10 complex, rich tasks to recommend after seeing Geoff Krall’s Shadowcon talk

Earlier today I saw a link to Geoff Krall’s Shadowcon talk. In part of the talk he made the case for sharing complex, rich tasks with kids. I might not have the exact words right because I’ve completely failed to find the link to the Shadowcon talks I saw this morning so I can’t find the video to the talk again 😦

But, hopefully, though I do have the general idea right and I wanted to share some tasks that I think fit the bill.

Some of the tasks I’ve discussed before in this blog post:

10 Pretty Easy to Implement Math Activities for Kids

but I think they are worth sharing again!

(1) A fun question from a friend about math and Snapchat

Here’s the question my friend asked:

“Say [our group]] has 26 people in it, but Snapchat has a limit of 16 in a group. How many groups would need to be created so that everyone is in a group with all of the [people in the original group]?”

I decided to write up the thoughts I had while working through the problme:

A fun math question about Snapchat from a friend


I think working through this problem would make for a fantastic activity for kids.

(2) A great geometry question from David Butler with an incredible Desmos activity from Suzanne von Oy

I saw this question posted on twitter by David Butler:

It made for a terrific project with the boys:

A Neat Geometry Problem I saw from David Butler

Following the project, Suzanne von Oy posted an activity on Desmos that looked at the problem:

Our project using Suzanne von Oy’s amazing Desmos Activityfor David Butler’s geometry problem

I love this problem and think it makes for a fantastic project for kids learning geometry.

(3) Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s Proof video

The new math video series from Kelsey Houston-Edwards is amazing, and the video about proofs is off the charts.

There are several problems in the video that are accessible to kids and, actually, definitely worth sharing with them before they see the video. Our project using the problems from the video is here:

Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s Proof video is incredible

(4) James Tanton’s Mobius strip cutting project

For about 1 million reasons you need to get your hands on this book!

Flipping through the book last fall I found one of the most amazing projects I’ve ever seen. Kids from probably 5th grade through graduate school will go bananas for this one!


Here’s our project using Tanton’s ideas.

An absolutely mind blowing project from James Tanton

(5) Speaking of cutting projects . . .

Although these project are linked in our project on James Tanton’s Mobius strip cutting project, I think the ideas deserve a second mention.

First our the project using Katie Steckls’s “Fold and Cut” video:

There are dozens of ways to use the ideas in this video with students – here are a couple of things that we did.

Our one cut project

Fold and cut project #2

Fold and cut part 3

The second cutting project was written by Joel David Hamkins after seeing this “Fold and Punch” project:

Hamkins’s take on Fold and Punch will make you very happy!

Math for nine year olds: fold, punch and cut for symmetry

(6) Sharing the Hyperuniform Distrobution with kids

I want every kid to have the opportunity to experience the world of math and science through Natalie Wolchover’s writing in Quanta magazine. Her article from last July introduced me to the “hyperuniform distributon”:

A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 8.42.03 AM

We’ve done several projects using Wolchover’s articles. I love taking current ideas from math and science and sharing them with kids and Wolchover’s writing makes that task really easy. Our project on the hyperuniform distribution is here:

Using a Natalie Wolchover article to talk about the hyperuniform distribution with kids

(7) Playing with Neural Networks

Seems like every day now there are news stories about data science, machine learning, and neural networks. The tensorflow playground is a great way to share basic ideas from those fields with kids.

A Neural Network Playground

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 2.42.59 PM

Our project using the tensorflow program is here:

Sharing a fun neural network program with kids

(8) Sharing Ann-Marie Ison’s math art with kids

Ann-Marie Ison’s art project on modular arithmetic is amazing:

We did two projects based on her work and I’ve also used the ideas in few talks with high school kids, too.

The second project is here and has a link to the first one:

Extending our porject iwth Ann-Marie Ison’s art

The second project also includes a link to a fantastic Desmos program to explore the modular arithmetic designs created by Martin Holtham:

(9) Larry Guth’s “No Rectangles” problem

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 7.41.58 AM

This is another problem I’ve used over and over again in talks with kids. It is a super fun (and pretty rare) example of a problem that is interesting to research mathematicians and also accessible to kids.

The problem itself is pretty easy to understand – if you have an NxN grid, what largest number of squares in that grid that you can color in without 4 of those squares forming the corners of a rectangle?

The 3×3 and 4×4 cases are accessible to young kids (I did this project with 2nd and 3rd graders last year). The older the kids the larger the grid you can explore 🙂

Here’s our project on the problem:

Larry Guth’s “No Rectangles” Problem

(10) Fawn Nguyen’s picture frame problem

I don’t know that I have much to add from the write up in “10 Pretty Easy to Implement Math Activities for Kids” post above. This is fantastic project for kids and an incredibly creative take on a problem that everyone in math has seen 100 times.

Fawn Nguyen’s When I got them to beg

For this project you just need some scissors and paper. Here’s a video of my younger son working through the project 4 years ago:

Honestly, Fawn’s project is one of the most amazing and creative math projects for kids that I’ve ever come across.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s