catapult contest

Apr 28, 2011 by

This semester in Math Alive! we studied Archimedes’ life, inventions, and discoveries. We built Archimedean screws, pulleys, levers of all types, discovered pi by circumscribing a circle, figured out how many popcorn kernels it would take to fill our classroom, learned about the library in Alexandria, constellations, food and customs of his time period, exponents and super-duper large numbers, built mobiles for real and figured out pretend mobiles with numbers, learned about square, triangular, and rectangular numbers, learned about different types of calendars and invented our own calendars, and fell in love with all things mathematical.

Our closing event was a catapult contest. Each child was challenged to build a catapult that could fire a tennis ball and then to bring it to the field outside our building for a shoot-off. I was amazed at the wide variety of styles, sizes, and abilities of the different contraptions. We ended up giving prizes for things like farthest shooting, highest, most accurate, stretchiest, most original design, quickest on the battlefield, a true blue trebuchet, perfectly precise, superbly symmetrical, snappiest trigger, and most horizontal firing position.

Here are some pictures of our fun:














Love the pink and purple!



Such fun! I think we should have one of these every year…and another version for just the dads to compete in!

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hue knew? and cross-eyed

Apr 21, 2011 by

I found two new math games at DI the other day…gotta love thrift store finds that actually have all the playing pieces! We have played them at Math Alive! the last two weeks and they have been a huge hit, so now I will share them with y’all.

hue knew

Hue Knew? is a great thinking game. It consists of 10 colored pegs and a gazillion cards that have each color name written in different colors. Two of the color names are written in the same color as its name and whomever grabs those pegs first scores a point. If you grab an incorrect point, you lose a point. On four of the cards, all the color names are correctly written in their same colors. On those cards, you must grab the black peg and if you do so first, you get two points. My students have loved playing this game and it was a hit here at home as well. Its amazing to me how my brain can play tricks on me and make me think I am reading the word brown in brown when it is really written in pink.


Cross-eyed is a fast (each game takes about 5 minutes), competitive, super-fun game. There is a stack of cards with a different pattern on each card and then each player has a stack of smaller cards that match the bigger cards. All the players race through their cards at the same time to see who can find a match to the big card first. As soon as that one is matched, you start on the one below it. At first, I couldn’t see that patterns at all, I just went cross-eyed, but after a few rounds I am much better at it and so are my students.

Both of these games are made by Mindware and while you might not find them at your local thrift store, I’m sure you can find them online.

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make ‘n’ break

Mar 30, 2011 by

Tonight I pulled out a game to play (all I really wanted to do was go to bed, but I decided to focus on the question “how does it feel?” and decided my children needed some feel-good attention from their mama and papa tonight) and we had so much fun. We have had this game for years, but it hasn’t gotten much use lately. My Math Alive! boys love it and I thought maybe it was time for my own children to play with it as well.

Make 'n' Break

What a hit!

The game has cards with pictures on it and ten solid wood blocks to make into the picture on the card. You race against the timer and get points for how many pictures you complete each turn. Ravensburger products are some of our favorite because they always have high-quality pieces built to withstand the test of time.

Fisher, Annes, and Kez (Blythe was gone to her Financial Peace class) all loved it. We had a wonderful hour playing together and it was exactly what we needed to reconnect after the last week of crazy schedules, mama being gone a lot, sewing a lot, and everyone being kind of grouchy to one another. Keziah was super fabulous at putting towers up speedily and to my great surprise, Fisher was really good at constructing the different diagrams. His building skills have skyrocketed since Christmas when he was given his first Lego set by our amazing Secret Santa. Annes was as enthusiastic as ever and wanted to have a turn every thirty seconds or so.

All the kids begged to play tomorrow during school time, so I will pull it out again in the morning. It is a great spatial math game and also develops dexterity and sequencing skills. Can’t wait!

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pulleys, levers, and screws, oh my!

Mar 17, 2011 by

pulleys, levers, and screws, oh my!

A few weeks back we made pulleys and all three types of levers in our Math Alive! class. The children loved it! They were each able to pick each other up in the pulley and to test out the levers to see if the fulcrum’s actually made their loads easier to lift or not. Here are some pics:





Hands-on math is super fun…we should all do it more often!

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the famous blocks

Jan 18, 2011 by

the famous blocks

The deal-of-a-lifetime blocks were a huge hit at math class last week. The children LOVED them. We had scorpions, corrals, ships, snakes, cars, and a tower built by standing on a chair that was ON TOP of a table. Super fun stuff! Find yourself some Kapla, Keva, or Citi-Blocs and find yourself amazed at the creativity that emerges! These blocks are built in a 1:3:5 ratio and are perfect for discovering balance, geometry, weight, and strength principles.

