Category Archives: math

combining handicraft with math

I’m in awe of the impressive Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project, “a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world.” You can see a TED talk with Margaret Wertheim, the founder of the project, below.

The reef is currently on exhibit at the Natural History Museum.

memorizing multiplication tables

My fourth-grade daughter and her class have been working hard during the first several weeks of school mastering multiplication tables. She already knew her times tables pretty well, but her teacher wanted the students to know them well enough to do them quickly. I agree completely with this approach even though many schools have done away with requiring kids to learn times tables. I think it’s important to master tables because so much higher-level math depends on a student’s ability to do multiplication; if they don’t know times tables by rote, they can get bogged down while working problems, as Maria Miller of Math Mammoth explains here on her blog.

Here are some of the resources and games I’ve used—or plan to try out—with my daughter to build her speed at multiplication facts:

  • Multiplication resources online—This is another excellent resource from Maria Miller.
  • Timez Attack—This game is without question my daughter’s favorite way to practice multiplication facts, and it works!
  • Times Tales—Times Tales is a unique approach to learning times tables based on stories. Please visit the web site or read my detailed review for more information, as it’s too complex to explain in a short blurb!
  • Damult Dice—This is a math practice game that only requires three dice. We haven’t tried it yet but plan to this week. I played several dice games with my daughter when she was learning addition facts, and they kept her interest much longer than flash cards ever did. (Update: This one is great for multiplication and addition practice all at once! We’ll definitely be playing it again, and it went so fast that we decided to play to 500 instead of 200.)
  • Apps—We also tried a couple of iPad/iPhone/iPod apps that are essentially electronic flash cards and drills. They didn’t stand out enough to recommend, but if you do a search in the App Store for “times tables” or “multiplication,” you might find one that works for your child.

What other resources do you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

candy math

With Halloween right around the corner, I’m reposting Candy Math, originally published November 1, 2007. Here are a few additional activities I just found that will help you get rid of some of the candy your kids will soon be collecting.

Sweet Sorting: A Fun Activity to Practice Categorizing

Get Halloween Math Practice with Candy Calories


If you have leftover Halloween (or Easter or Christmas) candy, use it for some fun math practice! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Sort the candy by type, color, or other categories
  • Make a graph
  • Group the candy into sets and practice counting by 1s, 2s, 3s, 5s, or 10s
  • Do greater-than and less-than comparisons
  • Find sums of two different types of candy and the difference between one type of candy and another
  • For older students, find the mean, median, and mode
  • Find the percentage of each type or color of the whole candy stash

We dumped out all of our candy and decided to sort it into the following categories:


-chocolate bites/rolls/drops

-candy bars


-chewy candy (not chocolate)

-hard candy


We then sorted and counted each piece of candy and made tally marks for each category. I modified this worksheet to match our categories, and we filled it out together. We then sorted all the candy into piles of five, and my daughter counted by fives to find the total number. I modified this graphing worksheet to match our category designations. We unwrapped all the Smarties candies and sorted them by color, arranging them into a graph (albeit not a straight, precise one). Finally, because we had several packages of Smarties Money (larger Smarties with different dollar and cent amounts stamped on top), we added up the total amount of Smarties Money in our pile ($71.86!).
Quote of the Morning: “All this candy sorting is making me hungry!”

You could also do this activity while making gingerbread houses or at any other time of year. What other math activities have you done using candy?

Other Resources:

Candy Corn Math

Candy Coated Classroom Activities

M&Ms Math

We also really liked Loreen Leedy’s fun children’s book, The Great Graph Contest, which shows different types of graphs and how they’re used.

weekend web wanderings

Here are a few of the helpful, interesting posts I’ve found while browsing this Labor Day weekend:

15 Homemade Math Manipulatives: Heart of the Matter Online gives some great suggestions for math manipulatives and hands-on learning ideas for elementary-level math. My 4-year-old is just beginning basic addition and loves sorting and counting manipulatives.

Desktop Wallpaper Calendars for September 2009: Smashing Magazine offers dozens of free desktop wallpapers you can download to jazz up your desktop. I chose Prelude and like several of the other designs too.

