Monday, June 27, 2011

Math Wizardry for Kids

Although the school year has just ended and summer only officially kicked off last week, I've already heard from parents who are searching for ideas to help their children fill their vacation time with productive activities. First, planning a weekly trip to your local library is always a great idea. While at the library look for a copy of Barron's Math Wizardry for Kids, it is full of projects you can turn to respond to the child who is already lamenting, "Mom, I'm bored. I don't have anything to do!"

In Math Wizardry for Kids, authors Margaret Kenda and Phyllis S. Williams have have created a rich resource packed with dozens of creative projects that will not only keep children busy, but also encourage them to discover many of the mysteries and wonders of mathematics. The list of materials and clear directions are for each activity, accompanied by simple illustrations, empower children to work independently. I predict that many parents will enjoy completing projects right alongside their children.

Teaching Tip
Teachers will find Math Wizardry for Kids a handy resource for creative projects that students can do in and outside of class to reinforce math concepts and discover mathematical understanding for themselves. For example, Chapter 9 includes a project titled, "Build a Sun Clock." Students can use their sun clock to tell time as well as learn about measurement and angles.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let's Hear it for the Girls

Last week I read an interesting post over at the math 4 love blog. The posting, When Girls Leave Math and What to Do About got me to thinking about books we can use that present girls as strong characters AND skilled in mathematics.

Danica McKellar, perhaps better known as Winnie Cooper from the television series "The Wonder Years" does a wonderful job of promoting girl math-power in Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking A Nail and Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss. Her third title in this series is Hot X: Algebra Exposed! and is scheduled for release June 28, 2011. [Note: Hot X is available for pre-order from, click the book link here to learn more or reserve your copy.]

McKellar's books are breaking down stereotypes and demonstrating that girls can and do make great mathematicians. Her sassy and witty style not only teaches math concepts it also encourages young girls to tap into their own undiscovered math potential.

I mentioned novels yesterday that are worth noting again, Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra and Do the Math #2: The Writing on the Wall by Wendy Lichtman who has created a young teenage heroine who uses math to solve life problem and mysteries.

Teaching Tip

From time-to-time we should all do some personal reflection and examine our teaching practices. Are we guilty of reinforcing the negative gender stereotypes? As role-models do we send subtle messages that it is okay for girls not to understand math? Parents, when your child asks for math homework help how do you respond? Rather than comforting a daughter that struggles with math with comments such as "I wasn't good in math either" parents can begin to send positive messages with responses such as, "I don't know, let's find out together." After all, parents are the most important role-models of all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Official Start of Summer

The summer solstice has arrived, bringing with it the official start of the summer season. Yesterday we began or list of books for beach reading, long car rides, or simply reading while lolling in the backyard and sipping lemonade. On this day that is the longest day of daylight I hope that you and your children enjoy reading math.

Here are a few more titles to consider:

The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures
by Malba Tahan follows the travels and adventures of a mathematical wiz who uses his skills to settle conflict and give wise advice.

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure
is a rich mathematical fantasy that reveals both the mystery and beauty of numbers using a relatable character for readers age 8 to 80.

In Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra and Do the Math #2: The Writing on the Wall author Wendy Lichtman has created a young teenage heroine who uses math to solve life problem and mysteries.

Teaching Tip
All of the books that I am listing this week would make good classroom read-alouds.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Welcome Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks fans

Welcome to all of the first time visitors joining us today from Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks.

You might be especially interested in this post from last month, "What ten things can you always count on..."? That just so happened to mentioned the runaway bestseller by Patrick Vennebush, Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks.

I hope that you like what you see and bookmark this site so you can come back often.

Fun Summer Reading

Sometimes you just want to kick back with a good book and read. There are a number of books with a math bent that are also just plain fun to read. This week the summer soltice begins and many of us will be searching for books to read while soaking up the sun. Here are a few suggestions for books to tuck into your beach bag.

Crimes and Mathedemeanors by Leith Hatoutis is a delightful collection of short detective stories that will challenges teenagers and adults alike. The main character, Ravi, is a 14-year-old math genius who uses mathematics and physics to help the local detectives solve perplexing cases.

