If an geeky child is traveling South at 839 MPH, and his nerdy dad is going North at...
June 8, 2011 10:43 AM   Subscribe

My son, who is finishing up third grade, loves math and especially the basic Algebra he's been doing. He is actually sad to be leaving school for the summer because he's so into it. How can I keep this going for him over the summer? Fun books, board games, computer (on-line and OSX) games?

Seriously, Jason Fox is this kid's idol. He desperately wants to learn Calculus, though I don't think he even knows what that is. For now he's happy doing algebra such as "2x + 5 = -7 + 10x" (Those are just random letters and numbers. I have not checked if that's a legit equation. I spent my summers avoiding math, you see)

He's finishing up 3rd grade at a Montessori school, ready to go into forth, or "Upper El" as they call it. While I want him to have the usual summer of playing Minecraft, chucking rocks at beehives, and frolicking merrily outside I'd like to keep him entertained with whatever math he's willing to do.

So what can I give him? While computer games are fun I would prefer non-computer things if they exist. Interesting books (not just books of random problems), board games, TV-shows, YouTube videos, activities, etc. I'm happy to know about any computer games as well. We're Mac people, at least at home. Really anything that will engage him and help him to understand the math he's doing.

He is a nine year old, and while he's advanced in math for his age he is still a kid, so anything should be somewhat age appropriate.

Everything I give him will be optional for him over the summer, of course. I'm not interested in pushing him where he doesn't want to go.
posted by bondcliff to Education (42 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Khan Academy. Completely ramped learning. Really awesome. Sorry, it's online.
posted by artlung at 10:45 AM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

I was going to suggest Khan Academy myself. I'm reviewing math for the GRE (it's been a while!) and it's been a great refresher for me. You can earn badges and 'level up your dudez', etc. which would probably appeal to a 9 year old boy (more than it does me, anyhow).
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:51 AM on June 8, 2011

If you are looking for printables/worksheets, the internet is full of them (just google algebra, 3rd/4th grade for example). For a book, I like the Math Made Easy - I used it for my third graders when I taught school.
posted by quodlibet at 10:53 AM on June 8, 2011

You can play cribbage with him!

Seriously! It'll give him one-on-one time with you, it'll reinforce some adding and counting skills, it isn't computerized and it is quite portable. :)
posted by jillithd at 10:54 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you have a high school kid come over twice a week at $8/hour and just teach him math for an hour? It sounds like he's just into learning it and doesn't need videos/games/etc. to stay interested.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:55 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I taught conceptual physics to high schoolers, I found TONS of websites and books with puzzles to solve that were based on math/science principles. Here's a search I did on Amazon with some of the books I used as warm-ups. And here's one more related to physics.

I'd also add my voice to recommending Khan Academy.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:57 AM on June 8, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, we're talking to a tutor but I'm a big believer in summer vacation so I'd rather have things that keep him engaged in math without seeming like school. Sheets of problems, etc. are too much like homework. I'd like there to be a bit of fun, and maybe something we can do together.

I'm not a cribbage player, though my wife is, but he's a bit beyond adding and counting. He'd probably like the game though, so I will suggest she teach him.

I've dabbled at the Kahn Academy myself, and while I think it's a great thing, I'm not sure the "youtube chalkboard" style would hold his interest very long.

Oh, iPhone apps and games would be good too.
posted by bondcliff at 11:02 AM on June 8, 2011

What about math puzzle books? I came across a reference to this one on Project Gutenberg the other day.
posted by jquinby at 11:05 AM on June 8, 2011

Oh, also - Games magazine.
posted by jquinby at 11:07 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Codes and ciphers. There are lots of books out there on the subjects (although you'll want to avoid the more technical ones). Martin Gardner has a good one (I haven't read it, but it's Martin Gardner, therefore it is good).

I recall being not much older than your son when I tried playing around with pencil and paper ciphers. Creating and breaking simple substitution cipers can be a lot of fun at that age.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:07 AM on June 8, 2011

Nthing puzzle books - as a math-loving kid, I really enjoyed all kinds of puzzle books. Even if they don't seem to be strictly math-related, logic puzzles and lateral thinking puzzles and visual (geometry) puzzles are all fun and will help develop skills that will be useful if he continues studying advanced math later in life (or even if he doesn't!).
posted by Zephyrial at 11:11 AM on June 8, 2011

For a number of years now, Jump Math has gotten a lot of really good press. While it was originally (from what I gather) developed as a way to teach math skills to young children who find math challenging, it has branched out from there. It might be just the thing to give your son an introduction to calculus.

Now as I don't have kids myself I haven't used the program, so I can't recommend anything specifically. It does look like there are guides for parents, so that might be a place to start.
posted by sardonyx at 11:11 AM on June 8, 2011

Any book that seems age-appropriate (or a little above) by Martin Gardner (on preview, someone already mentioned him). I specifically remember Aha! Gotcha, which deals with logic/paradoxes rather than math per se, but I'm guessing it would appeal.
posted by staggernation at 11:14 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Math League competitions begin at the grade 4 level, which might be accessible. Seems like all of the past tests are available online here; I'd bet you can buy books of the tests for fourth graders too if he's into that. I enjoyed doing these sorts of problems at roughly the same age.
posted by nat at 11:16 AM on June 8, 2011

When I was his age (and a geeky, math loving kid myself), I found the book The Eleventh Hour in the library. I still own a copy, I love it that much.

