square that an other player has marked.


Variations:
(1) Change the winning condition so that the first player to capture a column wins
(2) Change the height of the columns, either fewer than 6 for a faster game or more than 6 for a slower game
(3) Change the failure condition so that only one pair of dice needs to be playable and reduce the temporary tokens to 2.
(4) only allow each player to roll one time. This eliminates the "press-your-luck" aspect of the game and is much more basic.
(5) allow players to jump over a square that has been occupied by another player. This rule particularly fits well if you use objects to record your consolidated progress (which also makes the grid re-usable).

Notes:
I was originally taught this game by Mark Nowacki of Logic Mills.
J3 and I played the variation where each player only rolled one time on their turn.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cryptarithmetic puzzles follow-up

I was asked to write a bit about strategies and answers for the puzzles we gave two weeks ago.

BIG + PIG = YUM
Because the digits in YUM are all distinct from BIG and PIG and there are only 7 letters in this puzzle, we should expect there to be many solutions.

The easiest way to get a feel for the puzzle is to start trying values and see what develops. This was part of the idea of using this puzzle as the opening challenge.

As we play with examples, the kids should notice these things that constrain our possible solutions:

  1. B, G, I, M, P, U, Y must all be distinct
  2. We are adding two three digit numbers and the sum is a three digit number
  3. B, P, and Y are all leading digits
  4. The largest sum possible with two numbers 0 to 9 is 18.
Some conclusions:
(a) G is not 0. If it was, then M would also be 0.
(b) B, P, and Y are all not 0. They are leading digits, the rules of our puzzles say they can't be zero.
(c) G + G is at most 18. It may contribute at most one ten to the calculation of U.  That will only happen if G is 5 or larger.
(d) I + I is at most 18. Along with a potential ten from G+G, that means we have at most 19 coming from the tens. That will only happen if I is 5 or larger.
(e) B+G is at most 9. If there is an extra hundred coming from the tens digits, B+ G is at most 8.
(f) If I is 9, G must be less than 5. Can you see why?
(g) If G is less than 5, I cannot be 0

After these observations, I'd suggest picking values of G, then seeing what values of I are allowed, then checking what remains for B and P. Because we aren't allowed to have duplicates, we quickly see that our choices are constrained.

For example, if G is 1 or 2, then I is at least 3 and we get the following possible solutions (B and P can be interchanged):
431 + 531 = 962
341 + 641 = 982
351 + 451 = 802
371 + 571 = 942
381 + 581 = 962

132 + 732 = 864
132 + 832 = 964
152 + 652 = 804
152 + 752 = 904
182 + 582 = 764
192 + 392 = 584
192 + 592 = 784

There are some more advanced ideas that could come out of trying to count or list all of the solutions, so I'd encourage people to explore. Even this simple puzzle can be a lot of fun!

CAT + HAT = BAD
The A in BAD is the key part of this puzzle. We can get two cases:
(a) A is 0 and T is 1, 2, 3 or 4
(b) A is 9 and T is 5, 6, 7 or 8.

Again, while there are a lot of solutions (and counting them would be a fun challenge) they are easiest to build up by choosing A (either 0 or 9), then T, then seeing what flexibility is left for C and H. Here are some examples:

301 + 401 = 702
301 + 501 = 802
301 + 601 = 902
302 + 502 = 804
302 + 602 = 904
103 + 403 = 506
395 + 495 = 890

SAD + MAD + DAD = SORRY
This was a puzzle without a solution. In this case, it isn't too hard to see that SORRY has too many digits. The best explanation was given by one student:
  • The largest three digit number is 999. 
  • If we add three of them, we will at most get 2997. 
  • SORRY has to be bigger than 10,000.
  • This isn't possible
CURRY + RICE = LUNCH
Unfortunately, this also doesn't have a solution, but the reasoning is more subtle than the previous puzzle.

Here, we can reason as follows:
  • R cannot be 0 because it is the leading digit in RICE
  • Because the tens digit of RICE and LUNCH are both C, R must be 9 and we must have Y + E > 10.
  • This also means R + C + 1 = 10 + C.
  • That will mean the 100s digit of RICE must be the same as the 100s digit of the sum.
  • However, the 100s digit of RICE and LUNCH are different.
Too bad, it was such a cute puzzle!

ALAS + LASS + NO + MORE = CASH
This is the most challenging puzzle from this set.

Some things we notice:
  1. There are ten letters (A C E H L M N O R S) and they must all be distinct.
  2. We are adding three 4-digit numbers and a two digit number to produce another 4 digit number.
  3. A, L, N, M and C are leading digits, so they can't be zeros.
  4. The tens and hundreds digits of CASH (S and A) are also involved in the sums for those digits.
Point 4 has a subtle implication, which I'll illustrate with the hundreds digits. Since L + O must be more than 0, but A is the hundreds digit of the sum, we must have some number of thousands carried over. Because A, L and M are all distinct and larger than 0, the smallest their sum can be is 1+2+3. Putting these two observations together, C must be at least 7.

