Fun activities/projects for math-interested 12 year old?
January 21, 2019 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Mr. Mysticle and I have just begun mentoring a 12 year old boy. He likes math. (He also likes cooking, baking, and basketball.) For our first hangout, we all had fun building bridges with marshmallows and toothpicks and then testing how much they could hold without buckling. What are some other activities/projects that would be fun, new, and exciting?

FWIW, he has limited access to activities, field trips, and enrichment. Also, the program we're working with has suggested keeping things fun and mellow for the first few months-- not anything that would feel too much like homework or school. Also, we'd like to keep things not too expensive. Thanks!
posted by Mystical Listicle to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Your example set me to thinking about an after school program i used to coach, called destination imagination. There was an element to the competition called an "instant challenge" wherein teams we given a situation to solve, and then limited, inexpensive items (like marshmallows and toothpicks) to get the job done. here is an archive of some challenges , and here is a link to one. For rainy days, these might give you an idea for mellow inexpensive projects, with an element of challenge to them, even if it's just time constraint.

For nice days, rock collecting, bird watching, and exploring clouds or other types of weather phenomena are easy and cheap.

Origami is also pretty cheap.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:58 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

There's a heap of things in the same vein as the marshmallow/toothpick building activity. Looking on Pinterest for "STEM Challenge" is useful for finding them:
- building crash-proof container to protect an egg when you throw it
- DIY kites
- get a box of tongue depressors and make a cobra weave explosion
- borrow some lego/meccano/erector sets off a friend for the day and build, build, build (so many people have boxes somewhere in storage)
- there are origami patterns for strong shapes. I also like origami water bombs for a bit of water fun.

Are there new slightly more than basic baking or cooking skills you can learn together? Using different types of pastry or yeast? (Something that requires multiple steps and takes a few hours would be good).

I'm not sure where you live, but if there are free museums in your town it might be a good adventure. Or check your local library to see if they have activities around the time you'd be hanging out together.
posted by cholly at 2:03 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Our public library has membership cards to area museums that we can borrow for free or reduced price admission. Check yours for something similar. They also have a telescope available to lend.
posted by Botanizer at 2:27 PM on January 21

You could make tetrahedral kites. There's some trial and error involved in material selection, building, and assembly, but they really do fly. (my materials of choice are cocktail straws, crochet string, and tissue paper.)
posted by Wulfhere at 3:02 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Do you and Mr. Mystical know origami? It's kind of like cooking with geometry, and super cheap (just use printer paper).
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:12 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Soap bubbles can be fun. CV Boys Soap Bubbles is online and free.

Building polyhedral models could be fun.

Measure the height of something tall.

Draw an ellipse or two.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:54 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

Board games are a lot of fun at that age. Ones I've seen at our local Target that he might like are Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and Forbidden Island, or you may be able to borrow from friends.

Small model rocket kits are a lot of fun too. Michael's Crafts has them.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:27 PM on January 21

Since he likes cooking/baking, have him plan a meal that you all shop for, prepare and eat together. He could choose to make his favorites or something new, and you could make a double batch of whatever dessert he chooses so he can take home the leftovers. If the activity is a hit, you could do it again with your menu choices, Mr Mysticle's, etc. Y'all gotta eat.
posted by headnsouth at 6:21 PM on January 21

Some of the above made me think of a catapult challenge for middle schoolers I once saw. Teams had a little bag of materials form which to build the best catapult they could to fling a penny or something for distance. You can get mathy by graphing launch angles to distance empirically, even if you don't want to get into the algebra of plotting the arcs.

Speaking of launching things, there was also a nerdy summer camp activity that involved calculating the arc, given a pullback distance and launch angle of one of these 3-person water balloon launchers. The incentive was that the teacher would stand on a spot designated by the students for the launch.
posted by pykrete jungle at 7:30 PM on January 21

Just going on 12yr old is about 6th grade. That was the year my math teacher kept a special folder full of 7th grade math for me to do. Ignore her, wait until class starts, check filing cabinet, do homework and place in folder. I liked math enough to be a problem :)

Mental arithmetic stuff. Geometry. Simple ciphers. Estimations. Counting on 12 with one hand. Doing addition left to right. Square roots. Area of a pizza (which is cheaper? small, medium, large). Ballistics (throw the ball as hard as you can... which direction makes it go the furthest?). Binary (base systems). Circles, angles, 30-60-90 and 45-45-90 triangles. Rise over run (slope). Mechanical advantage of a wedge. A can do it in 1, B can do it in 2, how long does it take A and B to get it done? A slide-rule, logs, tables of numbers or really using a calculator. How high is that tree that's 50' away and you have to look up this far to see the top?
posted by zengargoyle at 11:35 PM on January 21

Egg drop! It's a super fun engineering challenge with endless variations. Give him a set quantity of materials- maybe in two batches so he can try two different strategies- and his task is to use some or all of the materials to make a space suit (or a landing pad) for an uncooked egg, such that the egg can be dropped from a height and it won't break.

Sample variables:
- 30 drinking straws and a yard of masking tape
- two sheets of newspaper and a yard of tape
- one ziplock bag and two cups of water
- three toilet paper tubes and a stapler
- a plastic shopping bag and 5 elastic bands
- a yard of tinfoil
- two cups of flour and two cups of water
- whatever they can get for $4 at the dollar store

It's also fun to give the same stuff to two different people, maybe with a cardboard divider so they can't see each other's plans. Maybe set a timer so they only get three minutes to build. Etc.

Drop the egg from set heights- the back of a chair, shoulder height, standing on the chair, top of a ladder... and then if the egg is still ok, you can get silly with things like tossing it down a stairwell, out a window, out of a moving car (in a parking lot), field trip to toss it down a stairwell in a tall parking garage (bring cleanup tools obviously), etc.

Make sure to photograph all the entries and outcomes, and if your kid is into it, chart the results. This would be a delightful instagram account.
Shit, now I wanna do this!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:28 AM on January 22

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