WWTK: Summer Fun with Math!

Nobody likes doing homework in the summer. It's just a fact of life. My advice to students who want to stay sharp during the summer is to inject fun into your work and work into your fun. Find a way to connect your personal fun time back to the subjects you're learning in school. The best way to accomplish this, in my opinion, is to look for school skills in unusual contexts. If you're interested in maintaining your English or writing, you can join a book club or arrange one with your friends. Take this summer as an opportunity to read that book you've been dying to get to, and while you're reading think about it critically and talk about it with others. I'm part of a “Bring Your Own Book” club right now, where each month we are given a topic and have to find and read a book that fits the topic. BYOBook clubs are a great chance to see a broad range of interpretations of a given theme and think about your reading in a larger context (what does the topic “animals as main characters” mean to six different people?). If you're organizing the club, start with various genre selections and move on from there (Sci-fi night, horror night, etc.).

Finding math in unusual contexts is a bit more difficult, but for me it's a lot more fun. There are plenty of seemingly-unrelated skills and activities that actually involve a great deal of math, and if you look for it you can learn to think about math and its impact on the world in a broader context. Here are just a few examples of fun activities that involve math.

Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop Role-Playing Games
Dungeons & Dragons is the most well-known of a genre of games known as Tabletop Role-Playing Games (RPGs). In a D&D game, each player creates a unique character using a complex chance-based generation system involving rolling dice to determine various statistics. The game is full of math, including but not limited to multiplying to find base stats or critical damage, or adding and subtracting various modifiers. Dice are rolled on the fly and numbers tallied up and called out, resulting in the need for quick mental math. Playing D&D can be a great way to practice your mental math skills without it seeming like drudgery. Plus the game itself is a great lesson in problem solving and algorithms, as you figure out which patterns of addition and multiplication are needed for which actions and very naturally arrive at your most optimal workflow. The storytelling aspect of the game can be helpful for creative writing practice as well, as you think about how best to phrase your statements or work together to figure out the solution to a puzzle.

Knitting and Crocheting
Knitting and crocheting are great for math practice. Learning the basic stitches is an act of problem solving and devising algorithms, as you figure out how to hold your work and where the various parts of the stitches go. Once you have the basics down, you'll still need to count your stitches, follow patterns for lacework, and even use math to figure out how fast to increase or decrease. For a real math workout, though, you should go through the gauntlet of altering a pattern. Use a different weight of yarn than the pattern calls for; you'll need to figure out your stitch ratio and then use lots of multiplication to figure out how all the numbers will change. It's a complex process, but incredibly rewarding.

Want a fun afternoon of geometry- and physics-based fun? Head out for a round of mini-golf! Navigating around the obstacles requires planning and forethought – can you figure out how to predict where your shot will go before you start? Banking off of the sidewalls provides an exercise in angles of incidence – can you avoid the obstacles in the first place with a carefully-lined-up shot? How are you deciding which tee to use, and how do the bumps and hills affect your ball's trajectory?
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