The Parrot's Theorem, an International bestseller by Denis Guedj is an interesting cross between mathematical history and a murder mystery combined with a charming parrot that will discuss math with anyone.

Finally, for younger readers, check out The Great Number Rumble: A Story of Math in Surprising Places by Cora Lee and Gillian O'Reilly. A book that aptly illustrates that math is indeed all around us.

Friday, June 17, 2011

KenKen Puzzles

For our final suggestions of fun resources to consider using while celebrating National Brain Training Week (June 11-17, 2011) we will look at KenKen puzzles. Just as with the magic square and sudoku puzzles discussed earlier this week, KenKen puzzles help children develop problem solving skills and number sense. Puzzles also help develop concentration.

Here are a few good sources of KenKen puzzles:

Will Shortz Presents I Can KenKen! Volume 1: 75 Puzzles for Having Fun with Math is recommended for children ages 9-12. Shortz has also published volumes 2 and 3 for the same age range of children. All of the titles in the series include a "Home and Classroom Guide for Parents and Teachers" written by Marilyn Burns.

KenKen puzzles are also available as a handheld game.

Teaching Tip
The bulletin board idea mentioned in the June 15 posing on Sudoku can be adapted for KenKen puzzles.

As an alternative, instead of incorporating the puzzles we have talked about this week into classroom instruction, consider just having number puzzle books available for children to enjoy in their leisure time. Parents might consider having a few number puzzle books available in the car to occupy children on long trips. Magic Squares, Sudoku and KenKen are a great way for children to enjoy math with out any pressure. Let's always remember to create opportunities for children to enjoy the wonder and beauty of mathematics.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Art of Scale

In the spirit of full disclosure you should know up front that I have no books to share today. I'm taking a brief departure from the typical entry you find on this blog because I ran across two Web pages last night that fascinated me. I thought I would share them with you in hopes that you would know of a piece of literature or two that could be used along with these sites. I also hope that these resources inspire you to share your ideas for teaching scale.

SOURCE: Image of Swine Flu from

The above photo is one example of the dozen or so unusual glass sculptures created by Luke Jerram. Each beautiful piece is an authentic representation of some of the deadliest viruses on our planet. The sculptures are each about 1,000,000 times the size of the actual pathogen.

While exploring Jerram's Glass microbiology site I found a link to Learn Genetics and a depiction that is a great illustration of scale that can help you and your students comprehend just how small single cell organisms are compared to familiar items such as a coffee bean, grain of rice and a sesame seed.

Teaching Tip
I think both sites are great visual resources to use when teaching scale. What do you think? Do you see applications for these sites in your classroom? What resources and activities do you use to teach scale?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Continuing with our look at number puzzles in observance of National Brain Training Week (June 11-17, 2011) today we look at Sudoku, the number puzzle that quickly went from something no one had every heard of, let along pronounce, to becoming a global phenomenon. The traditional 9 x 9 grid Sudoku is easily adaptable for a range of age and ability levels. Books such as Will Shortz Presents the Monster Book of Sudoku for Kids: 150 Fun Puzzles begin with a short introductory lesson on solving Sudoku and entry level 4 x 4 grid puzzles before advancing to 6 x 6 then the traditional 9 x 9 grid puzzles.

In Sudoku Puzzles for Kids, author Michael Rios also modifies puzzles for children by only using the digits 1 - 6 in his puzzles rather than the typical 1 - 9.

Sudoku is accessible to even the youngest students with puzzles like those found in Kindergarten Sudoku by Peter Kattan and Sudoku Puzzles For Children Ages 4-8: Every Child Can Do It. For Kids At Home or At School by Jonathan Bloom.

