Category Archives: Math

Week of Inspirational Math #3

Earlier this summer I wrote about an inspiring session at ISTE co-presented by Jo Boaler and Alice Keeler. Boaler is dedicated to spreading the word that anyone can be a math person as long as you have a growth mindset and appropriate learning opportunities.  As a Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford, Jo Boaler co-founded, and has presented a new “Week of Inspirational Math” curriculum on the site annually for free for the last two years.  Week 3 has just been published on the site, and is ready for educators from K-12 to use.  Having used the Week 1 and Week 2 curriculums in the past, I would highly recommend that you begin your school year with one or all three of these sets of math lessons.  The activities are broken down into grade-level strands, so there is no need to fear that your Kindergarten children will be asked to solve high school equations. 🙂

This year’s lesson include videos, PDF’s, and even access to a program called “Polyup,” which you can learn more about here.

I have personally witnessed students who believe they are “bad at math” be successful with these activities and become excited about doing more.  Those who have had negative experiences learning math can turn these around with thoughtful conversation and the passion of a teacher who believes in them.   Put Week 3 of “Week of Inspirational Math” into your beginning of the year lesson plans, and watch as your students learn to love math!

image from Clement.sim on Flickr

Not a “Math Person”? Wrong!

When it comes to math and mindset, there are two #eduheroes I refer to on a regular basis:  Dr. Jo Boaler, who is a professor at Stanford and the genius behind the YouCubed website, and Alice Keeler, who many know to be a Google wizard but also has a published book called, Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 G Suite Activities.  You can imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that they would be presenting a session together at ISTE. (Dr. Boaler joined us through Google Hangouts).

Dr. Boaler wrote the book, Mathematical Mindsets.  Not surprisingly, it includes a foreword by Carol Dweck, the leading expert on growth and fixed mindsets.  Dr. Boaler’s main points are that we need to value the different ways that people see math and have more class discussions about math – rather than repetitive questions on worksheets. According to her research, people become proficient in mathematics when their brains have the opportunity to make connections between visual and numerical representations – not because they are born “math people.”  The least effective way to teach math is through lecture, while the most effective is with Project and Problem Based Learning.

Both Boaler and Keeler agree that we need to dispel the myth that those who can do math quickly are better thinkers than those who reason through problems.  In fact, Boaler says, “I’m unimpressed that you worked through it quickly because that tells me that you are not thinking deeply.”

Another controversial topic we all agree on – homework.  Recent studies have shown that assigning elementary students homework is ineffective.  Boaler and Keeler (and I agree) both believe that this is true for all ages, particularly when the homework is a worksheet of repetitive practice.  A better way to think about math is to do an activity like the one below, where students think about one problem in multiple ways.


When an audience member asked about the problem of spending time on conversing about math when there is a scope and sequence to follow, both Keeler and Boaler expressed the feeling that it is actually a waste of time to “plow through” topics despite lack of understanding.  In Boaler’s words, “Pacing guides are the worst evil in education.” Amen!

Keeler shared several “Googlized” adaptations of activities from Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math, including a nice Slides template for the Four 4’s challenge which includes links to individual slides for students to explain their work.  You can find links to more of Keeler’s templates in her presentation here.

Overall, I was so energized by this session that I was tripping over my words when I debriefed with my colleagues that evening.  I had stayed later just to attend this session, and it was definitely worth my time.  Thank you, Alice Keeler and Jo Boaler!

I want to close this post by helping Alice Keeler to honor her book’s co-author, Diana Herrington, a passionate math teacher who recently passed.  You can read more about Diana and her influence on Alice Keeler here.   One of many great quotes from Diana Herrington on Twitter collected by Alice Keeler is, ““I teach students not math.”

Clothesline Math

Chris Shore is quick to note that he did not invent Clothesline Math.  However, he is the author of the Clothesline Math website, and producer of many of the materials on the site, so I think he definitely deserves some credit!