A Library Without the Books: I’ve seen several discussions about this article that features a New England prep school that’s getting rid of its library books and creating a digital learning center. This related article from CNN, The future of libraries, with or without the books, covers the “Library 2.0” revolution. I don’t have any problem with updating libraries to meet changing needs and incorporating new technology and products like ebook readers. What’s ludicrous is taking it to extremes just for the sake of being cutting-edge. Even aside from the costs, with the digital rights issues surrounding Kindle and other ebook readers, it seems incredibly impractical and short-sighted to entirely get rid of books. I just don’t see it happening any time soon and prefer to curl up in bed with a real book, thanks.

Reading Rainbow Reaches Its Final Chapter: This NPR story highlights one of our family’s favorite TV programs–Reading Rainbow. The show’s last airing on PBS was August 28. I’m thankful that our library still has many of the shows on video, as they make great go-alongs for unit studies and other books we’re reading.

fun with math

Visit Homeschool Bytes to check out the Math Teachers at Play carnival!

Happy Pi Day!

Today is March 14 (3-14), better known as Pi Day! Here are some links to activities and ideas to help you celebrate the day and learn more about pi. We’re writing pi-ku; instead of using a traditional haiku form, write a poem in which the first line contains 3 syllables, the second 1, and the third 4.

Pi Day

Exploratorium’s Pi Day Celebration

How to Celebrate Pi Day

Pi Day International


Let’s Play Math has more fun ideas:

Happy Pi Day, 2008!

More Fun with Pi

Math Tutor


When I was in school, I was usually at the top of my class and learned new concepts easily; rarely did I come across material that truly challenged me in the regular classroom. But that changed in my sophomore year of high school when I took geometry. My teacher was smart, funny, and engaging. I liked him a lot, but I didn’t always understand what in the world he was talking about and how he got from one point to the next! Geometry was so different from anything I had ever seen before, and I had a hard time wrapping my head around the process of working proofs. Our teacher did a great job of explaining material as long as the students followed what he said. But if you didn’t understand the material as he taught it, he wasn’t able to simplify his explanations or cover the material again in a different way to make it more easily understood. My good friend was a math whiz, and thanks to her much simpler explanations and her taking the time to break down the material for me, it made sense. She even came in early several times to help other classmates with geometry homework, as she was about the only student who understood everything easily. Thanks to her patient peer tutoring, I finally “got it” and ended up doing well in geometry. (Just don’t ask me to work any theorems for you now! ;))

Jason Gibson uses a similar approach in his Math Tutor DVDs to make complex math concepts easy to understand by breaking them down and explaining them step by step. The DVDs cover different topic areas beginning with basic math and moving all the way up to higher-level courses in physics, statistics, and calculus. I received the Basic Math Word Problem Tutor and the Algebra 2 Tutor DVDs to review.

The videos are rather spartan and feature Gibson working problems on a whiteboard and clearly, thoroughly explaining each step of a problem and solution, with no frills, graphics, or potential distractions. A Math Tutor DVD is the Joe Friday of the educational video world—just the facts!


My daughter, who loves math and enjoys word problems, thought the section of the Word Problems DVD that she watched with me was dry and uninteresting, and I agree that there was little about the presentation to engage young learners. However, I can see how this type of format could be helpful to an older student who has gaps in a particular area and needs to see many examples of a particular type of problem worked out in order to grasp the concept and gain confidence. The Geometry Tutor DVD may have been quite helpful to me when I was in high school.

Although I do utilize videos in our homeschooling, I usually avoid videos of someone lecturing or teaching a class, as a video can’t replicate the most beneficial aspect of classroom teaching—the interaction between the teacher and the students (both verbal and nonverbal). Tutoring is by definition interactive and individualized to the learner, so I don’t consider a DVD to be a substitute for a live tutor. Other homeschooling parents and students have no trouble with this type of format, though, and I think the videos would be beneficial to students who are struggling with a particular math concept. They aren’t meant to completely replace a math curriculum but rather to supplement what you’re using and help students gain additional practice working problems.

You can see a sample of the Word Problem Math Tutor DVD here. Many users have provided glowing testimonials on the Math Tutor site about how well the programs have worked for them, and you can read and hear their personal experiences here. You can find more reviews of Math Tutor DVDs on the TOS Crew blog.

Most Math Tutor DVDs cost $26.99. Companion CDs are available for certain titles and include worksheets and step-by-step solutions. For a limited time, “Each new Math Tutor DVD customer receives 60 minutes of FREE live online tutoring available 24/7 through!”