Funville Adventures launched!

Funville Adventures, our math-inspired fantasy adventure with Allison Bishop, is officially published! It is available on amazon and directly from Natural Math, where you can read more about the book.

Here are some early reviews of the book:

“You too will want to visit Funville, a delightful land where magical and strangely mathematical powers run rampant!” – Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to be Wrong

“Mathematical words can sound scary, but the concepts they describe are not: Funville Adventures proves this so!” – James Tanton, MAA Mathematician at large

“Enjoy the story. Stay for the math. Emmy and Leo’s magical adventure will encourage families to play with ideas together.” – Denise Gaskins, author of Let’s Play Math series



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Naming Numbers at Bedtime

Setting: I am putting Zoe (5 yo) to bed.

Z: Mom, what comes after one hundred?
Me: One hundred and one.
Z: No, I mean when you’re counting by tens.
Me: One hundred and ten.
Z: But then what comes after one hundred ninety?
Me: Two hundred.
Z: But what comes after nine hundred?
Me: Nine hundred and one.
Z: But by tens.
Me: Nine hundred and ten.
Z: So what comes after nine hundred ninety by tens?
Me: One thousand.

This conversation continued for a very long time, with questions about what comes after one thousand, one thousand ten, one thousand ninety, one thousand one hundred, and so on. I understood fairly quickly that when she asked “what comes after…?” she really wanted to know the name of the next order of magnitude. But for a while I answered her questions very exactly and made her figure out a way to get precisely to what she wanted to know (yes, I can be cruel to my children like that).

In this way, it took her quite a few questions to get to a million, but she did get there eventually. In fact, when she got there she was surprised that a million was bigger than a thousand because I think that she hears the word million much more often somehow.

After that, I took pity on her and told her the words for billion, trillion, quadrillion, and a few more.

Z: So when do we get to googol and googol plex?

I told Zoe that a googol, and especially googol plex don’t come for a while and that there aren’t “names” for all the numbers up to googol plex. She gave me a very confused look and asked, “But don’t numbers go on forever?” I told her that while numbers go on forever, words do not.

This left her pondering for long enough to finally fall asleep. But something tells me that the conversation is not really over…

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Main Line Math Festival on April 22

On April 22, Golden Key Russian School and Main Line Classical Academy are hosting their fifth Main Line Math Festival for kids ages 5-12.

Date: Sunday, April 22
Time: 4 PM – 6 PM
Location: Temple Brith Achim, 481 S Gulph Rd, King of Prussia, PA 19406

For more details and to register visit the festival site.

To find out what you can expect, read about previous festivals here and here.

Stations will include:
-Discover the One Cut Theorem
-Building Extravaganza using newspaper rolls, Kapla Blocks, chickpeas+toothpicks
-Explore symmetry through various math and art projects
-Logic puzzles galore
-“Guess my rule” Function Machine
-Paper folding problems
-And more!

Here are some pictures from previous festivals:


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Funville Adventures is on a Web Tour!

Through March 15, Funville Adventures will be visiting blogs, forums, and other communities throughout the web.

Today, the tour had its first stop at Talking Math With Your Kids by Christopher Danielson.  The title of his post is Things that Give me Hope and in it Danielson lists some of his favorite math projects, including Funville! I could tell you what the others are, but I  want you to read the post; it is beautifully written and inspiring.

More details about the tour and coming attractions can be found here.

If you have a web page, a blog, a podcast, a community, or another way to share mathematics, we would like to invite you to take part in the Funville web tour. Please email to join the adventure!

Don’t have any of those but still want to participate? Send us your stories, quotes, and fan art and we will feature them on the site!  Or you can write a review here or here.



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Secret 3-digit numbers

For the past two weeks, in my first grade math class, we had been playing with 3-digit numbers. Many of the students in this class are the same ones that participated in the lessons described in the posts 3-digit numbers are tricky!, Part I and Part II, from last year.

But now, 3-digit numbers are their old friends and they are ready to do much more sophisticated things with them. I have found a number of interesting activities in the Super Source – Base Ten Blocks book for grades K-2 for us to try out.

One of the activities was a particular hit with the students. Here is how it worked.

One student would go to the special table and build a 3-digit number inside a box using base-10 blocks. That student would then give out clues about the number until another student built the same number.

Here are lists of clues that three different students came up with. Can you guess the numbers? For reference, a unit is 1 little cube, a rod consists of 10 such cubes and a flat consists of 100 cubes.

Student 1:
Clue 1: The number of units is 1
Clue 2: My number is bigger than 100 and smaller than 500
Clue 3: The number of tens in the flats is 40.
Clue 4: There is only 1 rod.

Student 2:
Clue 1: There are 9 flats.
Clue 2: There are 14 blocks total.
Clue 3: The number is bigger than 909.
Clue 4: The number of rods is smaller than 6.
Clue 5: There are 5 units.

