A few projects for kids from Richard Evan Schwartz’s “Really Big Numbers”

A couple of weeks ago I saw that Richard Evan Schwartz’s Really Big Numbers had won an award from Mathical Books:

Mathical Books Award Winners

The book actually has a “trailer” just like a movie!

Anyway, I’d been meaning to buy the book for a while, and seeing it on the award list was the last reminder I needed 🙂

I flipped through the book a few weeks ago and found a bunch of fun little projects to do with the boys. Unfortunately we are in the process of moving right now and the book ended up in a pile of stuff to get moved – out of sight, out of mind! It turned up last night and today we did three short (well, two short and one long) project from it.

The first involved counting different ways to color a tic-tac-toe board with three colors. This problem presents a great opportunity to talk about counting and exponents with kids. One especially nice thing about this problem is that even if the counting arguments are a little confusing, the numbers themselves are within reach of younger kids and they can start to see what’s going on.

The next project happened to be on the next page of the book – how many different ways can you put three (identical) checkers on a standard checker board?

This problem is a little different from the last one, so we are essentially starting from scratch. My younger son wants to look at an easier problem first – the number of ways to place just one checker. Next he looks at the idea of putting down two checkers and sees that you have to deal with overcounting. Finally my older son explains the case of three checkers – this time you are overcounting by a factor of 6.

Our last project was one of our most interesting conversations that we’ve ever had. I was totally shocked when I went to download it and saw that the conversation went 12 minutes! The kids were so interested in the ideas here that we totally lost track of time. Oh, and sorry about the dog making a bunch of noise in the beginning.

Here we are looking at a couple of towers of numbers – which of the two towers produces a larger number? Turns out to be a really challenging question!

So, some really fun projects and some really fun conversations with the kids this morning. Really Big Numbers is a great book for kids. There are a bunch of ideas that are going to engage kids and this ideas can turn into pretty fun projects. I’m excited to try out some more ideas from the book next week.

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