Archive for November, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

The cranberry sauce is made as are the yams.  After I cook them, I whip them in the Cuisinart for a light fluffy texture.  Don’t try this with potatoes as they turn gluey.  I add  a cup of orange juice, orange zest and pinch of  pumpkin pie spice.  Tomorrow my son and daughter-in-law will be here with a pecan pie and an apple pie.  Charles will cook the turkey.  I’ll make my mother’s cornbread stuffing.  Southern cornbread has no sugar.  My mother always called sweet cornbread, “Yankee cornbread” with a bit of southern disdain.  Mine will be southern. 

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks not only for what we have but what we’ve had — all those past Thanksgivings with family.  So as you take out and polish the family silver (for me it’s my grandmother’s cranberry sauce spoon with her monogram, my mother’s ornate pie server),  let’s remember those women who came before us and chopped, stirred and basted as I will tomorrow from 9 till noon so that the family could sit down together and give thanks, thanks that we are gathered together.   Let’s keep in our hearts military families who each day sacrifice in our behalf, not just the soldiers but the families themselves.  Tomorrow is a day of  thanksgiving. 

I thank all of you who have become part of my TeaCHildMath family and shared your stories with me these last three years.  I wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving!

Why is THREE written 3? Learn how numbers came to be with this cute YouTube video

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009
Have you ever wondered how Arabic numbers evolved?  Why do we use 1 for ONE, 2 for TWO, 3 for THREE, 4 for FOUR, 5 for FIVE, 6 for SIX, 7 for SEVEN, 8 for EIGHT and 9 for NINE?  Could the way numbers are written actually mean something?
You may remember Roman numerals: I, II, III, IV, V and so on.  When you look at these, it’s easy to decipher a pattern and break the code:


I represents ONE. II represents TWO.       III represents THREE. Rather than represent FOUR with four lines and FIVE with five lines, V was chosen to represent five.  FOUR was represented as IV meaning five minus one.  You subtract the smaller number on the left from the larger number on the right. The logic is apparent. Not so with our current system: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 0.  Is there any reason FIVE is written as 5?  Is it a purely arbitrary notation or does its configuration actually mean something? Could these numbers too be based on a pattern?


Watch this YouTube clip:

to learn how our Arabic numbers were created and the logic behind them. Better yet, watch it with your child.   To open, copy and paste it on your url. Both you and your child will be amazed!


Approach math with a sense of wonder. Your child will be intrigued by its beauty and logic. 


 Who knew that even the way we write numbers 1-9 are based on patterns! You can count the angles in each one. There are THREE angles in 3 and so on.  In 0 there are no angles.  Amazing . . .

Keith Devlin’s lecture — — –math for real reasons?

Sunday, November 15th, 2009
Keith Devlin

Keith Devlin



Keith Devlin, the Math Guy on NPR  spoke at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont.  Keith is the author of  20+ fascinating books on mathematics including:

 The Math Gene:  How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip

  •  The Language of Mathematics:  Making the Invisible Visible
  • Mathematics:  The Science of Patterns.

Having heard Keith on NPR and been entertained by his droll humor and abilityto explain complex mathematics, I marked this event on the calendar.  So Thursday evening after being interviewed about my TeaCHildMath start-up company on On the Money, a business talk radio show, a friend and I drove to the Claremont Colleges.  Before the lecture, we strolled through the Scripps campus,   With its  beautiful Mediterranean architecture (beauty and symmetry dependent on  mathematical proportions and patterns?) illuminated at night, the evening seemed magical.   My daughter is a Scripps grad and this no doubt added to the magic.

In a crisp British accent, Professor Devlin spoke of how math is about doing rather than knowing.  His message was:  “Let me experience it and I will know how to do it forever.”  He recounted an experiment in Recife, Brazil in which mathematicians ran an experiment in a bustling marketplace.  There boys tended fruit stalls for parents.  Each boy was able to do complicated computations in their heads when the mathematicians asked to puchase “17 of those mangoes plus 23 of those guavas.”  To arrive at the correct sum, they boys would do sophisticated math in their heads such as figuring out for the 17 mangoes that they could compute the answer for 5 and triple it and then add the price of two mangoes.  The boys were 98% accurate in their computations.  However, when these same  boys were given these exact problems to solve at home on paper,  they were able to solve them with 37% accuracy.  Why would this be?