Because of the before mentioned deal-of-a-lifetime we have 3000 blocks. I would say any family would want around 1000 blocks. We got ours for over 90% off, but even without the deal-of-a-lifetime price, I would highly recommend them. My children have loved playing with them at science museums and children’s discovery centers for years. We have longed to have them in our home, but could never justify the cost until the price of the century hit me in the head ($6.97 for 300 blocks vs. $99 for 300! Gotta love clearance sales at stores that have no idea what they are doing! I wish I would have been able to buy hundreds of boxes and sold them to all my friends!). Now that we have them, I wish I would have splurged on them years ago. I see my children and my students learning about construction in a very tangible way that is in some ways more forgiving and in some ways less forgiving than other construction sets. I see the wheels in their brains turning as they figure out what the possibilities are. I see the smiles on their faces and know that much more than a fun time is being had. I know they are in full immersion learning and I am beyond thrilled!

Here are some pics from math class and then some more from today when we got them out to play with some friends who came to visit and couldn’t wait to try them out.













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book bonanza – the king’s chessboard

Sep 4, 2010 by

The King's Chessboard

We read The King’s Chessboard at my Math Alive! class this week. The children all loved it and I hope it taught them the power of knowing math, the foolishness of pride, and the immensity of the doubling principle.

This book tells the story of a proud and foolish king who wants to reward one of his subjects. The man does not want to be rewarded, but the king insists. The man then allows the king to give him one grain of rice on the first day, two grains of rice the second day, four grains the third day, eight grains the fourth day, sixteen the fifth day, and so on, for the course of 64 days. One day for every square on a chessboard. Well, if you do the math, you end up with a VERY large number by the 64th day. Go ahead…figure it out and post back here with your answer! Bonus points for anyone who also figures out the total amount of grains of rice that would be given over the full 64 days.

My children love this book and now my math students love it as well. Check it out at your library or buy it for your own home library and I guarantee you will love it! Make sure you add in a proud and loud voice for the king and you are assured read-aloud success!

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g is for googol

Nov 18, 2009 by


I found another math book I love and have to share it with you! G is For Googol by David Schwartz is an alphabet book with each letter standing for a mathematical concept. The concepts are all explained thoroughly and hilariously. It is sure to draw in math lovers and math haters. Blythe started it last night and was giggling on every page.

An example of its humor:

“I am sure you are wondering how to write 2 billion with exponents. If you aren’t wondering, start wondering now!”

We are going to have a delightful time going through this book together and separately.


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read any math lately?

Oct 24, 2009 by

I have a rather large collection of books that teach math principles as part of the story. I thought everyone did. I thought everyone would know about these books and have an obsession with collecting them and strewing them throughout their homes so that children grow up reading books that teach mathematical concepts and it is just part of their daily life.

I was wrong. Time after time I have had people tell me they have never heard of these types of books. Well, I am here to spread the message far and wide and to share with you our favorites!

I don’t want you to think I am saying working out problems is bad. It is great and we love the Right Start and Miquon Math Programs. However, it is NOT sufficient. I am living proof that a person can get all the answers right and have no clue what it means. I was always in the highest math classes. I took Trig and AP Calculus. I had no clue what I was doing, but I could follow the formula and churn out the right answer and get an A on the test. I want my children to understand numbers and their relationships with each other. I want them to see math in everything. I want them to think like a mathematician. One of my approaches to doing this is to read math with them. To read about inventors and thinkers and creative people throughout time. I want them to know there is a long history of people wondering about numbers and working hard to come up with answers. I want them to have examples to look to if they decide to be a mathematician. I want them to see patterns and possibilities in all the world around them. These books are my early attempts to do just that.

We have not moved up to the next level of books yet, but we are getting there and when we do, I will have a whole ‘nother post on books that are great for incorporating algebra, trig, physics, and calculus in them.

First of all, there are two websites that will change your life and the way you look at math.

They are both fabulous resources for changing your math paradigm and for finding out about wonderful books and ideas to teach math. I have learned about a lot of these books at Living Math or on the yahoo list sponsored by Living Math.

So, here are our favorite books, in no particular order, just off the top of my head as I sit here typing. Some of these are overtly teach math principles, some of them are teaching patterns, time, histories, inventions as a sidelight to the story. Some of them are MUST-HAVES in my mind, some of them are great to check-out from the library. All of them have been beneficial.

Books We Own and Have Enjoyed (okay, I guess I am going to include a few that we don’t own and have checked out from the library)

Spaghetti and Meatballs for All by Marilyn Burns (anything by Marilyn Burns is fabulous! She is the guru of learning and teaching math in creative ways.)

Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream by Cindy Neuschwander

Sea Squares by Joy Hulme

Sir Cumference series by Cindy Neuschwander

My Full Moon is Square by Elinor J. Pinczes

Inchworm and a Half by Elinor J. Pinczes

Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar by Masaichiro & Mitsumasa Anno

Anno’s Math Games by Masaichiro & Mitsumasa Anno

Anno’s Magic Seeds by Masaichiro & Mitsumasa Anno

Anno’s Hat Tricks by Masaichiro & Mitsumasa Anno

The Warlord’s Puzzle by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord’s Alarm by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord’s Messengers by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord’s Beads by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord’s Fish by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord’s Kites by Virginia Walton Pilegard

The Warlord’s Puppeteers by Virginia Walton Pilegard

Mathematicians are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great
by Luetta Reimer & Wilbert Reimer (both volumes are fabulous!)

Arctic Fives Arrive by Elinor J. Pinczes

One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes

A Remainder of One by Elinor J. Pinczes

Senefer: A Young Genius in Old Egypt by Beatrice Lumpkin

The King’s Commissioners by Aileen Friedman

Ten Sly Piranhas by William Wise

The King’s Chessboard by David Birch

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

The I Hate Mathematics! Book by Marilyn Burns (currently Blythe’s favorite)

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

Hottest, Coldest, Highest, Deepest by Steve Jenkins

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest by Steve Jenkins

Roman Numerals I to MM by Arthur Geisart

What’s Faster Than a Speeding Cheetah? by Robert E. Wells

What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? by Robert E. Wells

How Do You Lift a Lion? by Robert E. Wells

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is? by Robert Wells

What’s Older Than A Giant Tortoise? by Robert E. Wells

How Do You Know What Time It Is? by Robert E. Wells

How Tall, How Short, How Faraway by David Adler

Math for Smarty Pants by Marilyn Burns

Multiplying Menace: The Revenge Of Rumpelstiltskin by Pam Calvert

Murderous Maths by Kjartan Poskitt

How Much Is A Million? by David A. Schwartz

One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi

The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth (story of Erastothenes) by Kathryn Lasky

String, Straightedge and Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia E. Diggins

The Go-Around Dollar by Barbara Johnston Adams

Tight Times by Barbara Shook Hazen

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? A Fast, Clear, and Fun
Explanation of the Economics
by Richard J. Maybury (an Uncle Eric book)

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Moss

Can You Count Ten Toes? by Denis Roche

From Zero to Ten: The Story of Numbers by Vivian French

Mummy Math: An Adventure in Geometry by Cindy Neuschwander

What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras? A Math Adventure by Julie Ellis

Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick

Along Came Galileo by Jeanne Bendik

Mathematics Illustrated Dictionary: Facts, Figures and People by Jeanne Bendick

Telling the Time by Heather Amery & Stephen Cartwright

Radio Boy by Sharon Phillips Denslow

Julia Morgan Built a Castle by Celeste Davidson Mannis

Too Many Cooks by Andrea Buckless

Striking it Rich: The Story of the California Gold Rush by Stephen Krensky

What’s Up With That Cup? by Sheila Keenan

The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis

Pizza Counting by Christina Dobson

Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Splitting the Herd: A Corral of Odds and Evens by Trudy Harris

The Great Bridge-Building Contest by Bo Zaunders

How High is the Sky? by Anna Milbourne

How Big Is A Million? by Anna Milbourne

How Deep Is The Sea by Anna Milbourne

My Place by Nadia Wheatley

Starry Messenger by Peter Sis

A Million Dots by Andrew Clements

You Can Count On Monsters by Richard Evan Schwartz – oh my heavens, this one is so brilliant!

The Joy of Mathematics by Theoni Pappas

Great Books for Older Children and Adults

A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science by Michael Schneider

The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Michael L. Munk

I know I have more…this is just what I pulled off our shelves this week…so I may need to add more books to this post later.

These are books we haven’t read, but I think sound fabulous and I want to get them.

The Number Devil by Enzensberger, Multi-concepts, cute illustrations. Fun classic, very wide appeal, can be read aloud to even very young kids

The Story of 1 by Terry Jones and PBS Home Video – One hour well presented video on the history of the number 1.

Better Than a Lemonade Stand: Small Business Ideas for Kids by Daryl Bernstein

The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures, by Malba Tahan, Chapter book, loosely based on the story of Khayyam

The Ten Things All Future Mathematicians and Scientists Must Know But Are Rarely Taught by Edward Zaccaro

The Book of Think by Marilyn Burns

The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas

Hopefully this will get you started on your own math journey! If you have any questions about specific books, I will do my best to answer them.

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