Praise for Math Lab for Kids

A wonderful collection of attractive math topics

A wonderful collection of attractive math topics that will entertain and inform kids (and their parents). A great way to share a stimulating learning activity.

-- Ronald L. Graham, Professor in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, former Mathematical Association of America president, former American Mathematical Society president, former Bell Labs Chief Scientist

Recommended for libraries and educators

Gr 2-6–Harvard mathematics graduate Rapoport and engineer Yoder have provided exciting enrichment opportunities to bring elementary math to life. This compilation of fresh, hands-on STEM activities explores a variety of mathematical concepts, from basic geometric shapes to parabolas, fractals, and puzzles. An introduction explains how the book is designed and meant to be used. While much of the text is written for children, librarians and educators could easily incorporate this work into their curricula or programs. For instance, the “Think About It” section at the start of each chapter would work well as essential questions for educators to gauge student understanding prior to lessons. The chapters are easy to follow and clearly identify each step of the process. The labs require inexpensive materials (toothpicks, gumdrops, balloons, thread) as well as ones likely already in the classroom (rulers, graph paper, pushpins). Illustrations, definitions, and detailed procedures are included for every lab. While chapters build on previous experiments, each is also presented with a stand-alone work-around so educators can make modifications to best suit their students. Occasionally chapters also offer a collaborative exercise for a small group. The book concludes with pullouts (reproducible items for some of the labs), as well as “Hints and Solutions” for the puzzles. VERDICT Recommended for libraries and educators seeking a tactile approach to elementary mathematics.

-- Doneanne Soult, School Library Journal, Westampton Middle School, NJ

Celebrates an inquiry-based approach to learning math

Math is often a school discipline that is characterized by drudgery and boredom. This book, though, is created with the idea that, through hands-on activities, youngsters can learn to find the joy in the study of applied mathematical principles and more abstract theory. Using easily supplied materials such as card stock, candies, and broomsticks, readers are invited to utilize foundational concepts appropriate to elementary math classrooms. Geometry, probability, and numerical analysis are emphasized above basic computation. More than 50 activities provide a range of complexity, from drawing simple shapes to creating three-dimensional models and sophisticated games. Full-color photographs make following the step-by-step directions simple. Five thematic chapters define broad types of applications, such as curves and fractals, graph theory, and topology. This collection of activities celebrates an inquiry-based approach to learning math, which may be an excellent complement to more traditional classroom curricula, especially for reluctant learners. As such, it’s a great resource for parents, teachers, and curious young readers alike.

-- Erin Anderson, Booklist Online

Accessible to readers of varying skill levels

More than 50 activities connected to mathematical concepts—geometry, fractals, and tangrams, among others—are explored through 37 “labs” that feature step-by-step instructions and photographs. The authors succinctly describe core concepts (“In topology, you can stretch, squeeze, or twist a shape without changing what kind of shape it is”), which are supplemented by sidebars that delve into the associated terminology, profile mathematicians, and suggest additional activities. Required materials are all readily available: in the opening pages, children can use gumdrops and toothpicks like Tinkertoys to build cubes, pyramids, and other three-dimensional structures; many projects need nothing more than pencil and paper. Removable paper templates are provided for some of the activities. Rapaport and Yoder make the projects accessible to readers of varying skill levels, whether they are learning about basic shapes or developing a more advanced understanding of mathematics.

-- Publishers Weekly

I had to force my kids to stop doing math and go to bed

I can hardly wait to try another lab. The Mobius strip lab looks fantastic. I expect Koch snowflakes to join the curve stitching on our tree. And I’m really intrigued by the graph theory. This is going to be a fantastic Christmas vacation.

So if you’re looking for the perfect gift for your young mad scientist, or you just want to get a kid interested in math, I highly recommend this book. Apparently, other readers agree. It’s currently Amazon’s #1 new release in Children’s General Study Aid Books. Order fast, and you can have it under your tree, too. [Full review.]

-- Dianna Sanchez, children's book author

I have read a LOT of math books. And I can tell you that this one is GREAT!

