10 Unusual Ways to Explore Math

by ChristinaPilkington on June 15, 2011 · 17 comments

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I confess. I never really liked math. I played the school game well so I received pretty good grades, but after I passed the test (even after receiving an A in most cases), those rules, theorems and facts didn’t stick around for very long.

The problem was everything was drilled into me, or as I like to think now, drilled out of me. I sat and did problem after problem before I really had a great grasp of with math could mean, how it related to my life and how I could approach it in a way that made sense to me. Everyone is different, but I needed more hands-on things, more time to invent my own problems. I’ve always loved literature and art, yet no one ever showed me how math is connected to those subjects.

I’m so excited that now, as an adult, I have the time and opportunity to get to know math all over again with my kids. I look forward to playing games with them, seeking out math connections in our lives and watching them grow up discovering patterns, arithmetic, percentages, and dozens of other experiences with numbers in their own way and in their own time.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take subjects traditionally taught in schools, one subject each week, and show you how they can be looked at in unusual ways. I’m starting with math because it was the subject I cared least about. I wanted to see if my research with present me with a new way of looking at math. And it did.

Here’s a list of ten unusual ways to look at math. The idea range across all ages and different interests.

1. Math Based Paintings – This website shows art works based on mathematical formulas. It also discusses the idea of chaos theory and self-similarity.

2. Philosophy, Physics, Mathematics – “Dangerous Knowledge” An hour and a half video on YouTube from the BBC.  It focuses on the lives of four
mathematicians who combined philosophy and math to make history-changing discoveries.

3. GeoMath: The Math of Geography A fun site that shows the connections between math and geography. Fun ways to play with latitude and longitudes, graphs and time zones.

4. Space Math @NASA If your children love space and finding hidden objects, this site will fascinate them. As you find the differences between different pictures taken in space, you’ll also learn new ways that scientists use math.

5. Real Life Math Mysteries – A book that takes 28 different occupations and presents different problems they might encounter.

6. The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures –   This book was written by a Brazilian mathematician.  He creates marvelous tales about an Arabian adventurer who doles out wisdom and advice using his remarkable math skills.  You’ll also learn the history behind some of the greatest mathematical minds in all of history through the tales in this book.

7. Math Games and Activities from Around the World – From Native American patterning and probability games from Mexico and Hawaii to board games from China, Korea and New Zealand, this fascinating book will introduce you to how many different cultures approach playing with math.

8. MathArts: Exploring Math Through Arts for 3 to 6 Year Olds – We’ve really enjoyed doing projects from this fun book by MaryAnn Kohl. Through creating murals mosaics and different patterns, it’s a nice way to show kids how counting, sequencing and measuring can be artful, too.

9. What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras? A Math Adventure Book If you kids love listening to stories, especially picture books, this book, as well as the rest of the series, is a great way to introduce kids to some great mathematicians and their discoveries.  Others in the series include: Mummy Math, A Very Improbable Story, Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, Multiplying Menace, and a Place for Zero.

10. SchoolHouse Rock: Multiplication Edition My son loves anything to do with music. Whenever we get in the car, the first thing he asks for is to turn on the radio. If your kids are interested in learning more about multiplying numbers and the love music, this DVD is sure to get their attention.

Do you have any ideas about how math is connected in unusual ways to your world?

Did you like this post? Should I continue with this series?  I’d love for you to let me know. Please jot a quick note in the comments below or send me an e-mail at chris@christinapilkington.com.  If you want to get free e-mail updates whenever there’s a new article posted just sign up for my mailing list at the right-hand corner of this page.

Photo Credit: fdecomite

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  • Marie Labradore

    A lot of these link no longer work :(

  • Elrttchr

    I am teaching a college level class called Art Activities for Elementary Education. There are so many connections here! I am sending them your way!!

    • christinapilkington

      Thanks so much! I wish more people understood the connections math has to just about everything.

  • tereza crump

    I love this post.

    I always loved Math in school but I liked pretty much everything. :) My Dad is an engineer and he had the whole collection of Malba Tahan in the original in Portuguese (I am from Brazil). I remember reading a few stories. now I wished I had read them all.

    My DD9 fights me when we do the traditional math textbook but if I am using a book like the ones you mentioned or just asking her everyday questions that involve Math she always knows the answer, and enjoys it very much. She also loves to use Mathmania books all the time. I think what she doesn’t like is to do it when Mom tells her to. :)

    • Anonymous

      I think, for the most part, kids really get a much solid understanding of math when they focus on the concrete, pratical applications of it when they are young. The Mathmania books are great! Really, really fun. I agree that when you say to kids, “This is what I want you to do, ” they will almost always not want to do it. I just try to fill my kids lives with lots of ways to play with numbers. I really love the site http://www.livingmath.net. There’s a wealth of resources for ways to bring fun math games and activities into your home.

  • Cheryl Bombenger

    This is right up my alley! I teach 3rd grade and am fascinated with the STEAM concepts (science, technology, engineering, arts and agriculture, and math) and find many of these ideas to fit right into my philosophy of teaching. TADA (Teaching Activities Done Aesthetically) is my anthem, with the arts…and MUSIC at the top of the list as to promote greater learning. Each curriculum area has numerous songs to promote reading, writing, vocabulary, figurative language, and content material. Our current literacy play/puppet show ,that we’ll be performing for the younger students, is “Three Billy Goats Gruff” and teaches ordinal numbers, and we’re having a bridge building competition, as we learn about bridges and civil engineering. These ideas will get my juices flowing!

    • Anonymous

      I’m so glad you’ve found some good ideas here:) Math is such a rich subject matter.Unfortunatly, kids often see it as just another time to do drills and worksheets. I’m glad you can introduce your students to look at math in ways that shows math’s connection to just about everything!

  • http://twitter.com/critterscrayons critters and crayons

    I am so terrible at math- but so fascinated by it. I cannot get enough of the abundance and beauty of Phi- I am fascinated by it. I love to read about cosmology and quantum physics- but lament my weak math background- Great post-

    • Anonymous

      I feel really weak in math, too. That’s why I’m so excited to do all the hands-on, real-world type math with my kids that I wished I could have done growing up.

  • Micheale Koch

    Thanks for these websites!!! I teach 5th and they really don’t like the rigamarole of math class sometimes, so anything that will keep them interested and learning is a great thing!

    • Anonymous

      When you can link math to the subjects and topics kids are interested in, it’s something fun and exciting. I think doing math in your head and understanding how numbers work in real projects and situations is much, much more important than doing it on paper. Most kids don’t like math because it involves a lot of writing, and most kids are not ready to do that type of writing until they are much, much older than schools say they should be. Math really is and should be about playing games and using numbers to solve problems the kids are interested in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4925294 Erin Cauley

    Do you have the instructions to make the 3-D shapes in the picture? I would love to have my class make them as Christmas ornaments to introduce geometry in a few weeks! Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Carla

    I am bookmarking you right now! Thank you for all the great stuff!

    • Anonymous

      Carla, you’re very welcome! It’s been fun writing these articles.

  • http://www.kimberlyehlers.com Kimberly Ehlers

    Christina, Thanks so much for this excellent post! I can’t wait to dig into these sites :) .

    • Anonymous

      Your welcome! It was so much fun doing the research.

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