Professor Devlin explained that not only was math more difficult when the boys were doing it symbolically but that stripped of its real marketplace context, their interest declined.  Learning should be fun, engaging and enjoyable,  Devlin said.  To teach students, we should simulate the real world as much as possible.  We have textbooks because we can’t take thirty students to the marketplace and have them sell produce all day.  But teachers and parents should do their best to simulate the real world.  Devlin mentioned how pilots learn to fly and land planes using simulators.  This provided the closest “real world” context.  The professor explained that children will be improving math skills through simulated “real world” contexts through computer games.   Some of these games are being developed now.  The games have the added advantage that losing has consequences just as making an error in the marketplace has consequences.

What can parents and teachers take from this lecture?  Just as students learn and retain a second language when immersed in another culture because there are consequences to not understanding, students will learn and retain math concepts better when immersed in a real situation.  I have suggested parents involve their children in purchases.  Let them compute how much the popcorn and Coke at the movies will cost and figure out the change if  paying with a $20 bill.  Have them help you bake brownies and do the measuring.  They will be learning fractions.  Double the recipe and have them do the math.  What happens when all the ingredients are doubled except the flour?  Any real consequences there?  Perhaps this is one of the reasons homeschooling works so well.  The parent/teacher can work one on one with the child and illustrate math problems in a real context. Not everyone homeschools. However, EVERY parent is a teacher (your child’s first and primary teacher) and has the opportunity to do the same for his/her child.

My workbook, Teach Your Child the Multiplication Tables, attempts to create the “real world” of the circus for your child.  Not only will your child learn the tables but the impetus to do so is to help Rudy the Ringmaster out.  I wanted to engage your child’s feelings.  I wanted him to want to do the math.  All word problems have a “real life” context whether the Circus Snack menu or tickets to the circus.   I would like to develop my book into a computer game.  If you have experience in this, let me know.

After the lecture, I spoke with Professor Devlin.  In my hand, I had a copy of his Mathematics:  The Science of Patterns.  I came across this after writing my book and was intrigued.  It is a history of mathematics, accessible to all, beautifully written and illustrated.   I approached him at the book signing table and said, “A wise man said, ‘mathematics is the science of patterns.'”  He smiled and we exchanged a few words as he signed my book.  For a history of math, I highly recommend this book.  If you are intrigued by math, you will convey this to your child.  Your child learns from you.  What are your interests and your passions?

An avalanche of orders these past ten days

Friday, November 6th, 2009

An avalanche of orders came in following The Wall Street Journal profile! If I turned away from the computer for a minute, four orders would pop up!  If I left my office for a cup of coffee, a dozen filled the screen!  Again, thank you Wall Street Journal and its subscribers!

Many of the  orders came from grandparents (not surprising as my profile appeared in the Retirement section of The Journal) who ordered multiple copies for grandchildren.  My sturdy oak kitchen table became packaging headquarters for the next ten days.  There I assembled priority packages stuffed with reviews, a times tables diploma, learning aids and workbooks. 

My graphic artist and I just designed bookmarks (we copied the design from the header on this blog) and included one in each package.  Not only would these bookmark the page for your child but I hoped the colors used on the circus figures would inspire your child to color in the pages of  the workbook.   On the reverse  side, we printed the ODD/EVEN rule of multiplication in both English and Spanish. 

I am constantly looking to design products that will appeal to your child. The last page of the workbook has a black-and-white diploma but I decided to design this in color and include one with each workbook.  I wanted the diploma to be cute, colorful and suitable for framing.  I imagine many have been framed, pinned on a bulletin board or taped to the fridge.

Mastering the multiplication tables is a HUGE milestone for your child and should be commemorated.  I tell parents at book fairs to frame this diploma, a very important diploma, because without this, there would be no Cal State, UCLA or Harvard diploma on your son or daughter’s wall someday.

The times tables are the building block of mathematics.  Mastery of these is essential to your child’s success. Learning to discover patterns develops critical thinking skills that will serve your child in all other  disciplines.  When your child graduates cum laude,  you can look back on this very first diploma and smile.