As the school year draws to a close, we invite you to escape into some of our favorite math activities for all ages, inspired by our More Math! Resources collection and tips from our partner organizations!
Indulge your creative side
Pattern blocks are a math manipulative toy consisting of a set of six shapes. As children play with them, they allow children to see how shapes can be composed and decomposed into other shapes, and introduce children to ideas of tilings. This free, virtual pattern block generator helps kids to develop spatial reasoning skills and create beautiful patterns of their own creations! What will you discover?
With ScratchJr, young children (ages 5-7) can program their own interactive stories and games. In the process, they learn to solve problems, design projects, and express themselves creatively on the computer. This free mobile app is available is available for Apple, Android, Google, and Amazon devices. (Need a quick overview to get started on screen?) Older kids can explore the regular Scratch app, too!
Mathy Coloring Books
Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss have created a series of unique coloring and activity books showcasing the fascinating things math can be discovered in the universe, from 4D hypercubes to the infinite patterns of tessellations and more. Patterns of the Universe: A Coloring Adventure in Math and Beauty and Visions of the Universe: A Coloring Journey Through Math’s Great Mysteries are a good place to begin!
A perennial favorite of National Math Festival attendees, this free booklet created by Vi Hart is for anyone interested in learning how to create mathematical shapes using the long tubular balloons meant for creating balloon animals and sculptures. It’s a tricky skill, but with a little practice you can be making your own masterpieces!
How about a good puzzle to ponder?
2017 Festival presenter Dr. Raj Shah shares “Math Treats” – fun problems that you can explore at home. This is an easy one for kids (and adults!) to try: in a grid of dots, how many squares can you find? Grab and pen and paper and try it yourself!
From magic squares and Möbius bands to magical card tricks and illusions, mysterious phenomena with elegant “Aha!” explanations have permeated mathematics for centuries. Such brain-teasing challenges promote creative and rational thinking, attract a wide range of people to the subject, and often inspire serious mathematical research. In 2014, the MAA created this collection inspired by the work of Scientific American columnist and math popularizer Martin Gardner, whose extensive writings introduced the public to hexaflexagons, polyominoes, John Conway’s “Game of Life,” Penrose tiles, the Mandelbrot set, and much more. You can find 30 different videos and activities to try on your own.
Anyone ages 12 and up is invited to join these free sessions which delve into engaging problems with connections to deep mathematical concepts. Taking place on Mondays from 4-6pm Pacific Time (7-8pm Eastern), mathematicians share their favorite explorations. You can find notifications about upcoming events on their Facebook page, too!
Spanish and English puzzle sessions & more with the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival
The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival is presenting free, weekly opportunities to play with joyful math puzzles, together or on your own! The Game of the Week / El Juego Semanal offers a weekly, 2-player game presented in English and Spanish. Although some games will involve manipulative, all of them will be accompanied with instructions for how to play with just pencil and paper, so that you can play anytime and anywhere.
For those looking for community time, the JRMF Webinar Series offers weekly math puzzle sessions lead by Dr. Hector Rosario. Held in both English and Spanish, these activities are open to K-12 students and friends around the world, with three different time slots to choose from based on your location and preferences. Community members lead Zoom breakout rooms to explore the topic together in smaller groups. You can find recordings of past sessions on YouTube. For an anytime treat, check out their new online resource collection!
Feel like curling up and staying indoors?
Explore beautiful, mathematical picture books with kids, guided by these tips from the DREME Network in partnership with the Mathical Book Prize.
Fans of YouTube’s Numberphile channel can now enjoy a free podcast featuring conversations between host Brady Haran and mathematicians, including several National Math Festival presenters! You can also stream episodes via YouTube for online listening.
