Math Community Night - St Andrews Public School, Toronto - 27 February, 2014

The Math Community Night was organized by the students and teachers at St Andrews PS, to share surprising math ideas with the wider community (such as, "you can hold infinity in your hands", parallel lines can meet", and "odd numbers hide in squares"). The evening was also sponsored by the Random Acts of Math project.

Mathematician and author Manil Suri (University of Maryland Baltimore) visited St. Andrews PS and took questions from students and parents at the end of the Math Community Night. Here is one of Manil Suri's comments about the evening:

"Thanks for putting it together. I wouldn't have believed some of the things I saw if I hadn't witnessed them with my own eyes. That math night with all the parents crowding around to be explained things by the kids - simply amazing! And it was great to be able to play the role of the "mathemagician" who can answer any question. Plus, the kids were so endearing - I'm glad you're hundreds of miles away, otherwise, I'd be spending too much time coming over to do more math with them."

Here is Manil Suri's Q&A.

Questions asked:

1. [0:05] Why did they choose North for a compass to point to. Why were South, East or West not chosen?
2. [0:37] If parallel lines meet, are they really parallel lines anymore?
3. [2:32] Other than math, do mathematicians have any other interests?
4. [3:22] When can 2 + 2 = 5?
5. [3:53] Can you please share some unconventional methods of learning or understanding math basics other than bookish?
6. [4:29] We now know that odd numbers hide in squares. Where do mathematicians hide?
7. [5:06] Who created multiplication?
8. [6:02] What skill or strand is most important for this generation of kids, to take them into the future?
9. [6:57] Does pi go on forever?
10. [8:42] Would 3.333... eventually become a whole?
11. [9:43] Is zero and odd or an even number?
12. [10:34] How do calculators work?
13. [11:30] How were numbers created?
14. [12:51] Are calculators always right?
15. [13:57] Why are there pluses and equals between numbers like when you write 1 + 1?
16. [14:58] Isn't that BEDMAS where brackets go first and exponents second?



At the STEAM event in Kitchener, ON

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) Event
Kitchener City Hall – Civic Square
Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Leah Payerl reports:

  • One boy had shared with me how much he LOVED math and was excited to think about the riddle. His mom informed me that math is his favourite subject in school, and that he is often looking to be challenged. I asked him what he knew about parallel lines, he shared that they are usually straight, and never meet. He was able to point out many examples on the ground, fountain, and City Hall building surrounding us. I told him that this riddle may challenge him to think differently about parallel lines than he has in the past – he was about to learn something totally NEW! He and his mom read the story and continued to consider the riddle. With prompts such as: where on the earth could this be possible? He eventually solved the riddle. He was so thrilled that he encouraged his cousin to come over to our table, use the same “toolkit” and attempt to solve the riddle, too. He said he couldn’t wait to tell his teachers in September.



Katlin Ralph in St. Marys - Southwestern Ontario News - 17 April, 2013



Jalyssa Steinmann in New Hamburg - New Hamburg Independent - 20 March, 2013


I was at my uncle's 60th birthday party

I was at my uncle's 60th birthday party this weekend and I decided to bring this story and mini globe along ... just in case! Luckily I did! I met two children (who I discovered were my 4th cousins) Andrew and Allyson. They asked me what I was holding and I told them "A story! Would you like to hear it?" and they both said "yes!"

Before I read the story, I asked them what they know about parallel lines. Allyson said that they were two lines, and showed me with her fingers =, and I asked "Do they ever touch?" and she said "No" so I said let's read the story and find out.

I asked the children what they learned and they said they know that parallel lines could meet, just like the ones on the globe. Allyson understood that the bear was white, while Andrew wanted to read the story again ... but in French.

Allyson wants to tell her teacher about parallel lines, and Andrew is going to tell his tutor. They also taught their mom the same night and when they asked if parallel lines meet and their mom said "No" they actually explained why to het and saw the "Aha!" moment in her eyes.

They loved hearing the story. Andrew is in grade 5 and Allyson in grade 3. I read the book with lots of expressions and funny voices which they really loved! We started saying "petite cochon" instead of "little pig" and they loved that! I showed them the globe just as we read about it in the book. After the story I read them the riddle, which they enjoyed, and then we asked each other to find different parts of the world on the lobe.

I really enjoyed doing this with students who are actually young! I think they really enjoyed my math "lesson"!



