Every year around this time, I enjoy putting together a series of recommendations of math gifts. As my kids are getting old enough to appreciate some of these gifts, I can now put together this list not only from the perspective of a teacher, but a parent. These math gifts vary in age appropriateness from young children to adults. They fall into the following categories: math games, math books, math novelty gifts, and electronic devices that can be used to encourage math learning.
Without further ado, here is my 2015 list of Christmas math gifts, each conveniently linked to Amazon.
Set is a game that asks players to combine cards in specific combinations to create sets based on characters of those cards (number, shape, color, shading). It’s a very engaging game, and very popular with math teachers due to the mathematical thinking it encourages.
I love Yahtzee both for its entertainment value and its mathematics. Younger kids get the opportunity to practice mental math. For older kids, Yahtzee offers a tremendous opportunity to think about combinatorics and probability (i.e., which combinations are more likely based on probability theory).
Part of the cool Bedtime Math series, these books are targeted at younger kids. They offer math based riddles that make math engaging and fun and offer three levels of challenge (wee ones, little kids, and big kids).
Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s modern day classic tells the story of a boy who encounters a “Number Devil” every night in his dreams. Through simple but compelling story telling that even elementary children can understand, concepts such as prime numbers, infinity, limits, and Fibonacci numbers come to life. I loved reading passages from this book to my students.
You may or may not be aware that Isaac Newton was not the sole discoverer of Calculus. He had a rival that made the discovery independently, Gottfried Leibniz. After developing Calculus, the two spent much of their professional lives vying for credit and smearing each other, sometimes directly, and sometimes through surrogates. I really enjoyed this one, although it’s a bit more history and a bit less mathematics.
After Fermat’s death (a great mathematician who like to toy with people a bit), his personal mathematical notes and journals were reviewed. A sort of challenge was found, suggesting that he had “truly marvelous” proof of a conjecture that was, at the risk of oversimplifying a bit, an extension of the Pythagorean Theorem. This book tells the story of the mathematicians that tried for 350 years to prove this theorem, a proof so hard and elusive that it became a sort of holy grail of mathematics.
MATH NOVELTY GIFTS
I’ve seen many math teachers use these clocks through the years and always gotten a kick out of them. It turns checking the time into a mini-math lesson.
You probably shouldn’t wear this one during an exam, chocked full of fun math fun facts, formula, and trivia. It’s got that “geek cool” factor.
This mug looks great on the desk of a teacher, student, or engineer. Great for letting your “math is cool” side show.
It’s not as glitzy as an iPad Mini, but with the price being comfortably under $100, it’s hard to beat. The kid’s edition gives you access to many educational apps, 1 year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is included, and if your child breaks the tablet within 2 years, return it and Amazon will replace it for free (“no questions asked.”)
If your child is a little older (middle school through early undergraduate years) and they are serious about a mathematics, it is very likely their mathematical journey will intersect with some computer science courses at some point. Want to encourage that, but you’re a little afraid to let them set up a Linux dual boot on your PC? Raspberry Pi II (a full Linux computer for around $50) is the answer. The kit I’ve linked to includes a memory card, a case, and a WIFI card. Keep in mind, that every Raspberry Pi comes with a free copy of the amazing math software Mathematica (home edition normally costs $300 per year).
Of course, I’ve got a lot of content on Tech Powered Math about graphing calculators. They can be a terrific Christmas present for a high school or college student heading into challenging math and science classes. My favorite is the TI-Nspire CX. If you’d like more detailed suggestions, check out my post on the best graphing calculators for school.
Whatever math gift you select for you loved one, have a blessed holiday season!