Student 3:
Clue 1: The number of units is smaller than 9.
Clue 2: There are 20 blocks altogether.
Clue 3: The number of flats is smaller than 7.
Clue 4: The number of rods is smaller than 7.

Notice that both Student 1 and Student 2 have redundant clues, which was very typical. But it was the clues of Student 3 that I found particularly interesting.
It was not immediately obvious, even to me, that they were sufficient to determine the number.

The “guessing students” took some time after Clue 4 to come up with a number that fit all 4 clues, but to my surprise they all came up with the same number, which turned out to be the correct one. Only then did I realize that the clues were in fact sufficient.

I tried to discuss this fact with the students, but I’m not sure that they followed much of what I said. They were excited to have guessed the number and the next student wanted their turn at the special table.

What are your favorite 3-digit number activities to do with this age group?


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Witnessing the woes of math homework

Every week, I spend several hours in the waiting area of a large gym where my kids take gymnastics lessons.  The room has several large tables where parents and siblings can do their work while waiting for their gymnasts.

Many kids use this time to do their homework and by far the most common subject that I see them working on is math.  About half the time, the parents are helping them.  The kids rarely look excited but they are generally resigned.

Last week, I witnessed a scene that left me very disturbed. A mom was helping her daughter, who looked to be about 9 or 10, with math homework. The girl would alternate between crying, yelling, or even occasionally hitting the mom. She also kept repeating the following phrases, “I don’t understand this,” “You are wasting my time,” and “I hate you/this.”

The mom was generally much calmer than I would expect someone to be in this situation. Her most common response was, “Sweetie, you just have to memorize that this is the way you do it.” When she was explaining something, all I would hear is, “You have to put this here,” and “You have to write this there.”

At some point, the mom said, “It’s ridiculous that they’re having you do this. I didn’t have to do this sort of thing until college.” I don’t know what this specifically referred to, but later, I did overhear the mom reading a different problem to the daughter and it was definitely not anything beyond standard third grade level.

This all went on for over an hour. There were moments when I was very tempted to come over and offer my help, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it and wasn’t sure that it would be appropriate.

I know that math anxiety exists – I’ve seen it. I’ve also witnessed bad parent/child interactions. But this prolonged scene really staggered my imagination.

And now a few questions for the audience. How common is this? Are there many kids out there crying over math homework for hours? Is this hurting their relationship with parents who are trying really hard but for one reason or another are not able to help them?

And on a more specific note, should I have tried to help somehow in this particular case? Would you have?



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The mathematical boundary between a joke and a lie

Like all siblings, my children occasionally quarrel. I generally try not to get involved unless it gets loud or one of them complains to me. Sometimes, however, I hear something that amuses me and I tune in or even join the conversation.

Today, it began with Zoe (5 yo) accusing Katie (9 yo) of lying to her. Katie, in her turn, was claiming that it was just a joke. This is how the conversation continued:

Katie: You don’t even know the difference between a joke and a lie.
Zoe: Yes I do.
K: Oh yeah, what is it?
Z: For example, if you say “I ate 100 crepes”, then that’s obviously a joke. But if you say “I ate all the remaining crepes”, then that’s either the truth or a lie.
K: That depends on how many crepes were left.

This is where I joined the conversation. I was very intrigued to find out exactly at which point the joke turns into a lie. So I started asking some questions of my own.

The girls agreed that at 50 crepes it was still a joke and at 5 crepes it was a lie (assuming you didn’t actually eat them). When I asked about 20 crepes, there was a brief pause, and then Katie said, “You have to know the person.”

So the mathematical boundary between a joke and a lie, like so many other things, depends on the person.

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Highlights of 2017

2017 was a very exciting year for me. Here are some highlights in three categories.


This has been my first full (calendar) year of teaching. The first words that come to mind when I think about teaching are “wonderful” and “amazing”, but “hectic” and “stressful” are close seconds. That being said, I feel extremely fortunate to have found something I feel so passionate about and to work with awesome kids on a daily basis.


This year I became a published author. The excitement of holding my first published book in my hands compared only to that of holding my newborn baby. The main difference is that with a baby your initial concerns are all about protecting it from “the world” while with a book they are quite the opposite – how to get it out there (and in the spirit of getting it out there, here’s the link where you can get it or write a review 🙂 ).


Zoe started Kindergarten this year and Katie entered 4th grade. Although I post about them much more rarely than I used to, we still have many exciting conversations on a variety of topics. They both like math, but they also have a number of other interests: gymnastics, singing, piano playing, and Harry Potter topping the list. And then there’s my husband, who supports us in all of our crazy endeavors 🙂

I am looking forward to continuing these projects in 2018 and perhaps adding to the collection 🙂

Happy New Year!

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