#littlehousebigmath, and approaching maths backwards: Newsletter June 16, 2014

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I am Moby Snoodles, and this is my newsletter. Send me your questions, comments, and stories of math adventures at moby@moebiusnoodles.com

Moby Snodles Math Goggles

I am still wearing my math goggles from all the scavenger hunts we led at the Raleigh Maker Faire. If you missed it, join us online and at home for the #littlehousebigmath hunt! If you joined us at the Faire, welcome, and good talking to you again! Let’s have some adventures together.


“Bored in a math class” answers surprise the author

One of the questions asked at the Maker Faire was “my child is bored in math class. What can we do about it?” Rachel, a teen helping her mom Rodi Steinig with a book about math circles, asked the same question in several forums around the web: what to do if you are bored in a math class? She says many answers surprised her, but they make a lot of sense:

  • Make the best of it by actually trying to change the contents or format of learning
  • Ask the teacher for challenges (it’s not a request teachers get a lot in math classes)
  • Invent little games and ways of playing, especially about the math in the lesson (Vi Hart’s videos have great examples)

Rachel will share the edited version of the collection in a few weeks – you won’t even have to wait for the book. Add your thoughts to the growing collection on our forum.

Speaking of books

Here is the news from several book projects, by and for the Natural Math network.

Camp Logic by Mark Saul and Sian Zelbo is for those who help children explore the underlying structures of mathematics. It is now in the last stage of reader review, after its crowdfunding campaign collected more than six thousand dollars to cover editing, layout, and printing. Thank you for making the campaign a success! You can pre-order paperback and electronic formats with some bonuses until the book launch in the Fall.

Playing With Mathedited by Sue VanHattum, is about to start its crowdfunding campaign on June 20th. This is a crowdsourced book of stories from math circles, family mathematics, and playful classes – about fifty people contributed chapters, art, and puzzles. It has 300+ pages, the largest of Delta Stream Media book projects to date.

These books will be published under the open Creative Commons license, so everybody can check them out, remix the activities, translate, and otherwise spread the love of mathematics.

The London Mathematical Society published a review of Moebius Noodles, by one of my heroes, Alexander Zvonkin, a pioneer of early advanced mathematics. This is my favorite quote from the review, where Alexander totally gets the main hopes and dreams of our project:

“Sometimes, the authors’ enthusiasm makes them exceedingly optimistic. They say, “In general, the answer to ‘Can young children understand the concept of… ?’ is always ‘Yes!’”, and go on: “But seriously, can you teach any concept at any age?” Apparently, their answer is once again yes. This conviction, if we consider it as a purely scientific statement in the realm of developmental psychology, is certainly wrong. But such ideas should not be judged only as right or wrong. In the first place, this idea is productive. This means that it is not so much a statement as it is a challenge, an appeal to dare, to go ahead without fear and try to invent new activities, new games and circumstances which could eventually acquaint your child with the concept you have in mind.

Since Moebius Noodles came out a year ago, the Natural Math crew has been working hard to address an aspect the review also mentions. We are now building many more bridges between art activities, free play, games, and other informal mathematics – and formulated, abstract, explicit mathematics. Without such bridges, people who are strong at formal math don’t consider informal activities “real mathematics” – and people who are weak at formal math miss the full richness of mathematical concepts implicit in the activities. These days our materials have stronger scaffolds that help everyone to find, grasp, and share all the deep math behind beautiful art and free play.

For example, this info card accompanied our weaving activity, a hit at the Maker Faire last week. The card gives math terms, whys behind the fun, and an answer to a frequently asked question: “What if my child just weaves randomly, without creating or exploring a pattern?”

Blogs and networks: approaching maths backwards

Sue Elvis at Stories of an Unschooling Family blog writes about her revelation: mathematics can be approached in “the usual” direction of curricular sequences, or backwards, sideways, and every which way. In comments, she says since she started talking about this with other parents, many people came out and said it made total sense:

I have been surprised at how many people understood what I was trying to say in this post, despite me finding it hard to put it into words. It could be there are a lot of children who work better using a backwards approach.”

I see this trend as well. For example, a recent Y Combinator forum thread discussed graph theory topics Joel David Hamkins presented for his 7-year-old daughter’s class. I love the activities, and what Joel David named his daughter, and the kit for a little booklet on graph theory your kid can make:

Meanwhile, at the Gray Family Circus blog young kids are seen enjoying young calculus activities such as infinite series from our spring online course. Andrea Gray writes:

“I took a great class at Moebius Noodles and got a lot of ideas for hands-on math fun… Mary had the idea for the Colby Car substitution fractal.”

Is your kid like that? Is your child learning algebra before arithmetic, doing long addition left to right, skipping all over Khan academy exercises, or otherwise “approaching maths backwards”? Share your story!


You are welcome to share the contents of this newsletter online or in print.


Talk to you soon! Moby Snoodles, aka Maria Droujkova

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