I have 3 degrees in mathematics, taught math for more than a decade, was a teacher educator for two decades, and finished the last decade of my 45-year education career as a school administrator, and so I have read a LOT of math books. And I can tell you that this one is GREAT! [Full review.]

When a former colleague and I were researching what children believe math is, we were consistently dismayed to find out how amazingly limited kids' "definition" of math is. Beyond number facts and operations and perhaps a few two-dimensional geometric figures, the hundreds of students that we interviewed and surveyed were unwilling or unable to recognize or identify much of the world of mathematical concepts as being AT ALL mathematical! For example, when we showed students pictures of children creating geometric shapes with tangrams (like those in Chapter 6 of Rapoport and Yoder's Math Lab for Kids book), and asked if the children in the photo might be learning or doing any math at all, virtually all responded, "No, they're just playing." According to most students we interviewed in our research, something could NEVER be mathematics if it was FUN, or could, in any way, be considered "playing"!!! Those depressing research results tell us how important books like this are.

A FUNdamental belief of these authors (pun intended), is that math CAN BE and IS fun. But more importantly, this book will also help kids see that there are LOTS of different kinds of things that ARE mathematics and that "playing around" with objects and ideas IS mathematics. The activities in this book cut across a wide range of mathematical study (including fractals, graph theory, surfaces, space-filling, circuits, topology, logic, mapping...). The individual activities are thoughtfully sequenced and scaffolded so that pretty much ANY group of kids or parents (even those self-acknowledged "math haters" or "I can't do math" folks) can do the activities. The explanations and mathematical principles and background of what's happening in a given activity are brief but accurate and sufficient, AND, they give hints, answers, challenges, and alternate ways to approach an activity (another really important thing to learn about the world of mathematics). Unlike some other books, the materials you will need are easily accessible and inexpensive. The photos and figures are colorful, appealing, and helpful.

So - yes- buy this book!-- And, although it would be fine for you to just buy this book and have your kids have fun and play, PLEASE do me a favor and while they (and you) are learning and enjoying, keep reminding them that ALL of this FUN stuff IS MATH!

-- Jan McDonald, Sr. Exec. Dir. for Data and Accountability, Office of the Deputy Chancellor, NYC Dept of Education, retired; former Dean and Professor, School of Education (Pace University and Phillips University); co-founder and Director of the Educational Studies Program, Union College; co-director of the Albany Mathematics and Science Teaching Program, The University at Albany, SUNY; former teacher of mathematics, Niskayuna HS

Outstanding resource for classroom teachers and parents

This book is an outstanding resource for classroom teachers and parents and will provide elementary and middle school students with a strong background in mathematics.

The book is organized in experience-based, problem solving math experiences that peak children's interest and support their learning as mathematicians. Using household objects and inexpensive materials (i.e. toothpicks, paper, scissors, string, gumdrops, and sidewalk chalk) children learn math concepts (including geometry, topology, logic, and proofs) through playing with math. The hands on, first hand puzzles provides children to opportunities to understand math concepts through repeated experiences. The book is organized in a series of math labs that walk kids through each activity with instructions and full color diagrams and photographs. Each lab builds from simple to complex, providing kids with many opportunities to explore the same concepts - through experiences blend math with games and art projects. Kids gain the understanding that real math problems take time to solve, while at the same time gaining confidence in their own abilities as mathematicians. [Full review.]

As veteran classroom teacher and teacher educator, I have observed the difference in children's grasp of math concepts when they have opportunities to play with tangrams, geometric shapes, and sorting sets (buttons, blocks, etc.). These experiences are essential in understanding the concepts behind algorithms - and it's refreshing to see a book that provides extended exposure to math without paper and pencil worksheets. By the end, when kids explore understandings of logic, reasoning and mathematical proofs, these abstract ideas are within children's reach because they build upon the concrete experiences throughout the book.

