Do More Math Projects

I think when we think of projects, history, science, nature studies, electives, and so forth are the first things that come to mind. However, I’ve been making a concerted effort to do more math projects lately and I really want to advocate for engaging with math in that way. It’s fun and adds another dimension to math. It helps show how math is relevant to other subjects and everyday life. It shows how math can be artistic and useful.

So far, we’ve been enjoying a few different resources for math projects and I thought I’d highlight them here.

Time Travel Math
This is a great book from Prufrock Press, intended to be used for gifted fourth and fifth graders. There is a loose story about a pair of twins, Harriet and Thomas, who find a secret way to travel in time, but only if they’re wondering about math. The story is cheesy, but it’s not at all poorly written, which helps it work. They travel in time three times, first to learn about ratio with a young Leonardo da Vinci, next to learn about geometry and tessellations with a young M.C. Escher, and finally to learn about area in ancient Egypt with Imhotep. Each section has questions for students to think about as the text tells the story and reveals the math. Those are followed by either short math labs or activities about the topic and then finally by a much longer project. For ratio, students make a giant object. For tessellations, students make a quilt out of tessellations. For area, students make a mobile to balance shapes. I highly recommend this book. We’ve finished the first two sections and are looking forward to the third. I think the recommended ages on the book is probably a little too narrow. The projects and math could be right for kids any time from third grade to before formal algebra, at which point the concepts would be too simple.

Math Projects Series
This series is out of print, but most of the titles can be found inexpensively. There are titles about making math games, making kites, designing playgrounds, and designing houses. We have tried out two of them – one about designing playgrounds and one about designing houses. I especially liked the way that the playground book led the kids forward with different activities, considering how playgrounds are used and playing around with simple shapes for design. This is the piece of doing a math project that I think I didn’t initially understand. Doing questions beforehand and practicing the concepts isn’t busywork or wasted time. It’s time kids need to understand the math and get the most out of the project. Unfortunately, when we went to use the houses book, we were very disappointed by the vagueness of the instructions and ended up ditching it. Still, I would like to see the math behind the kites and bridges books because I like the goal of the series.

Treasure Boxes coverGEMS Guides
These are math and science guides for elementary and middle school with hands on projects for kids. There are ten math guides in all with different age ranges and topics, including combinations, probability, algebra, and polyhedra. We used Math on the Menu, which is about combinations and have a couple more on tap and are looking forward to them. Again, the key thing provided is support for how to think about the math as you do the project. The projects for the ones I have are much more process oriented with less of a final product at the end. For example, in the combinations one we did, there was a story and a number of problems revolving around it, but no product at the end to show off. These books require more tweaking for the homeschool classroom since part of the GEMS philosophy is having kids all share their methods and approaches in finding different answers. Two of the GEMS Guides, about cooperative logic problems, are probably not really adaptable.

Amazing Math Projects You Can Build Yourself
This book is filled with many different ideas for math projects, such as making your own abacus or playing around with polyherdra models. Unlike the other books mentioned, there’s less building up of specific skills by slowly structuring the project to have more meaning. Instead, there are just many different ideas for every sort of math all thrown together. This is more like a book of ideas than a guide. It’s written to the student with text about the projects that explains the math or the connections with history, art, or other subjects. Some of the “projects” are extremely fast and simple while others are more involved. If you’re looking for something to get the juices flowing for doing more hands on math and mini-projects, then this is probably a very good starter book.

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