Back to School – Activity #3

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One more. Just for fun :)

The summer can take a toll on your student’s learning skills. This activity is a fun way to get their minds back into shape.

This game can be played with all ages but would probably be best with 2nd or 3rd and UP!

Don’t miss a good read on trial and error below.

Activity #3 – Setup and Instructions

This is supposed to be a fun stress free activity, If you’re having troubles engaging your child see below.

Take your student’s learning to new limits. -> Try out one of our awesome Labs, Clubs or Classes

Trial and Error

Is math about right and wrong or trial and error?

The answer is BOTH!

Of course, the math we learn in school has right answers and producing those right answers is a huge goal of mathematics teaching.

HOWEVER, when we worship too long at the altar of Right Answers, we inadvertently remove much of the fun and joy from mathematics.

We need to make room in mathematics for trial and error. So, let’s stop telling kids the answers all the time. Leave some opportunities for them to struggle with ideas on their own AND have the joy of discovering things for themselves. (Not always, but sometimes.)

Take a look at the words most people associate with mathematics:

Now take a look at the words mathematicians use to describe mathematics:


What a difference! (Images from Tracy Zager)

Mathematicians seek answers, but they often choose the questions and spend days, weeks, or years in trial and error. And they LOVE it!

Maybe an example will help. This is a problem that I first saw at the Columbus Math Teacher Circle and I was fascinated by it. You won’t know the answer right away, but anyone can get started on it if they are willing to try.

A rabbit hops up a 12-step staircase. With each hop, he jumps up one or two steps. How many different ways can he reach the top step?

One way is for the rabbit to take 12 single-step hops. Another way is to take 6 double-step hops. Can you find all the other ways?

Some hints to help you along:

1) Sometimes it’s best to just start listing all the possibilities as best you can and then look for patterns along the way.

2) Try a simpler problem like how many ways are there to get the top if the staircase is only 2, 3, 4, or 5 steps?

3) Have an idea? Try it! Don’t worry if it doesn’t lead you to the answer. Often, it will lead you to something helpful any way.

Try this problem WITH your child. Work as a team. See what happens. The goal is to explore, play, and have fun! Focus on the journey, not the end goal. As you play, you might even discover that your child has some other interesting math questions (kids are inherently curious). Set aside some time to explore those questions too!

Remember, there’s more to math than right answers!

Having trouble engaging your kids? Check this out.

Start working on the challenge in plain view. Do some things that might not be normal. Get out a bunch of material: markers, paper, coins, etc. Kids are always in need of attention when you’re not available. Especially when your doing something that’s out of the norm or looks remotely interesting.

Not every parent will feel comfortable having mathematical conversations with their children. You might be looking at some of the questions my kids asked thinking, “there’s no way I could answer their questions”.

Here’s the good news, it’s not YOUR job to answer their questions! It’s your job to investigate things together with your child. Think of it as an adventure. Who knows where you’ll end up… enjoy the ride!

To repeat, you don’t have to be a mathematician to try this. You can try just drawing geometric pictures and then just seeing all the things that your child can notice or wonder about it.

Try to answer as many of your child’s questions with a question! Try to teach by asking, not by telling. This will help your child develop a healthy ability to persevere on their own.

Where Can You Find Ideas for Mathematical Conversation Starters?

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