My year in sharing math from mathematicians with kids

[this post still needs a little editing, but I’m heading out the door in 5 mint and will publish first and edit second]

Lately I feel like I haven’t been able to do as many math projects with my kids as I would like. Need to make sure that the priorities get back in line next year.

One thing I’m happy about, though, is that in 2017 I was able to share a lot of math from mathematicians with them. The list below isn’t even all of the projects, but I felt like 15 was enough! Here are some of the fun projects we did based on ideas we saw from mathematicians that I follow (mainly on twitter):

(1) Katherine Johnson’s work in Hidden Figures

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My older son started looking at some ideas from trigonometry this year – that opened the door for him to be able to peek at some of the work from Hidden Figures.

An Attempt to share some of Katherine Johnson’s math ideas from Hidden Figures with my son

(2) Christopher Long and Nassim Taleb

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The most interesting piece of math I learned this year was the “covfefe” problem. At first I thought the problem wasn’t that interesting, and than Christopher Long and Nassim Taleb showed me that there was more to the problem than I realized:

The most interesting piece of math I learned in 2017 -> the “covfefe” problem

(3) Nassim Taleb and Alexander Bogomolny


One of the really enjoyable examples of math in public I saw this year was the ongoing twitter exchange of problems and solutions between Alexander Bogomolny and Nassim Taleb. I assume the exchange will continue in 2018, too, I really enjoyed sharing the occasional problem from them with the boys. For example:

Sharing Nassim Taleb’s dart probability problem with kids

A terrific example for Calculus students from Nassim Taleb and Alexander Bogomolny

(4) Laura DeMarco and Katherine Lindsey


Quanta Magazine published a fantastic article on the work of Laura DeMarco and Kathryn Lindsey. Even though we could only scratch the surface of “3d folded fractals”, it was amazing to explore what we could.

My wife make a version of the “square with cap” from the article:

Here’s some prep work and what I talked about with the boys:

Trying to understand the Demarco and Lindsey 3D Folded Fractals

Sharing Laura DeMarco’s and Kathryn Lindsey’s 3d folded fractals with kids

(5) Kelsey Houston-Edwards

Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s work with PBS Infinite series completely blew me away. We probably have over a dozen projects based on her videos on the blog. Here are two that were especially fun:

Kelsey Houston-Edward’s “Proof” video is incredible

Sharing Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s Axion of Choice video with kids

(6) Jim Propp

Jim Propp’s blog has been extra fun for me to follow because I learned combinatorics from his course 20+ years ago. I love sharing his blog posts with the boys – it is amazing how many seemingly simple ideas can lead to terrific math conversations:

Jim Propp’s “Swine in a Line” game

Sharing Jim Propp’s base 3/2 essay with kids – Part 1

Sharing Jim Propp’s base 3/2 essay with kids – Part 2

(7) Evelyn Lamb

Tiling Pentagons

One of the most enjoyable weeks of the year for me came from playing with a post about pentagons by Evelyn Lamb. Exploring some of the details about this pentagon helped me get a much better understanding of the recent result that there are only 15 types of pentagons which can tile the plane:

Evelyn Lamb’s pentagons are everything

(8)  A new result about the Cantor Set

It is pretty unusual to be able to share current math research with kids, but maybe once per year there’s a result that is within the read of kids. The lucky example from this year was a result showing that any number between 0 and 1 can be written as the product x^2 * y where x and y are in the Cantor Set:

Sharing a new result about the Cantor Set with kids

(9) John Baez and Leo Stein’s posts about Juggling Roots.


A dream of mine for a long time has been to figure out how to explain to kids why 5th degree and higher polynomials cannot be solved in general. This year I got a lot closer to reaching that goal thanks to John Baez and Leo Stein.

Sharing John Baez’s Juggling Roots tweet with kids

Using Leo Stein’s polynomial toy with kids

(10) Swarmalators


“Swarmalators” were another bit of math research from 2017 that I was able to share with the boys. The underlying math itself was much too complicated, but luckily one of the authors shared a computer program which allowed anyone to explore some of the ideas.

Having kids play with “swarmalators”

(11)  Martin Gardner

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During our trip to Omaha to see the eclipse this summer I found a copy of Martin Gardner’s Colossal Book of Mathematics in a library book sale. One of the most incredible projects in the book was a “machine learning.”

One fun note on this project is that Alison Hansel was inspired to try out this project with her daughter last week:

Intro Machine Learning for kids via Martin Gardner’s article on “hexapawn”

(12) Joel David-Hamkins

We love the math projects for kids that Joel David-Hamkins shares. This year we did two projects based on his work. The first one had a tie in with one of Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s videos:

Buckets of fish and defeating hydras

The next one – from last week – was a fun logic puzzle:

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Sharing Joel David-Hamkins’s fun logic exercise with kids

(13)  Elchanan Mossel’s probability problem

This probability problem from Elchanan Mossel made for a terrific project:

Exploring Elchanan Mossel fantastic probability problem with kids

(14) Steven Wolfram

Wolfram’s talk at MoMath is one of the most incredible examples of “math in public” that I’ve ever seen. You’ll need Mathematica if you want to play along and explore more, but just watching Wolfram’s talk is amazing all by itself.

Sharing Stephen Wolfram’s MoMath talk with kids

Revisiting Stephan Wolfram’s Momath talk

(15) Tim Gowers

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Finally, Tim Gowers gave a neat talk about non-transitive dice at Harvard this fall. Some of the results he shared were accessible to kids – and actually really surprising. Luckily we already had a set of non-transitive dice made by James Grime, so the kids had seen some of the basic ideas before.

Sharing Tim Gowers’s non-transitive dice talk with kids