In this case, I find it helpful to put together a table showing possibilities that we have eliminated:
We can see some more restrictions from the fact that A + L + M must be less than 9. That means we have only the following possible triplets (ignoring order):
{1, 2, 3}, {1, 2, 4}, {1, 2, 5}, {1, 3, 4}

One thing we notice is that 1 is in all of these triplets, so either A, L or M must be 1 and none of the other letters can be 1. Another thing we notice is that we don't yet have any way of differentiating A, L, or M, so any ordering of our triplets is possible.  That would mean we have 24 cases to consider.

Let's see how we would work through the cases, starting with A = 1, L = 2, M = 3, the first on our list. Now this, happens to be a stroke of luck, as we'll see.

Starting from the thousands digit, we see that this would make C = 7, if there is a single carry from the hundreds. Indeed, we can see that this must be the value (in the case we are testing), as the carry from there could only come from L + O (plus any carry from the tens digit). Since L is at most 5, L + O is at most 14 and any carry from the tens digit must be less than 6.

Now, in the hundreds digit, we have 2 + O + carry from the tens = 10, so O = 8 - carry from tens.
We know there must be at least one carry from the tens, so O is at most 7. Since 7 is already used by C, let's try 6. That means we need to get 2 hundreds carried over from the tens, so we need
A + N + R + carry from ones = 20, or N + R + carry from ones = 19. Since we have already used 6 and 7, the only way this is possible is if N and R are 8 and 9 (in either order) and we are carrying 2 from the ones.

At this point, the case we've worked through has:
121S + 21SS + 86 + 369E = 71SH

We still have to allocate digits 0, 4, and 5. and we know that S + S + 6 + E = 20 + H. Given our remaining digits, the biggest the left hand can be is if S is 5 and E is 4, making 20. The smallest the right hand can be is if H is 0. Fortunately, this makes the equality hold, so we get our final answer:

1255 + 2155 + 86 + 3694 = 7150

Through the process of checking this case, we learned more about how the carry from lower digits is restricted and it would be faster for us to check through remaining cases.
Let me know how many other solutions you find!

LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL +
LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL +
LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL +
LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL +
LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL +
LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL +
LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL + LOL = ROFL

There are 71 LOLs, so this is 71 x LOL = ROFL. While this looks daunting, there are some ideas which take us a long way to the solution.

First, ROFL has 4 digits. If L were 2, 71 x LOL would be more than 14,000, so L must be 1. In fact, ROFL is less than 9861, so LOL is smaller than 9871 / 71 which is 139. We can quickly check
101, 121, and 131 and see that 131 works.

71 x 131 = 9301

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A bit of 3D(ish) geometry

Note: this post started out focused on two recent geometry projects. However, the Desmos Function Carnival, which I originally just included as a miscellaneous item, is also worth your time.

Nets and solids

The most ambitious project recently was led by P (the mom, of course). She found nets for 3-d shapes and supervised J1 and J2 as they created a nice display to take to school.

Here are the nets: SenTeacher Polyhedral nets. They have a collection of other printables, but this collection of nets seems to be the most interesting. Take a look and let me know if you see anything else worthwhile.

Here's the completed board:

A profile picture to show that these are really 3-d:

Solid Shapes and Their Nets (I think Jo Edkins is the author) has a nice discussion of nets and a little puzzle game to distinguish nets that fold into the platonic solids and which don't. Feel free to try to do this for the icosahedron or dodecahedron!

A two dimensional challenge?

J2 asked me about a triangle with two right angles. Of course, we all know that a triangle can't have two 90 degree angles, right? Well, this fits in my list of math lies from this old post: 23 isn't prime.

We talked briefly about triangles on a plane and agreed that two 90 degree angles wouldn't work. If we try by starting with a side and building two right angles on that side, we just get parallel lines. Ok, that's standard.

However, what about this:

We discussed spherical geometry for a bit. Not shown is our first attempt on the other side of the tennis ball that did have two right angles, but the third wasn't. He wanted to see an equiangular triangle on a sphere. This led to further discussion of life on a sphere:

  • what is the largest interior angle sum for a triangle?
  • what is the smallest interior angle sum?
  • are there any parallel lines?
  • are there any squares? are there even any rectangles?
  • is π (the ratio of the circumference to diameter of a circle) a constant?
  • do we have to think like this in real life because the earth is close to a sphere?
Picking up the point about π, it occurs to me that this is another math lie. This point got a nice treatment recently by SMBC:

I made this pic small so you will go to the site and look at Zach Weinersmith's other awesome work
Some open follow-ups:
  • what is an equiangular quadrilateral on the sphere?
  • what about hyperbolic geometry? I think no triangles with two right angles. If I recall correctly, triangles there have angle sums smaller than 180 degrees (or π radians, ha!)

Other Misc Math

Now for my usual grab bag of other things we've been doing. Some of these are really great activities, so don't skimp on this section!