At the Public Library

  • Read about Leah Payerl at the Forest Heights Library, in Kitchener
  • This is really neat. Where can I get more of these activities? I’ve been looking for ways to teach my son and help him understand math. (Parent)
  • I am excited to do this activity with my daughter, she struggles in math.
  • I think the literature connection is great. I hope that it will make math more relatable for my children.
  • That is so cool that parallel lines meet on the globe. I never would have guessed it.
  • Ahhh, I know I know, the bear is white. Molly’s tent is at the north pole !
  • I can’t wait to try this riddle with my dad. I don’t think he’ll be able to figure it out and I will be able to help him!
  • The globe was a great hint. It really helped to visualize the concept
  • That was fun. Do you have another riddle?
  • That really surprised me. I didn’t think that parallel lines met.
  • Thank you for sharing with me and my two daughters.  All of us learned something new today. I am excited to go home and read the story with them later and talk about the riddle more.
  • Wow. It’s great that the story is also in French because my daughter is in French immersion. 
  • Wow. I didn’t think that complex math concepts could be taught to children. This is great.
  • This riddle was fun. I thought the bear was yellow but it’s white. (Student)
  • I can’t wait to share this riddle with my friends and my teacher. (Student)
  • My favourite part was that on parallel lines don’t meet but on a globe they do at the North and South Pole. (Student)
  • Wow. Thank you so much for this riddle. (Student)
  • This activity is fantastic. I love how it takes a math and makes it at a children’s level. There should be more of these activities.  (Parent)
  • Molly has to go in a triangle. She won’t get back to her tent if she goes in a square [sees the globe on the table] Wait, Molly was at the North Pole and the lines on a globe are parallel-it makes a triangle. (Student-grade 5)
  • Cool. I was right. It makes a triangle. (Student)
  • We look forward to doing this on our day off tomorrow
  • My daughter has always struggled with math. I am excited to try this with her and see if it helps her understand math better!
  • Wow! I love how this math activity incorporates a story. This makes it easier for children to relate to!
  • What a creative way to do math!
  • Wow, this is neat. My daughter has started asking me more complex math questions about things like infinity and I didn't think that I could answer them and help her. Now I know it must be possible. We are very excited to receive the next activity and book in the mail. Thank you so much for doing this with her. She loves math already but I have never seen her this engaged in it before.
  • This is a very neat activity. My son isn't often one to enjoy school but this activity with the riddle component clearly interests him.
  • I didn't think that parallel lines ever met. I am going to share this with my friends.
  • Wow, I didn't think the riddle would be this challenging. Why does school only teach us that parallel lines never meet?
  • This is a really cool activity. I don't like math but I think I would like it more if it had activities like this!
  • You're silly. Parallel lines never meet. ... After the activity: Wow, they meet at the North Pole. I can't believe it!
  • These are really neat activities. I am looking forward to doing them with my two kids over again. It is really hard to find activities that they're interested in and challenge them.
  • Thank you so much for these activities. My daughter loves math. I hope her interest in these activities will help her brother become more interested.
  • Wow. I am going to spread the word about these activities. They're great. Thank you for offering this !
  • These are great activities. Thanks for the effort with my son. He's had very negative experiences in math so far. I hope these activities will help give him some confidence.
  • "The bear is brown because it was muddy, and Molly slipped and thought she was running back north when she actually ran north east back to her tent"
  • "Molly went to a different tent"
  • "When does the math start?"...the kids had so much fun that they didn't even know it was math!
  • Parent on Tokyo to New York activity: "This makes so much more sense to me now. When we went to Australia, we flew up to Alaska to refuel, then to Hong Kong, and then to Alaska. This now makes sense because if I pull the rope taught from here to Australia, it makes sense the we flew through Alaska (which is up) and then honk kong, when you would think you would just fly south.  I thought the pilot was lost!"



The entire family got involved

  • We enjoyed talking and learning about parallel lines. The kids (and my husband and I) originally thought it was not possible to end up back at the tent.  That's what we were taught of course. However, looking at the globe we realized that parallel lines do meet at the north pole. The entire family got involved and it even carried over into a discussion as we went for a drive. It was fun getting everyone's point of view. At first it didn't seem right that parallel lines could meet so one of our daughters got frustrated and gave up. We told her to google it (since they do that for everything anyway:)
    The globe was very helpful and encouraged discussion. It must be possible. Just look at the lines.
  • My kids loved the globe. So excited to be able to keep it. They can use it to teach others the concept. They said "I like the 3-D ball!". My older son liked that the riddle stumped him. He liked the challenge of it. They liked learning about math in story format.
  • The story was fun and having the globe as a prop was great. It was a fun way to learn without feeling like we were learning. 
  • The bilingual nature of the story was much appreciated as my children learn math in French as part of their French immersion program they attend.
  • The bear was white because Molly was at the North Pole. That picture from the riddle fools you.


