COVID-19 has turned our usual routines on their heads, and we are all scrambling to figure out how to live in this new time, however long it lasts. Many parents have found themselves suddenly thrust in the role of teacher, trying to keep their children on pace in school, often while working from home remotely to boot.
Math can be a challenge for parents trying to help their kids with homework in the best of times, and these are decidedly not those times. If you need someone to tell you it’s okay not to be a superparent who makes sure all the homework gets done perfectly right now, I am happy to be that person. To adapt a meme I’ve seen, you’re not homeschooling. Your kids are staying home during a crisis, and you are trying to help them learn. In my view, it’s okay if you don’t prioritize classroom math. (If you are looking for resources for supporting your kids’ classroom math, math Twitter might be helpful.)
Perhaps a more feasible goal right now than keeping up with classroom math (and one that will be even more relevant over the summer) is having joyful, open-ended experiences with math that cultivate mathematical curiosity and pattern-finding. I think of these activities as being analogous to reading for pleasure rather than to write a paper for a class, or running around outside instead of participating in organized sports.
Resource lists can be overwhelming. If I’m trying to figure out what to cook for dinner tonight with my leftover squash, a list of seven recipes is often more helpful than a list of 87. For that reason, I have limited my list to six (my favorite number) sites. There are a lot of other wonderful resources out there, but these are a few I’ve stumbled on that give a wide range of opportunities for engaging with math in a playful, creative way. I’ve tried to arrange these roughly from sites geared towards younger learners to those for math undergraduates and mathematicians, but there is a lot of overlap in what different groups might find enjoyable.
- Math for Love by Dan Finkel and Katherine Cook is chock full of math games and more structured curriculum materials for elementary school students. Since schools started closing as a result of the pandemic, they have been sending out email newsletters with resources and games to help parents help their kids.
- Which One Doesn’t Belong is a website by Mary Bourassa, inspired by Christopher Danielson’s book of the same name. The concept is simple: there are four numbers, shapes, or graphs, and you have to find a reason each one is the odd one out. If the numbers are 9, 16, 25, and 43, you could say 9 is the odd one out because it has only one digit, 16 is the odd one out because it’s not odd (the even one out, I suppose), 25 is the odd one out because it does not end in a multiple of three, or 43 is the odd one out because it is not a square. (Maybe you can come up with some of your own reasons for each one.) There is no right answer, and each activity can be a jumping-off point for mathematical creativity.
- Annie Perkins’ #MathArtChallenge is an open-ended way to explore math by creating and noticing patterns. Perkins is sharing daily prompt to inspire mathematical play — everything from Islamic geometry constructions to toilet paper roll polyhedra — and other participants are sharing their creations on Twitter and Instagram.
- Paula Krieg’s blog Bookzoompa has a wealth of paper-folding activities that engage with mathematics. Disclosure: Krieg recently mailed me a beautiful example of one of the more challenging crafts she’s written about on her blog: Jo Nakashima’s origami fireworks. You might want to try some of her simpler crafts first, like these pentagons and stars or this eight-page origami booklet.
- Aperiodical’s Big Lock-Down Math-Off is a version of the summer math communication competition they have run for the past couple of years. Participants submit write-ups of favorite bits of math(s), and readers can vote on their favorites. I believe submissions are still open if you want to toss your hat in the ring.
- Talk Math with Your Friends is a series of Zoom talks organized by Steven Clontz, T.J. Hitchman, Brian Katz, Drew Lewis, and Kate Owens. Each Thursday, a mathematician talks about their work to a friendly online audience. The talks are designed to be as accessible as possible to math undergraduates and beginning graduate students. Stay tuned—a TMWYF My Favorite Theorem live taping is in the works for this summer!