The book is meant for children to explore with some guidance, encouraging collaborative learning. For classrooms, there is a wealth of experiences (nine units and 37 math labs) for a math center or whole class math workshop across the school year. Mathematical concepts are introduced through hands-on experiences and discussed in a clear, concise manner. Reflection questions are posed in "think about it" inserts, "math meets" and "try this" sections provide suggestions for independent and group extensions on the math lab experiences.

-- Dr. Debra Goodman, Professor, Literacy Studies, Hofstra University, former elementary teacher (all subjects), 16 years, Detroit Public Schools, author Reading Detective Club, Heinemann

Calling all homeschool mammas, this one is for you!

Calling all homeschool mammas, this one is for you! This book is a wonderful resource that I really am excited about. It is a math lab book filled with just that, math labs! They are simple, straightforward, broken down in small pieces, and fun! That’s right, fun! [Full review.]

Of course, I’m a former teacher saying that and a bit of a nerd, but I really think these are math labs that many children will really enjoy.

Each lab in this book is fairly simple to execute and uses few supplies (most of which are common household items like toothpicks). When it comes to worksheets you may need the back of the book includes many that you can just remove or you can head to the website created for this book to print them out again and again. (Click here to check out the Math Lab for Kids Website.) Clever, huh? The labs focus on shapes and mathematical thinking and cover subjects such as tangrams, circuits, fractals and curves. Seriously a book worth checking out if you homeschool or if you want to supplement math learning at home for your child.

Inspiring book introducing kids to real mathematics

This ambitious book provides one of the answers to the always-difficult question: "How do you get kids to engage with math and start to form a mathematical intuition?" Remarkably, in this single, slim volume, the authors manage to provide thought-provoking activities for young children (perhaps as young as 4 or 5) and older ones, even adults. I'll certainly be trying it out on my younger relatives! [Full review.]

The activities are constructed to be largely independent, in approximately increasing order of difficulty, which makes great pedagogical sense. Each set of activities begins with a very hands-on approach to doing something, like building shapes or designing maps, and then develops toward generalization, just as mathematics itself (mostly) developed. The classic "Bridges of Konigsberg" problem, for example, begins with the city itself, develops into the abstract theory behind it (as drawings), and then loops back to the original problem, using the general case to solve the specific one, just as a mathematician does.

The chapter on tangrams can occupy an adult mind for hours and be as easy or difficult as one likes for kids. It and the toothpick chapter (modifying shapes built with toothpicks under particular rules), teach problem solving, patience, guess-and-check, and other essential mathematical skills. As the book points out, a lot of doing math amounts to attacking problems over and over from different angles: if kids learn to be interested in problems and to think about them in different ways, then higher math becomes accessible to them.

Kids (or adults) can make quite beautiful pieces by studying the chapter on curve stitching, another chapter which gets at important mathematical ideas in a purely graphical way. An ambitious kid or interested adult would almost certainly apply the ideas of Calculus to the graphs in order to try to understand better why the assertions of the book are true. At the end of the book, there are two proofs given, one by contradiction and one by induction. By that point, the book has built up to a little bit of algebra, and a kid should be able to do both proofs, perhaps helping to make proofs more normal, even fun, in their eyes, instead of the terrifying monster that proofs are often thought to be.

-- Elliot J. Marks, coauthor Functions Modeling Change: A Preparation for Calculus and Algebra.

An excellent resource

As both a mathematician and a parent of two, I'm really glad to see that a book like this has been written. One of the most common problems I have observed among university students (mostly non-math majors) is a serious lack of understanding of what math actually is -- so many students seem to think of math as a collection of quasi-magical manipulations that leads from a problem to a number. This book takes a step towards introducing some fairly sophisticated (and exciting!) ideas to an audience of youngsters and giving them a taste of the type of thinking in which mathematicians engage. [Full review.]

Through a sequence of hands-on activities, it takes various topics in mathematics and makes them both accessible and fun for young children, without compromising content. Activities are drawn from a broad swath of mathematics, including geometry, topology, map coloring, curve stitching, fractals, tangrams, graph theory, and various games. Admittedly, the topics chosen are ones which lend themselves well to visual representation -- so not every branch of mathematics is represented, but this is hardly a fault of the book, since there are many areas (algebra and number theory, for example) which are not as accessible to students in this age range.