I can't wait to surprise my mom with the riddle

  • I can’t wait to surprise my mom with the riddle!
  • Wow, that’s a really good riddle. I enjoyed this activity (Grade 3 student).
  • I’ve never thought of parallel lines in this way. I was sure that they wouldn’t meet. (grade 4 student)
  • Cool ! Parallel lines on a sphere form a triangle.
  • I didn’t think that Molly could make it back to her tent but on the globe she does.
  • After asking: Where do the lines meet?, a four year old responded: at the North Pole. It was a winter bear (polar bear).
  • I love the use of interdisciplinary perspectives, use of language with math, literature with math, art with math. Breaking paradigms! Thank you!
  • This was a very cool way to learn math with family! The videos were slow for this age group. It required lots of interaction with adults to keep engagement, which is Great! Shared with our neighbour and they thought it was obvious that the Wolf would meet up with the Pig (in the story). They enjoyed learning about the shortest distance when travelling around the world.
  • I think this project is a great way to explain math. It shows that math can be applied in a variety of settings. He didnèt know that parallel lines meet. I explained the video and he thought it was neat. He learned that parallel lines meet on a sphere.
  • Itès cool because I get to keep an awsome world globe! I learned that parallel lines meet. I think it would be more illustrative if the Piggy (in the story) had a flat map of the worled showing how the lines do not meet prior to looking at the globe. Great activity! Some people were surprised because they didn't think parallel lines could ever meet. Others said they already knew (Grandpa).
  • Very cool! It gets the students to think outside the "box" which is great.
  • Mathematicians are fun and they are team workers. They are problem solvers.
  • Parallel lines - if they are going like a train track they will never meet. But parallel lines on s sphers will meet.
  • May daughter thinks it's a fun way to learn. She likes stories that teach. We learned that parallel lines don't have to be straight to be parallel. We also learned that parallel lines meet at the north and south poles. We realized things are much more than what they appear, if we use our minds to explore the possibilities. We shared the story with our neighbour. He thought it was cool that the earth's curvature could bend parallel lines to come together. We all learned that lines can intersect and still be parallel on a certain shape. I learned that geometry on a flat surface is different than geometry on a sphere. Also I learned that mathematicians enjoy solving problems!
  • Interesting method to explain the concept (of parallel lines on a sphere) to young children. My daughter understood by using a common story to illustrate the big idea. I learnes to use common concepts/stories/themes to enhance my child's comprehension. Shared with Grandma and she agreed it was a great way to introduce the concept to children.
  • Grade 3 student: I thought it was very interesting. I learned a lot about parallel lines on different surfaces. There is a difference between parallel lines on a flat surface and on a sphere. A straight line will show the shortest distance between two points. Longitude lines are straight but latitude lines are not going to give the shortest distance on a sphere. mathematicians are very smart. They back up their results with proof.
  • I think it's a great way to make math fun and interesting for kids rather than just a tough subject in school. It allows them to see how math applies to the real world. We both learned that parallel lines do meet at the poles! I've never considered this and the globe was a great idea to help the kids visualize this. I had actually started out the activity by explaining what parallel lines were and that they never meet! After reading through the Piggy story and discussing the activity we attempted teh bear riddle and Alexis (grade 3) was able to guess that the near must be white cause it would have to be a pole! We shared the activity with my sixteen year old niece who was also surprised to learn that parallel lines do meet.



Katlin's observations

  • When parents and their children came in that I recognized from session one, I asked them how they enjoyed the activity and the book and if they were able to share it with someone. They all loved the story and found it very practical and a great way to introduce the concept and those who had taken the chance to share enjoyed doing so. The person with whom they shared was surprised and enjoyed the riddle.
  • A boy and his sister participated in the activity and then they went and started sharing the riddle with their mom in their maternal language.
  • A first year university student did the riddle on her break while she was working at the library. She loved it so much that after lunch she brought back her two younger siblings to do the activity. After doing the activity, the two sisters went to a nearby table and started reading the story right away.
  • Went to my boyfriend’s dad’s 50th birthday get together and I did the activity with one of my boyfriend’s cousins (Grade 4). She loved the activity and had fun sharing it with the other family members at the get together.



Big party, small party - at the Public Library

I had cut out squares of foam and pom poms for the chairs. I set up one of the arrangements and invited children and their parents to figure out the other two arrays. As we created different arrays of 16 tables, I asked them if the number of chairs would remain the same. The general response was yes. Children were very surprised when they counted the number of chairs after to find that they were different in each array. We then had a mini discussion about what array would be best for a small party and a big party and the connection to area and perimeter.

Interesting comments that were made:

  • Wow, this is soooo cool.
  • I'm so glad we didn't come to the library yesterday. We would have missed this fun activity. We're lucky!
  • I thought that each table arrangement would have the same number of chairs.
  • For a small party I would use a square but for a big party I would use a long rectangle.
  • I love these activities. My sisters realize that math is a lot easier and much more fun than school had allowed them to think. They are excited to do math now! (University Student)
  • This is so much fun. Why is math never fun at school for my children?
  • I am embarrassed I cannot figure out this question. I never understood area and perimeter like this in school. I wish we related it to real life like having big and small parties. It makes so much more sense.
  • My favourite part was finding out that different shape tables using the same number of tiles have different numbers and chairs. I didn't think that this would happen.
  • A square has the smallest perimeter and a long rectangle has the most. I thought the perimeter would stay the same.
  • These activities were easy and fun. I love math. It's my favourite subject in school.
  • The tables are different shapes. Of course they can't have the same number of chairs.
  • Neat ! The square gives you the smallest perimeter.
  • I think there will be 16 chairs at each of the tables because it has to be the same number as the tables.
  • Oh, I get it. The shape of the tables changes the number of chairs.
  • Can we call the tables the area and the chairs the perimeter? (Yes). I knew it ! A square has the smallest perimeter and a long rectangle has the largest.
  • Thank you for these activities. I can't wait to spend more time with my daughter doing them.
  • I am going to do these activities in my classroom. They're very neat. Thank you!