It's a book with gorgeous illustrations and a mystery to solve, complete with a paper-sealed solution in the back of the book (which is so cool when you're a kid). You solve the puzzle by breaking multiple cyphers, using logic to pull together the clues in the text and the pictures, and generally getting to act the detective. There are also a lot of sub-mysteries beyond the main one, so even when he's solved that, he can try to answer the rest of the puzzle questions.

You'll probably find yourself totally sucked into the book as well. It's just that good. :)
posted by warble at 11:21 AM on June 8, 2011

He might be a bit young for it, but some kids I know really like Life of Fred math books.
posted by not that girl at 11:25 AM on June 8, 2011

I was given a copy of The Number Devil as a kid. I wasn't very into math (except geometry - and for that I loved modular origami), so I didn't like the book that much myself - but your kid might feel differently.
posted by bubukaba at 11:28 AM on June 8, 2011

Ooh, seconding The Number Devil as well. It's a little bit more explain-y and teach-y, but still fun for a math-loving kid.
posted by warble at 11:39 AM on June 8, 2011

For board games, what about Mastermind? And for puzzles, maybe he would like KenKen, which is like Sudoku with algebra.
posted by yarrow at 11:44 AM on June 8, 2011

x = 3/2 satisfies the equation. Every linear equation with an x term has a solution.

I can't think of any off the top of my head right now, but I'd buy a book of basic to intermediate math puzzles and slowly go through it with him. Many of the best puzzles are less about fiddly number-crunching and more about thinking like a mathematician: proofs, counterexamples, case analysis, etc.
posted by Nomyte at 12:00 PM on June 8, 2011

Every linear equation with an x term has a solution

Not true. Sometimes the two lines under consideration (for each side of the equation) are parallel, as in the example 2x+5=2x+7.
posted by El_Marto at 12:06 PM on June 8, 2011

Possibly too basic, but you could ask him to scale up or scale down recipes for you (and convert teaspoons to tablespoons to cups and whatnot, as needed). And maybe cook them. Not only does adjusting recipes help with math understanding (fractions, multipliers, volume, etc.), but it results in cookies.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:22 PM on June 8, 2011

Oh, then this online 'game' was mentioned in an article in the NY Times yesterday: UCLA Perceptual Learning Modules. A speed approach to matching graphs and equations. Might be a bit old for him though.
posted by yarrow at 12:22 PM on June 8, 2011

You know what's kind of math intensive and involves real-life things boys love?


If you've got a large field you could set up a target at one end and try to work out on paper how to hit it before doing it with your slingshot/potato cannon/pumpkin chucker. Model rocketry might be another cool hobby where you can work out ahead of time altitudes and ranges and compare to the actual event.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:30 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ooooh yeah I read the 11th Hour and liked it as well.

Computer games I liked at that age were Super Solvers Outnumbered and Math Blasters - however I'm behind a firewall right now so I can't do much research into modern availability!
posted by radioamy at 1:31 PM on June 8, 2011

Why not get him started on programming? Python uses algebra and calculus (and basic math in general) and it's hella useful in a variety of different circumstances. He might find he has a knack for it and then he could start learning Maya or even other programming languages and invent the next iOS or something.

(Tell him I want an iOS that will respond to voice commands like the computer in Star Trek. Please.)
posted by patronuscharms at 1:42 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I was 11 I got bored with math at school. A family friend sent me an algebra textbook and I just worked my way through it. I had a good time with it and only worked on it when I felt like it, so it wasn't like homework. If he's already loving math, why not just have around a textbook that he can decide if he feels like doing or not? It won't make it any less summer vacation.
posted by Margalo Epps at 1:46 PM on June 8, 2011

What about getting him a little portable chess set?
posted by spinifex23 at 1:53 PM on June 8, 2011

My siblings and I enjoyed the book Math for Smartypants around that age. It's just a book of fun math things. I don't really remember the content, except that that's where I first learned about factorials and I was quite impressed by them.
posted by mandanza at 3:13 PM on June 8, 2011

I'd go against the suggestions for tutoring and extended maths practice - all you'll be doing is teaching him stuff he'll learn next year at school, then he'll be bored in class and that's never a good thing...

So focus on things that will challenge the part of his brain that is good at maths, that he clearly enjoys using - chess, puzzle books (I remember some fantastic puzzle books I had as a kid - very maths based, but not just a book of problems - something to do with Isaac Asimov, from recollection), logic puzzles also fit the bill, sudoku, card games etc. I like Eyebrows McGee's suggestion of scaling up recipes, or translating between English and US measurements - bonus points if there are eggs involved!

