It’s March 14th: Pi Day!
When mathematicians get playful, they do things like designating March 14th as Pi Day. After all, who among the mathematically inclined can look at a calendar, see 3.14, and not immediately think, “Hey, that’s pi. We should celebrate!”?
At Royal Fireworks Press, this is just the kind of intellectual play that we enjoy—and that we promote. Approaches to mathematics for children should include more than sets of memorized facts and formulas. We want to move mathematics from a dry operational orientation toward one that is fun, interesting, human, and understandable.
One way to make math fun is to embed problems in novels, which Robert Black has done in our Mathematical Nights series. In these books, a middle school girl named Lennie Miller meets a variety of otherworldly creatures who haunt her hometown and who need her to solve their math problems for them. Lennie is presented with several problems in each of the three novels. Children can see how the problems arise from the situations in which the characters find themselves—giving the problems, perhaps ironically, a foundation in the real world. (The first Mathematical Nights book is also available as a set of books for children with dyslexia or other reading disorders: the Lennie Miller Dyslexia Series.)
In her Awesum Alex series, Dr. Rachel McAnallen gives elementary-age children a variety of different ways of approaching addition and subtraction (and in a forthcoming book, multiplication). Dr. McAnallen is dedicated to helping children understand math rather than simply doing uncomprehendingly memorized operations. To that end, she has children experimenting with a variety of techniques for solving problems that are certainly not what we learned in school—but they’re incomparably better because they allow children to understand the why of math instead of just the how. In the Awesum Alex books, Pi is a character, not just a number (or a date). She’s a fanciful purple sprite who aids the children as they explore new ways of thinking about how numbers work.
Educational Play: Math offers a variety of games to help children see math as fun and to become adept at handling numbers. Math Verses with Twists offers middle school children math-based logic puzzles in verse form. The Logic-Math series is designed to build math understanding in young children on the basic of logic puzzles.
Robert Black’s Mathematical Lives series is designed to present to middle schoolers—and even to high schoolers, especially those who enjoy biographies or who wish to explore the stories behind what they are learning—an awareness of how innovations in mathematics are made by real people facing real problems and opportunities. We want to help children see the human side of math and to develop an appreciation for its application to the world we inhabit.
Not one of these books could be considered a traditional mathematics textbook, but we would argue that children will learn more from them than from many of the ordinary textbooks out there because these books will enable them to learn while having fun or being interested or sating their curiosity. Math isn’t a necessary drudgery; it can be much more than that. Celebrate Pi Day the right way: by making math fun.