Happy Math Storytelling Day! On this day, people share mathematical stories with one another.

My story for you:

We were doing our traditional “Apple Math” at the Natural Math Club: playing with our food during snack. Mathematics, the hungry work!

Kids just figured out it will take at least six cuts to make a cube out of an apple. Still hungry, they wanted more apple shapes: “A kite! An octagon! An octopus!” (“You can make the octopus yourself then!”). The suggested trapezoid intrigued several people. Everybody was looking at the apple intently, shouting ideas or thinking.

“All your ideas – except the octopus – are 2d, flat. But we are cutting 3d shapes. We can make your shapes 3d by turning them into prisms. We can make them thick, raised.” The kids and I were telling this part of the story with our gestures. All eyes were on the apple. “Do you have to use the knife quite THAT big for apples?” -”But I like this one!” The idea of turning a 2d shape – a kite, an octagon, a trapezoid, any shape – into a 3d prism, suddenly clicked.

And instantly, by magic, the focus dispersed. Kids became aware the bulletin board pictures are quite engaging; great conversation topics came up between friends; and raisins on the plates had to be eaten, now. Kids looked happy, engaged and excited – about all sorts of things except our apple math!

I said, to parents: “As soon as kids understand something important, they disengage. They are gone! They have to turn math off and do something completely different!”

“Is this why you did not try to call them back? I need to remember this!”

“Exactly. They need the break to process the big idea.”

In a couple of minutes, we saw kids pausing and slowing down – the sign they were ready for more math. How many cuts did the trapezoid prism take? The answer was the same as the cube (or any quadrilateral prism, at that), but the problem was significantly harder to solve, for very good reasons… And this is another story!

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