Teaching Tip
Carol A. Buckley describes a clever use of Sudoko in her November 2008 article, "Using Sudoku Bulletin Boards to Teach Mathematical Reasoning." Just as you can surmise from the article title, Buckley's idea is to create an interactive Sudoku as a bulletin board display. Using an enlarged 9 x 9 grid made of poster board mounted on a cloth covered classroom bulletin board, Buckley staples digit cards in the appropriate squares to replicate the given numbers of a puzzle she has selected from resources such as the books listed above. Velcro tabs are placed in the open spaces. Students use digit cards, with Velcro tabs on the reverse side, that Buckley makes available in an envelope positioned beside the grid. Throughout the day students can work individually or collaboratively to solve the puzzle. Once a puzzle is completed, Buckley can easily replace it with a new puzzle.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

National Brain Training Week

In observance of National Brain Training Week (June 11-17, 2011) here are a couple of books that will give you and your students a good brain work out. What better way to put your mind through the paces than with number puzzles?

First let's ponder the challenges in magic squares. In Before Sudoku: The World of Magic Numbers Seymour S. Block and Santiago A. Taveres take readers on an engaging tour through time from the earliest appearance of the magic square (some 4,000 years ago in Ancient China) through modern times.

While Before Sudoku is more appropriate for high school students and adults, younger students will enjoy reading Ben Franklin and the Magic Square by Frank Murphy.

Benjamin Franklin's Numbers: An Unsung Mathematical Odyssey by Paul C. Pasels may be most appropriate for the mathematicians among us.

Teaching Tip
Try this Magic Square Generator students can use to create puzzles to share. Or select one of these classroom ready worksheets of magic squares built from whole numbers, fractions or decimal numbers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent

WOW! How would you like to have that name? Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent is a delightful character created in the mind of author Lauren Child. The humorous plot is along the lines of the classic parent/child role-reversal. Hubert Horatio's irresponsible socialite parents are squandering the family fortune. In his efforts to save the day the charming and resourceful Hubert learns that money isn't nearly as important as family.

Teaching Tip
Young readers will enjoy this tale that can be used as a starting point for conversations about money. If you want to follow the book with a continuation of the lessons on identifying, counting, and exchanging coins that we touched upon yesterday I suggest the "Coin Box" activity found on the Illuminations site. The activity was inspired by the article "Teaching the Value of Coins" published in the January 1999 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics. In the article authors Randell L. Drum and Wesley G. Petty Jr. address the fact that coins are nonproportionate models in terms of the value they represent and offer alternative, proportionate models that can be associated with each coin.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A dime doesn't buy as much as it use to

I've had money on my mind lately...not because of the economy, but because I've found myself in various conversations about children and money. Specifically, the topic has been concern that children are exhibiting increasing difficulty counting and exchanging coins. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that as our society evolves and depends more and more on digital commerce children have less and less opportunity to see the use of coins modeled in everyday life.

"Clink, clink, clink, clink...Clink, clink, clinkity... Money saved in a bank makes your brain think-thinkity!"

In You Can't Buy a Dinosaur with a Dime author Harriet Ziefert uses rhyming verse to tell the story of Pete and his experience in earning, saving and budgeting his allowance. Readers can join him as he saves, spends, and strategizes over future purchases.

Teaching Tip
If possible, provide children with an assortment of real coins to model the actions of Pete as they re-read the book. Encourage students to begin to save coins and create their own spending and saving plan.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

And the winner is......

...Jen! Congratulations!!!!

Using the random number generator on Jen was selected as the winner of the book Learning Algebra with Pizza by Dawn McMillan. Jen was one of the people that left a comment on the June 2, 2011 entry: More than Pizza and Brownies. Thank you Jen and everyone else who joined the conversation!

Congratulations Jen! You have one week to e-mail me at bethsbookshelf[at]aol[dot]com with your mailing address so I can send out your prize.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Growing Patterns

In April I shared several books and ideas for learning more about the Fibonnaci sequence. Here is one more title to add to that collection, Growing Patterns by Sarah Campbell. Using stunning photographs, Campbell explores the appearance of the Fibonacci numbers in nature.

Interestingly, the progression of the photograph layouts represent a Fibonnaci spiral. The text begins with a very simple pattern and advances to more complex mathematical concepts.

Teaching Tip
If possible bring an assortment of flowers, seed heads, fruit etc into the classroom for students to examine.

