It’s Thanksgiving week. That means it’s time for turkey, pumpkin pie, and a Tech Powered Math Christmas tradition, my list of Christmas gifts for kids who like math. Every year, I tweak the format and put together a list of math gifts for kids of all ages (in some cases, even grown up kids). If you’re shopping with the idea of encouraging a budding mathematical mind, my advice would be to think outside the box. While I do have my favorite calculator on my list, there’s no need to stick to the a definition of mathematics. Math is logical thinking, puzzles, and so much more than just numbers. Encouraging those critical skills is just as helpful to mathematical development, and probably more so, than straight up practice with numbers.
To make your shopping experience easier, I’ve included a link to Amazon or another online retailer with each gift suggestion.
Feature Math Gifts (over $100)
My favorite graphing calculator on the market right now is the TI-Nspire CX CAS. It’s got all of the latest bells and whistles from Texas Instruments, including a color screen, a computer algebra system, dynamic geometry software, and so much more. While it’s small enough to be used as a stocking stuffer, it’s cost (about $140 on Amazon) makes it more of a feature gift. This calculator is appropriate for late middle school through college students. It’s what I use with my math team students, and we wouldn’t use any other.
The iPad Mini (with a few math encouraging apps)
No doubt about it, the iPad Mini will be one of the hottest gifts of the 2012 Christmas season. In addition to being a gift that a kid of any age would get excited about, including a few apps of the mathematical variety will make an iPad Mini a highly entertaining learning experience. There are hundreds of mathematical apps available for the iPad. I’ve reviewed many here at Tech Powered Math.
For younger kids, let me suggest the terrific learning apps from Fingerprint Digital, a company founded by a former Leapfrog Exec. These games will remind you of the Leapfrog experience taken up a few notches. The Math Blaster apps are also a really fun way to practice some arithmetic.
Older kids will be amazed by Wolfram Alpha, a computational engine from the makers of Mathematica. Ask the app just about any math question from basic arithmetic through advanced calculus, and you’ll quickly get an answer. Among its many other areas of knowledge, it also can answer questions about food, music, sports, and current airplane routes.
The iPad mini starts at $329. It’s not available on Amazon yet, but you can order it online at the Apple store.
If your child isn’t quite ready for an iPad Mini, consider the new LeapPad 2 from Leapfrog. It brings the tablet experience to munchkin sized hands in a durable, kid friendly experience, that’s also very affordable (under $100 on Amazon). Leapfrog has won many awards for their edutainment games, and they continue to set the standard with their educational products. They have a wide variety of math games and apps available for the LeapPad 2.
Budget Math Gifts (under $50)
If you have the kind of child who’d like to show off their math prowess through their room decorations, consider a math clock. I’ve seen numerous clocks through the years that replace the numbers with calculations of varying difficulty. My best friend at school has one that uses the squares of 1 through 12. There are many variations, but I really like the one above I’ve linked to on Amazon. It sells for around $25.
With nearly a perfect score of 5 based on hundreds of reviews, Quirkle is one of the highest rated board games on Amazon. It requires logical thinking, strategy, and encourages the kinds of logical thinking skills every budding mathematicians needs. It’s won numerous awards including a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and a Mensa Select National Competition award, and it’s currently selling on Amazon for under $20.
This game took over my social circle for a while, with just about every social gathering revolving around it for the better part of a year. Much like Quirkle, the Amazon ratings are off the charts for this one (over 400 reviews and not a single 1 star review). And while it’s not a math game per se, it does involve a lot of mathematical reasoning. Players have to try to strategize their entire game around building train routes that will maximize their scores. Bigger routes earn more points but are difficult to complete. The game description recommends 8 and older, and that sounds about right to me. Ticket to Ride really is just as fun for an 8 year old as a 38 year old.
Set allows multiple players to compete against one another in order to make sets of 3 cards that all have the same (or all different) characteristics. The game is great for tuning up logical thinking skills, the kinds of logical grouping that is important in many areas of math, including geometry. Fair warning, the game is addictive, and I have found that kids can get very competitive, and a little bit loud, while playing.
I love Yahtzee. It’s a great way to practice simple arithmetic like addition and multiplication, but also to get kids to start to think about probability. Also, it’s a lot of fun. I have a lot of great memories of playing Yahtzee with my family growing up. Travel Yahtzee is cheap enough (about $10 on Amazon) and small enough to be a great math stocking stuffer this holiday season.
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