My mother had to take 3 kids to the supermarket to do the weekly shop - I used to get given a calculator and told to add things up as we went along (when I got older, I had to do it in my head, apparently the calculator broke), theoretically to help her stick to her budget, although with hindsight I think it was just a way to keep me occupied and away from the sweets aisle... But I like the idea of building maths into day to day life - so think about things that you could talk about that have maths involved - dividing up a cake, speed and distance in a car (working out how long the journey will take it you travel at a certain speed. And if you introduce acceleration into the discussion, that's calculus!) - if you make it relevant, it will stay fun.
posted by finding.perdita at 3:28 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe a bit of a sideways answer but what about music? Lots of music theory is obviously rooted in mathematics. I loved playing around with trackers when I was just a wee bit older than that and if I had been introduced to PureData at that age I would have been amazed, even if it was something I ditched and came back to a few years later (I didn't have minecraft to compete with though). It's pretty hard to get started on but the possibilities for showing fun things that can be done with maths are endless. There are some nice tutorials here that show interesting concrete results.

That said, I recently found an amazing book in a charity shop which talked about very young children learning the tools for understanding maths through visualisation. Literally, "close your eyes and imagine a circle" about giving children a visual vocabulary to understand math through geometry. Perhaps minecraft is a great thing for learning all this stuff? Theres a wealth of mathematics that could be learned from sticking cubes together - maybe something that brings a stronger link between the fun, abstract algebraic stuff and the dry tedium of building things in minecraft... Perhaps some graph paper is called for?

I'm sure there has to be some mathematical lessons to be learned in chucking rocks at beehives too.
posted by pmcp at 5:14 PM on June 8, 2011

Library of online manipulatives, or something like that. I don't have the link, but you can just google it.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 5:59 PM on June 8, 2011

Learn Scratch?
posted by canine epigram at 6:15 PM on June 8, 2011

Response by poster: Some excellent suggestions so far. Thanks, folks.

Chess, music, and Lego Mindstorms (programming) are all things he's dabbled in or does on a regular basis. He was solving advanced Suduko when he was, like, five, and we play Mastermind every summer. I don't have some sort of super genius or anything, he's just good at logical things, like his dad. We want to encourage this.

His school is structured in such a way that if he knows the math for his grade they'll give him math from the higher grades, but I still don't want him getting too far ahead.

The Number Devil is a good idea. I actually used to have a copy of it. I wonder what happened to it.

FWIW, (because at least one deleted post showed concern) I was kidding about throwing rocks at beehives.

Keep 'em coming!
posted by bondcliff at 6:38 PM on June 8, 2011

Came here to suggest Martin Gardner puzzle books, but I see I'm late to the party.
posted by kprincehouse at 7:11 PM on June 8, 2011

I still don't want him getting too far ahead.

I don't understand. What does this mean? If he wants to learn calculus, much of calculus can be reduced to arithmetic and puzzle-solving.
posted by Nomyte at 9:42 PM on June 8, 2011

I used to LOVE playing the Math Pentathlon games. The 4-5 games were the best. I don't think any of them are specifically algebraic, but they're definitely fun for nerdy kids who like math.
posted by naturalog at 11:21 PM on June 8, 2011

The Math for Smartypants book is likely to be a good one, as it's a Brown Paper School Book, which is a series of books that are just as entertaining as they are educational. When I was young, I had "The I Hate Mathematics! Book", which was a good one, even though I didn't actually hate mathematics. It looks like the books are out of print (previously) but it would be worth tracking down used copies.

Another oldie but goodie that would be worth finding on youtube or elsewhere is the PBS series Square One Television.
posted by KatlaDragon at 3:56 AM on June 9, 2011

If he's "over" sudoku, he might be into kenken -- my math-minded kid (now 8.5) spent first grade busting through a set of those basic kenken books and teaching his teachers how to do it. Other than that, I've set him up with Scratch, which he's done a little and seems to like (though his end-game is to be able to write minecraft mods...). We visit Khan Academy, but it hasn't really grabbed him, at least so far (though it's really helped his less math/logic-minded sibling). Other things he's liked that are a littly math-y: card games, especially ones where you can "flip" the rules (all high cards are now low! bad cards are good! high score wins! no, low score wins!); stuff like Math Dice (this game where you roll the dice and then use the results to create equations equalling or coming close to a target number); and creating (and solving) super-complex mazes.
posted by mothershock at 5:20 AM on June 9, 2011

You could have him do some research on some fun topics (kevin bacon number, six degrees of seperation, prime numbers, etc). Also there may be some PBS specials on things like fractals you could find (less of the math but just introducing him to to the idea that it's out there).
posted by ejaned8 at 9:09 AM on June 9, 2011

Omigosh! Can't believe nobody recommended the series Murderous Maths! It's basically really well-written introductions to rather advanced math concepts for kids, and it sounds like those would be books he'd really like. At least, if memory serves. But definitely. Check it out.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:58 PM on June 9, 2011

I second the I Hate Mathematics Book and Math For Smarty Pants (actually, all of the books in this series were exceptional; they were some of my favorite books as a kid.)
posted by wittgenstein at 4:12 PM on June 11, 2011

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