The Grapes of Math
by Amy on May 9th, 2016

​​As a homeschooler, sometimes I feel like I need to come up with an endless stream of amazing ways for my kids to experience every topic in every subject. Reality at our house rarely matches up with this overachieving expectation, but a few weeks ago, I was the cool homeschool mom who taught math with building and snacks!

Our topic was squares and cubes. My kids aren't really ready to use exponents yet, just to be aware they exist and to recognize the notation. I wanted to offer a visual and kinesthetic impression of what square and cube numbers really are.

To that end, we ran to the grocery store for a box of toothpicks and two bags of grapes--both red and green to cut down on the squabbling. I demonstrated with twos, creating a square two grapes wide and two grapes long, for a total of four grapes (2² = 2 × 2 = 4). Add another layer to create a cube two grapes high and you'll use eight grapes (2³ = 2 × 2 × 2 = 8).
​​I then handed my kids a plate of grapes and a handful of toothpicks, instructing them to create a square three grapes long by three grapes wide, then build it up into a cube three grapes high. Once they'd mastered that, we moved on to four and started five, working until we discovered we'd run out of grapes. My youngest had gotten hungry and decided he'd had enough of this construction project, it was snack time.

I'm not sure if this will all translate into the ability to perform exponent calculations more easily when the time comes, but at the very least they can say they know why a "square" is a number raised to the power of two and a number raised to the power of three is called a "cube."

Plus they thought, at least for a half hour or so, that math was really fun and I was the best teacher ever!


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