Desmos Function Carnival
We learned about the Desmos Function Carnival activity from a post by Kent Haines which, in turn, we learned about via Michael Pershan's post. They both were writing about teaching functions to their students and have outlined a really nice sequencing of lessons, if you're into that kind of thing.

In case you are, you might like to know that there is another flavor of Function Carnival available through the Desmos teacher site with 2 other activities. Each version is worth checking out because both of worthwhile activities that aren't in the other. Also, Kent links to this nice graphing activity from the Shell Center which also worked well with J1 and J2.

For our purposes, I was more interested in the mathematical physics (plots of position vs time or velocity vs time) and the fun of creating wacky animations with impossible plots.

If I can figure out how to post the animations, I will update this page, since the animations really enhance the experience. For now, let me give you some screen caps of some of their proposed graphs from the Cannon Man (height) activity:

Have a free-form drawing tool? Make your name!

Note: the vertical stripe doesn't really work with this animation, but the patriotic spirit is there!

Our first attempt at Quantum Field Theory


Here is J2 playing with the function carnival, but J3 (4 years old) enjoyed it just as much:

Different representations
J3 is working on place value and playing with different representations of numbers. Here, she's got the 100 board, an abacus, and foam decimal models. Sometimes I challenge her to make a number, sometimes she challenges me.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

RSM International Math Contest

Sometime the first week of February, the RSM offers an on-line math competition. For the second year, I had J1 and J2 work through the problems at grade 3 and grade 4 level.  This post is about our thoughts on competition, but I end with a problem from the contest that had us debating.

Compete and win!

To get it out of the way, let me explain my interest in the competition and why I had the kids enter. Above all, I was curious about the problems and expected they would be interesting challenges. We found the puzzles last year interesting, so I was pretty sure this year's collection would also be nice.
While I know that there are tons of excellent activities, I couldn't resist making use of this resource when someone thoughtful had put together a convenient collection in one place.

Second, I am curious about levels and assessments. What types of questions does RSM think 3rd and 4th graders should be able to answer, but find challenging? How difficult would our two little ones find them? Since we are currently operating outside a standard curriculum framework, it is hard for me to judge where they are or what we should expect of them. Admittedly, there are other ways I could form this assessment, but they take more effort.

Notice that I don't really care about how well they perform on the test. It is interesting information for me, but I don't need them to do well.

P has a different view. She was an olympiad kid and sees competitions as the easiest way for our kids to distinguish themselves. You know the anxiety: if they don't win competitions, they won't get into Harvard, they'll end up on the street somewhere.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the kids are getting a mixed message about the importance and reason for participating in competitions. This year, J1 was particularly sensitive. He was very resistant to doing the RSM test. I spent a lot of time talking with him. Mainly, I wasn't hoping to convince him to do the test, but I wanted to explore other issues related to the expectations he feels on himself, his relationship with J2, and his mindset about his own learning.

I am trying to communicate:

  1. effort and progress are important, starting point and base ability aren't. I know this is debatable, but I'm talking about the differences between my kids where I'm on pretty firm ground.
  2. there are many aspects to math and mathematical ability. Calculating and answering questions quickly are facets, logical reasoning, strategic thinking, spatial reasoning, asking good questions, gathering data, exploring connections, etc, etc are all components, too.
  3. time isn't important. One issue with the RSM test is that it is timed. This goes in the face of our repeated efforts to emphasize that the time it takes to solve something is not a key consideration. To help with this, I screen capped the questions so he could work on them after the official time had expired. Note, however, his recorded performance on the test was based on work within the contest rules. 
  4. Math is not about right answers.
The next section might help illustrate that last point.

Which area do we want?

As mentioned above, one of the questions from grade 4 cause us to argue among ourselves. I'm paraphrasing slightly:
Two tennis ball machines stand on opposite ends of a 25 meter by 10 meter court. The yellow machine shoots yellow balls that stop on the court 2 meters to 16 meters from the yellow machine's side. The green machine shoots green balls that stop on the court 5 meters to 20 meters from the green machine's side. Find the area of the court that has balls of either color on it.
Here are some ideas from our discussion:

  • Option A: we want to find the area of overlap, because that's the only place we could find balls of either color.
  • Option B: we want to find the combined areas, because that's where we could find tennis balls, either color.
  • Option 1: the area with green balls is a rectangle, the area with yellow balls is a rectangle.
  • Option 2: think of the ball machines as single points, shooting balls at various angles and various distances. the target area for each machine is an intersection of of a circular ring and a rectangle. This idea came from J2 when we were looking over the grade 4 questions after time had expired.
To answer the question, choose either A xor B and choose either 1 xor 2. So, what is the right answer?

I think the right answer is to have this discussion, to encourage multiple interpretations (with justification), to see how the answers compare, to think about what other things we could do to make the intended interpretation more clear (a diagram seems the most obvious), to recognize that this is part of the richness of math and it can't be represented by a single numerical answer on a timed test.