Fun with Mathematics

My colleague’s previous post, Math is Creative, and a chance encounter with an old book necessitated by some home shelving issues caused me to rethink my topic for this post. It’s time to visit/revisit the enjoyment inherent in mathematics.

Too many students ‘see’ math as not enjoyable and only existing in school. I’m sad to say; some of my methods students see math similarly.

The book I encountered at home was tucked in between others, so that I hadn’t seen it in a while. It’s title is “FUN with Mathematics” by Jerome S. Meyer. It was published in 1952 (see below, did you notice the sticker price of 50 cents?). The back cover indicates, “Fun with Mathematics is literally a gold mine of fun and information. Through it, Jerome Meyer provides a fascinating and amazing key to the mysterious and magic world of numbers”.

As an example, one of the ‘fun’ activities is to examine the reciprocal of the 11th term of the Fibonacci sequence. The 11th term is 89, and the reciprocal of 89 is 1/89 whose decimal expansion is amazing (do you see the Fibonnaci sequence in the decimal expansion below?

As I recall (more than 60 years ago) it was the first time I was ‘told’ to have fun with mathematics.

After flipping through a few pages I thought of other math books I’ve enjoyed over the years. Books such as “The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity” by Steven Strogatz, “Math with Bad Drawings” by Ben Orlin, “Math Recess” by Sunil Singh and Christopher Brownell, “The Joy of Mathematics” by Theoni Pappas, and almost anything from Martin Gardner.

Please add a few of your own favorites by going to the Comments below.

I thought about some recent publications too. The very recently published, “Mathematics for Human Flourishing” by Francis Su which I’ve just started reading (“a society without mathematical affection is like a city without concerts, parks, or museums”). Su is the past president of the Mathematical Association of America.

Mathematical affection, did you ever hear this expression expressed or exhibited by your students, let alone by anyone?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge websites that are similarly inclined. The one I’ve encountered most recently is G’Day Math (GDAYMath.com). James Tanton’s website is committed to thinking and joyous doing of mathematics and, of course, sharing its delight and the beauty.

Also, the SolveMe Puzzles (https://solveme.edc.org/); Math Snacks (https://mathsnacks.com/index.html) from New Mexico State University, the Education Arcade (https://education.mit.edu/project/) from MIT, Think Math! (http://thinkmath.edc.org/resource/puzzles) from the Education Development Center, and many many more.

Please add a few of your own favorite websites which support math is fun/enjoyable by going to the Comments below.

I’m committed to putting enjoyment into my course ‘objectives’.

2 thoughts on “Fun with Mathematics

  1. I am the teacher I am today because my middle school math coach taught me that it is okay to do math for fun. I do stations in my classes on a somewhat regular basis and I have recently had 8th graders requesting to play 24 with fractions and decimals after I modeled how I look for patterns in sums, differences, products, and quotients when playing. (For those of you who don’t know, most 8th graders think fractions and decimals are scary!). My students really like math games such as 24 and Set. And nothing beats tangrams for after-testing activities. I also like the activities from https://playwithyourmath.com/. For myself, I like brilliant.org. I have noticed that some of my top students will refuse to do homework or practice current topics, but point them to a topic 3-4 grades above grade level and they are willing to spend hours trying to understand a concept.

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    1. I agree; my experience is that many students see ‘extra’ work as punishment; more homework. Choosing mathematical tasks/activities which extend/engage learning in a low-risk environment that challenges students and supports their (learning) ego is our challenge as educators.

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