Children (with adult supervision understood) are guided through each activity by instructions in straightforward language, introducing mathematical terms, "Math Facts", and historical details along the way. Some of the later activities in each section are more loosely phrased, thereby encouraging experimentation and creative thought. (e.g. Can you figure out how to remove two sticks from this picture to form three squares?) In the last section of the book, the author introduces the ideas of proof by contradiction and proof by induction, presenting the methods accurately, but without scaring kids or snowing them with lots of formalism or mathematical notation.

I am very much looking forward to introducing my own children to this beautiful, carefully written book!

-- Reza Akhtar, Professor, Department of Mathematics, Miami University


This book is amazing! I have taught college math for 35 years, and noticed that many student difficulties arise because of poor visualization skills, a poor "let's just try something and see how it works" ability, and of course, lack of self confidence. Doing the activities in this book can help kids work through all of these shortcomings. I have tried a couple of the activities already with my grandchildren (aged 7 to 12) and they found them fun and challenging. I worked through ALL the activities myself, and found them fun and challenging!! The writing is insightful and crystal clear. Obviously the authors have experience working with children; they know how to present the material at the targeted age levels.They also exhibit a deep understanding of mathematics, as you would expect from graduates of Harvard and Caltech. The labs would be excellent as fun at-home activities, or as supplemental material in classrooms or after school programs. I HIGHLY recommend this book.

-- Kathie Y, Professor of Mathematics, emeritus, Pierce College

Your kids will love this math book

I'm a mathematician with an advanced degree in pure mathematics and 17+ years of experience tutoring kids in math. I also have 4 kids (ages 2-13) of my own. I'm pretty picky when it comes to math books for kids--it seems like so many either dumb the math down too much or lose kids' interest with boring discussions. This one is different--it actually manages to be fun, engaging, AND full of accurate and complex mathematical concepts without losing the kids' attention. Well done!

-- Cami Jones, math tutor

'Math Lab’ is number one for childhood fun

“Welcome to the secret world of mathematicians … Mathematicians play. They come up with interesting questions and investigate possible solutions,” say authors Rebecca Rapoport and J.A. Yoder about their recently published book, “Math Lab,” which presents shapes, puzzles and games and invites hands-on participation. [Full review.]

-- Sonya Ellingboe, Highlands Ranch Herald

Novel way to teach and connect with students who might require a different teaching style

If you are looking to build your child’s math literacy or undertake some fun, engaging math activities at home, I would recommend getting Math Lab for Kids. This book is not about doing sheets of math problems. Instead, children learn about math by drawing and building shapes, solving puzzles and playing math games.

As the parent who was directing the activities, I found the book to be instructive and easy to follow. I also thought the book took a playful approach to the math projects which my daughter appreciated. If you have a reluctant math student, I think this book is a perfect way to get them to work through math-related projects in a low-key and enjoyable way. The authors of the book say “Mathematicians play” and I agree that the projects in this book are probably different than the math students do in school. Here, children can think like a mathematician and experiment and see what happens. [Full review.]

-- BostonTechMom

This book is great at introducing kids to fun areas of math

This book is great at introducing kids to fun areas of math that are not usually presented in schools. The activities were easily done by my 12 year old, and my 7 year old could do the activities with supervision. Both found the activities were fun and got them interested in the math topics that were touched upon. I particularly liked the section on Nim--as a teen I had read and really enjoyed John Conway's "Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays", which is a great treament on mathematical games. I have been wondering on how to bring some of the excitement of that book to my children. Math Lab for Kids has a nice way of presenting Nim for a young audience while still presenting some real mathematical arguments (Tweedledum and Tweddledee in Conway's book, Copycat in Math Lab for Kids). Highly recommended.

Includes topics in three-dimensional geometry, conic sections, topology, game theory, and graph theory.

-- Dean Chung, Math Ph.D., parent