Looking for a good, mathy read? The book selections for Volumes are chosen especially for those interested in mathematics and science and how they affect our lives. No prior math or science background is necessary. From novels to biographies, stories of math discoveries and mathematicians, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Watch Counting from Infinity: Yitang Zhang and the Twin Prime Conjecture free online (limited time): Public television station KCET is offering a limited time free viewing of this 2014 documentary produced by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI). A snapshot of a great moment in mathematical history, Counting from Infinity is at once a biographical portrait of a unique individual, Yitang Zhang, a virtually unknown mathematician working as an adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire, who made an important breakthrough in number theory by solving the Twin Prime Conjecture, about pairs of prime numbers that differ by two. By chronicling the series of rapid developments around the twin prime problem in 2013, and the many individuals who contributed to it, the film offers a glimpse at how mathematical research and discovery progresses.
This classic video created by Charles and Ray Eames takes us on an adventure in magnitudes, from a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only as a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward – into the hand of the sleeping picnicker – with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.
Occupy the family for awhile
Kids can create their own darts-like game for target practice with a hacky sack, bean bag, or rolled-up sock and some paper, an old sheet, or a flattened cardboard box and markers! Another one of Bedtime Math’s Cabin Fever Math activities, this is a fun way to use some math to design a target and keep score. (Parents, maybe this one is best for outdoors if cabin fever has set in a little too deeply!)
While many museums and science centers are closed around the world, the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) has a wide range of virtual events for all ages throughout summer. These programs range from no cost through those with registration fees from $15 and up (depending on the type and length of program), but fee waivers are generally available for low-income families. For those around the U.S. and world, this is a special treat as many of these programs typically took place in person in New York City. Many featured presenters have taken part in past National Math Festival events, so you may even see familiar faces!
Math Monday is normally a weekly drop-in lunchtime activity for schools where students of all ages can get hands on with math games, puzzles and manipulatives that help build their math skills. Now that schools are closed, Festival presenter Scott Kim is hosting weekly sessions online on Mondays at 12pm Pacific / 3pm Eastern time. He’ll show you a new math game you can play at home, using things you have around the house, plus ideas for making the game easier or harder, so all ages can play. Each episode is 30 minutes long, and is for kids ages 6-12 and their parents to do together.
Girls Who Code created this free PDF guide to a fun virtual game night activity that kids can do with their friends using the free Zoom virtual meeting platform. Using paper and markers or an online drawing tool like Google Drawing or Sketch.io, use if/then logic to create a custom self portrait with these prompts!
People of all ages and backgrounds can help scientists do real research with SciStarter, online or with projects in your local area. Science needs more eyes, ears and perspectives to help advance research, and people just like you are collecting data by taking photos of clouds or streams, documenting changes in nature, using smartphone sensors to help scientists monitor water and air quality, or playing games to help advance health and medical research. Find a project that interests you and get involved, whether you have 5 minutes or 5 months to spare!
Just need a snack?
The DREME Network has created these free activity kits for families with young children, available in both English and Spanish. If you have just a few extra minutes as you go about your day, check out these brief ideas for uncovering and talking about math in everyday moments, including tasty ones like making a personal pizza or simple chocolate chip cookies to share!
A sweet treat with a happy ending! Part of Bedtime Math’s Cabin Fever Math activities, this activity just takes a pack of M&Ms (or other colorful candy of choice) and a piece of paper. Kids can figure out which color of candy has the most, the least, and the median number of pieces in the pack. Even better? You can eat this bar graph when you’re done. (Don’t tamper with the data points too early, though, no matter how tasty!)
How would one make mathematical cuisine? Not just food that looks mathematical (such as math-themed cookies), but something that you truly have to eat and taste in order to experience its mathematical nature. Surprisingly, using golden ratio-relative proportions of lemon juice and sugar syrup, with a little food coloring for fun, actually seems to make rather good lemonade! You too can make Fibonacci lemonade and experience the taste of exponential flavor, the golden ratio, and the Fibonacci sequence. Just follow this recipe, created by Andrea Hawksley.
Come back next week for Part 2, featuring a list of resources to find your own math inspiration!