Boomerangs for peace, a cognitive experiment to try, math stories: newsletter September 16, 2014

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Hi, I am Moby from the Moebius Noodles project, bringing you the news about Natural Math. Send me your questions, comments, and stories of math adventures at

Moby Snoodles

In this newsletter:

  • Easy to make boomerang – try it at home to join a global project
  • A cognitive science experiment with your kids, or grown-ups
  • But you can split any number if you have a knife! Math Storytelling Day is September 25th – share your story!

1001 circles and leaders: Boomerangs for world peace

Professor Yutaka Nishiyama(西山豊) seeks mathematics in everyday life and in cultural traditions. How does an egg roll down a slope? Why do French, Japanese, and Indian people count on their fingers in such different ways? Why do boomerangs fly? Yutaka finds out through research so playful you can follow it with your kids. I love how his accessible explorations mix childlike curiosity, the DIY spirit of making, the scientific experiments – and global sharing. In 1999-2007, The International Boomerang Project for world peace translated instructions for making simple paper boomerangs into 70 languages, making it accessible to 99.99% of the world’s population.

Yutaka Nishiyama

Make your own paper boomerangs with easy instructions from Yutaka, or leave a comment for him on our blog:

Babies, young kids, and even grown-ups can use their Approximate Number System for algebra

This week, we interviewed Dr. Melissa Kibbe about her cognitive psychology research with young children. Dr. Kibbe answered some questions for our blog, and then came to our virtual studio for a live event in the Math Future series. She writes:

Infants, children, adults, and some animals all have a built-in approximate “number sense”. We use this number sense whenever we want to, say, compare which of two jars has the most jelly beans or when we want to estimate how many people are in a crowd. We asked whether children could harness their approximate number sense to solve the kinds of problems that are usually not introduced much later in formal schooling, and with which children often struggle. That is, we thought that presenting problems in a more intuitive way may help kids “solve for x”.

Kibbe Gator Experiments

You can try this experiment at home. In our studies, we show children problems with unknown addends (like 5+x=17), but we present them in an intuitive way, embedded in a story. Children saw a stuffed animal character, Gator, who had a “magic” cup that will add more objects to a pile of objects, such as buttons or pennies. Children get to see the piles before the cup added its quantity, and after. We showed children the “magic” cup working on different piles, but always adding the same amount every time. Then, we pretended to mix up some cups, and showed children the quantities inside two different “magic” cups, only one of which matched the quantity that Gator’s cup had added; children were asked to choose which cup belonged to Gator. Children were quite good at choosing which quantity was in the animal’s cup, showing that they had an intuitive sense of the quantity of the unknown addend. Parents can try these kinds of activities with children at home, using items that are found around the house and a favorite toy.

Math Storytelling Day September 25: some stories!

Celebrate Math Storytelling Day by sharing your math stories, big or small. One in every 20 people who submits a story before September 25th gets a Math Maker t-shirt.

Math Storytelling Day 200

In this story, Irina caught her daughter making her own mathematics – namely, her own definition of a key idea:

My six year old daughter Alexandra loves math.

She also loves apples and sweets, and occasionally is willing to share food with her brother. In May we have discussed how we can fairly split up pizza, pies and apples between 2, 3, 4 and more persons. What if one person donates his share for others? Alexandra quickly grasped the concept of fractions and started playing with them in her head.

One month ago we were reading and doing exercises from a book called, What Should I Know Before I Start School? One chapter tried to introduce types of numbers: those in blue boxes (1, 3, 5, …) were odd and those in orange boxes (2, 4 ,6, …) were even. “If you have an even number of items, you can split them evenly in two groups” – the book said to my bitter disappointment.

After some thinking, my daughter came up with a new definition: “Even numbers of apples and sweets can be easily and fairly between me and my brother without cutting. For odd numbers of apples, we would need a knife.”

We are posting stories and pictures to our blog. Send us your stories, big and small!


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


Talk to you soon! Moby Snoodles, aka Dr. Maria Droujkova

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