Discovery education offers an excellent lesson plan that includes a set of activity sheets that can help guide students as they investigate Fibonacci numbers found in nature.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Book Giveaway

Don't miss your chance to win a free book by commenting on my June 2, 2011 blog post. The contest rules are re-capped below:

Let's talk
I want to begin a dialogue with my readers so that I can learn from you and tailor blog entries to your instructional needs. To kick off the conversation I decided to offer a bribe, er I mean incentive, to encourage you to post a comment. Post a comment to yesterday's post by Monday, June 6, 2011 and you'll be in a drawing for a copy of Learning Algebra with Pizza by Dawn McMillen.

Here are the giveaway rules:

1. Leave one comment to the June 2, 2011 post anytime between now and Monday, June 6, 2011 at 11:59 PM Eastern Time. You are limited to one entry. The contest is limited to US residents only.

2. For this contest, I will pick one winner at random from the comments section of this post. The comments will be numbered in the order they are received, i.e. the first comment is #1, the second #2, and so on. The Random Integer Generator at will be used to pick the number of the winner.

3. The contest winner will be posted by Wednesday, June 8th. The winner will have one week to email me to claim their prize.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More than Pizza and Brownies

Okay...I can admit it...I have food issues....a lot of people do these days. It seems that the 'go to' analogy for teaching fraction concepts is always food related. As I was going through my book collection and preparing my blog entries about fractions I realized that the majority of the stories we use have the characters portioning out food in fair shares. Given that obesity is a serious health issue in our culture, perhaps we educators we should be sensitive to the messages we send to children. For example, through our literature selections we can teach that fractions are more than just pizza, pies and brownies.

Toward that end, here are a few books that use non-food models to convey fraction concepts:

In Jump, Kangaroo, Jump Kangaroo and his friends separate into various groups to compete in Field Day exercises.

Eight messy bunkmates win the prize for the cleanest cabin in the funny fraction tale A Limpiar El Campamento! (Clean-Sweep Campers).

Readers of Polar Bear Math learn about fractions following the care of two baby polar bears born in a zoo.

In Go Fractions! the soccer coach and math teacher names his team fractions and the player numbers on each uniform are fractions. The team does share a food item in this story, but since the food is a healthy choice we'll include the title in this list.

Let's talk
I'd like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about using food models to teach fraction concepts? What about eating scenarios when teaching problem-solving strategies? It has been a while since I have been a classroom teacher, so I may be off-base. I want to know your opinion. Post a comment to this post by Monday, June 6, 2011 and you'll be in a drawing for a copy of Learning Algebra with Pizza by Dawn McMillen. (Yes, my attempt at irony!)

Here are the giveaway rules:

1. Leave one comment on this post anytime between now and Monday, June 6, 2011 at 11:59 PM Eastern Time. You are limited to one entry. The contest is limited to US residents only.

2. For this contest, I will pick one winner at random from the comments section of this post. The comments will be numbered in the order they are received, i.e. the first comment is #1, the second #2, and so on. The Random Integer Generator at will be used to pick the number of the winner.

3. The contest winner will be posted by Wednesday, June 8th. The winner will have one week to email me to claim their prize.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

More about fractions

Continuing our exploration of fractions let's look at Fraction Action by Loreen Leedy, a beginner chapter book of five stories that are useful for reinforcing concepts such as dividing geometric shapes into fractions, dividing sets of objects into equal parts, cutting fruit into equal shares, and dividing a dollar into fractions. Other titles you may want to consider are Full House: An Invitation to Fractions by Dayle Ann Dodds and Give Me Half by Stuart Murphy.

Teaching Tip
Pattern Blocks are great manipulatives for developing understanding of fraction concepts. Alternatively, if you do not have access to the blocks you can provide students with paper models of this tool using a pattern block template or have them explore using virtual pattern blocks. Give students either model then challenge them to find fractional parts of the whole.

Chick here for a treasure trove of online activities that teach fraction concepts.
Funny & Fabulous Fraction Storiesby Dan Greenberg and Jared Lee is a useful resource book for teachers.