An easy way to help children learn math? Get them in the kitchen mixing up variable pizza pi, said Ann McCallum, a Maryland mom, math teacher and author of “Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds” (Charlesbridge Publishing, $17).
Whimsical illustrations fill the slim volume that features six recipes keyed to, among other concepts, fractions, triangles — remember isosceles? — and probability.
Steer clear of making the recipes into lessons, she cautioned: “That takes all the spontaneity and fun out of it. You’re just trying to build a love of math and kind of an inquisitiveness so kids will not be so intimidated.”
If you’ve used Cheerios to teach addition or a stick of butter to teach fractions, McCallum takes it to the next step, mixing math words with stories about famous figures like Italian mathematician Fibonacci, who came up with the eponymous sequence that adds the first two numbers to get the next one (1,1,2,3,5,8 …).
McCallum uses kebab sticks and fruit pieces for Fibonacci snack sticks: “Put one strawberry and one slice of banana. Then two grapes. Then three pieces of kiwi … and you’ve modeled the Fibonacci sequence. It’s a stepping off point for getting into patterning and sequencing.”
McCallum’s efforts to make math fun extend to her blog at www.annmccallumbooks.com/blog/, where meatballs take the drudgery out of learning multiplication by arranging a dozen meatballs on a plate (3-by-4 or 2-by-6). “It’s much better if you can have something tangible, something visual … something edible.”
Take fractions: “Fractions are pretty tricky because they’re abstract. If you asked what’s bigger, ⅗ or ⅞, I bet a lot of adults wouldn’t really know that.”
This recipe may help — the kids can assist preparation and eat the results afterward.
Adapted from Ann McCallum’s “Eat Your Math Homework”; she suggests adult guidance.
Small flour tortillas
Spread a little olive oil over one side of 1 tortilla; sprinkle with seasoning. With a grown-up’s help, heat a skillet over medium heat and cook tortilla with olive oil side down, 30 seconds. Flip tortilla and cook other side, 30 seconds. Transfer tortilla with a spatula to a cutting board. Cook remaining tortillas. Again with supervision, cut one tortilla in half, another into thirds, another into fourths and another into eighths. Now you have several sets of fraction pieces or chips. Using the chips, determine how many different ways can you serve everyone ¾ of a tortilla. For example, you could take a ½ and a ¼ section to make a ¾ serving. You could also make a ¾ serving by putting together six of the ⅛ pieces.