When I first ran across this site, I was a bit dubious of the value of a Clothesline Math activity.  Basically, the teacher gives out a set of number tents to students, who then must hang them on a clothesline (which represents a number line).  However, once I watched Shore’s video explaining how he introduces Clothesline Math, I realized how this seemingly simple activity could really start some incredible math class discussions.  There are many decisions students need to make when they determine what benchmarks to use on the numberline, the order to place their numbers, and the amount of space in between.  Even with a set of 3 fractions (1/2, 1/3, and 1/4), you could take up an entire class period.

Shore provides different sets of printable numbers (from various math disciplines) and an answer document on his site.  Of course you can DIY with your own supplies and number sets based on whatever you are studying in math class at the moment.

I like the idea of students reasoning through this, and having to justify their responses.  It can also be a great visual and kinesthetic activity that will be much more meaningful that choosing from multiple choice answers on a worksheet.

For more intriguing math sites, take a look at 15 Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.  Let’s get our students excited about math!

image from: MaxPixel

Robert Kaplinsky’s Real World Problems

Robert Kaplinsky uses images from everyday life to pose interesting math challenges for students in Kinder through high school.  You can choose problems by grade level on his site, or you can look at this spreadsheet that identifies the Common Core Standards covered in each problem.

Questions like, “How Many Combos are there on a Coke Freestyle?” are sure to elicit curiosity from your students.  Kaplinsky shares the image, a challenge, questions to be asked by the teacher to encourage discussion, and background information regarding the facts and the math related to each image.

Robert’s site inspired me to look for some other free images that might spawn some intriguing math questions, and I found this one on Pixabay:


Can you think of math questions for your own students that would correlate to this picture?

By the way, I’ll be adding this to my, “15 Math Sites that Won’t Make You Fall Asleep” post – which will actually make the current number of recommended sites 17 at this point 😉

PBS Cyberchase Games

When my Kinder GT class learns about “Scientist Thinking” and classification, I like to use a PBS Cyberchase Game called, “Logic Zoo,” which helps them to understand Venn Diagrams.  You can find that game, and other fun math problem solving interactives for elementary and middle school students on this page.  (You need Flash to play these games, so they probably don’t work on mobile devices.) In addition to “Logic Zoo,” I love, “Pour to Score,” and, “Cyberchase Squares.”

The games are many different levels, so make sure you test them out before assigning them to your students!

Logic Zoo
Screen Shot from PBS Cyberchase game, “Logic Zoo”

Frog Jumping

Gordon Hamilton is the amazing mind behind one of my favorite math sites, Math Pickle. (For a list of interesting math sites, check out this post.) Numberphile is an awesome YouTube channel for anyone passionate about math.  So, when the two collaborate, you know that it is going to be good.  “Frog Jumping” is one of Hamilton’s recent math challenges featured on Numberphile. I would definitely invite your students (probably 3rd grade and up) to try each problem he poses throughout the video – pausing for them to make their attempts. As for his final frog-jumping challenge, I may have to take him up on it, although it’s hard to imagine that I could solve something that eludes Gordon Hamilton!

Frog Jumping
screen shot from “Frog Jumping” video by Gordon Hamilton and Numberphile

5 Educational Mother’s Day Activities

I know that the readers of this blog live in many countries, so I try to write posts that might be applicable no matter where you are.  I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to learn that many nations celebrate Mother’s Day in May, as does the United States. Here are some lesson ideas to consider that will simultaneously honor mothers as students learn something new.

  • GT Frames for Mothers (original idea from @jtrayers)
  • She Wears Many Hats (advanced students can use multiple meanings and think metaphorically)
  • Mother’s Day Trip (I am considering doing this with my 1st graders, who just researched different countries.  It would be funny to make the video sound like the mom just won a roundtrip vacation to the country on a game show or in a sweepstakes!)
  • Mother’s Day Shopping Spree  – Speaking of winning things, a fun math/writing lesson could be to have students “shop” for their mothers online with a budget. They would have to make sure they stay within budget as well as justify each gift they would purchase.  I would use one store site (such as that offers many types of items, or curate some ahead of time for younger students.  Mothers may enjoy seeing what their children would buy for them if money were no (or, almost no) object!
  • Paper Circuit Greeting Cards (more examples here)
My mom wears a “magician hat for when she magicly gets websites working again after I acedentely hit a button.” image from “She Wears Many Hats