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Math Education Toys

Ask Slashdot: Math-Related Present For a Bright 10-Year-Old? 238

peetm writes: I have an above averagely bright nephew, aged 10, who's into maths and whose birthday is coming up soon. I'd like to get him a suitable present – most likely one that's mathematically centred. At Christmas we sat together while I helped him build a few very simple Python programs that 'animated' some simple but interesting maths, e.g., we built a factorial function, investigated the Collatz conjecture (3n + 1 problem) and talked about, but didn't implement Eratosthenes' Sieve – one step too far for him at the moment perhaps. I've looked about for books that might blend computing + maths, but haven't really found anything appropriate for a 10-year-old. I should be indebted to anyone who might suggest either a suitable maths book, or one that brings in some facet of computing. Or, if not a book, then some other present that might pique his interest.
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Ask Slashdot: Math-Related Present For a Bright 10-Year-Old?

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  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @01:31PM (#51374683)

    haven't really found anything appropriate for a 10-year-old.

    Don't buy something appropriate for a 10 year old. Buy something appropriate for a 15 year old, and let him grow into it as opposed to him growing out of it.

    • Agree... Something for a 10-15 year old. I would try an antique graphing / programmable calculator. You get math, graphs, rudimentary programming, and that antique cool factor.
    • by Sid314 ( 3462141 )
      But then you run the risk of pushing him away from Math altogether if it's too challenging. Source: I'm a father.
    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      Couple of things to look for products that might be appropriate...

      The metric system was built to allow simple conversions, with 1:1 relationships between energy, mass, volume, temperature, etc. Something like that could be handy as it explains those relationships if it plays with them.

      For me, physics-through-calculus was a lot better than physics as taught by the high school physics program. Specifically we learned how distance, velocity, and acceleration are derivatives. This is a real-world appli
      • This is a real-world application for the math, and being able to see how the math actually does something in real life makes it a lot more fun to learn it.

        I couldn't agree more. This is why I did much better in physics than I did in math, where a lot of the algebra was the same. Plugging in real-world values into the formulas and working them out was much more exciting to me because I was dealing with values relating to actual real-world things.

    • Right, I bought my kid a signed firest edition of Newton's Principia in the original Klingon

      • Right, I bought my kid a signed firest edition of Newton's Principia in the original Klingon

        as an american, obviously it's time for the dad to buy the kid a gun

    • Agreed, as I posted here [] ...

      - - -

      I don't have any recommendations for the 10 year old, but in a few years I'd recommend these around ages ~12-18, give or take a few.

      This is a great math/philosophy book disguised as a comic book.
      * Logicomix: An epic search for truth []

      This is a fun computer science, math, philosophy, linguistics book:
      * Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid [] (stupid /. can't even display an umlaut o)

      As is this one:
      * An Adventurer's Guide to Number Theory []

      A mostly dry theoretica

    • How about a checker board or a chess board?

      Encourages social interaction as well as the understanding of conditional situations.

  • Robo Rally (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @01:32PM (#51374699)

    Look for Robo Rally. It is a programming-based multi-player hands-on board game that is much more fun than the simpler Robot Turtles.

  • Donald Knuth's old, little known book 'Surreal numbers' is quite good. http://www-cs-faculty.stanford... []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wish someone had given this to me when I was ten. It is so simple and I am awful at it. I imagine that a ten year old could get pretty good pretty quickly

  • Men of Mathematics by E. T. Bell.
  • Maybe get him a book about Wolfarm Alpha []?

    It seems like he can explore an awful lot of maths there at his own pace.

    Failing that, is there some kind of "advanced maths for the aspiring tween" book which exists? (Obviously if you knew that you wouldn't be asking)

  • Her dad has a love of maths and is a lecturer in a local university maths department. She writes about how he encouraged her interest in maths at a young age and about her own research.
    In Code: A Mathematical Journey
    by Sarah Flannery []
  • Instead of cake, you could get him a 1 radian slice of pie.

  • Rubik's cube (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @01:48PM (#51374815) Homepage Journal
    My son, who decided to ace the math portion of the SAT, spends time with a Rubik's cube.
    • one of these is half the price (five quid) and performs way better than the official Rubik's cubes. []

    • I also aced the math section of the SAT. (2006)

      I also never played with a Rubiks Cube. However, I did play a lot of turn-based RPGs starting around age nine and was fascinated with the underlying mathematics.

      I also think these activities played a minor role in both my and your son's ability to get a good score on a standardized test, and have more served as a platform for tooting our respective horns on a public forum on which neither of us know anyone personally.
  • for a desktop computer or a smartphone/tablet. Being able to start to organize mathematical calculations for the likes of area of a circle and volume of a sphere or cube and carry out those calculations are well within the ability of a 10 year old who is interested. Then you move on to Wolfram, spreadsheets and such.

  • This is the perfect present for any math-inspired individual. Teach him how to hit a target a mile away, he'll need to not only know math but must take in account wind, weather, speed and trajectory.
  • More programming than math, but they are related:

    The book Coding Games in Scratch []

    I highly recommend this book. It's very well illustrated and self explanatory. My 7 & 10 year olds devoured this book.

    They also enjoyed a minecraft programming course I subscribed to for them for a year: Learn to mod []

  • Get him a book on how math is used for amazing things or a book on "math tricks" (also called "number sense").

    Get one written at his reading level "plus a year or two" - he may have difficulty reading it today but he'll come back to it later.

  • Some thoughts:

    Ultimately, maths, despite its abstract nature, is a human endeavour practised by humans. Humans have emotions. They like fun, joy, beauty etc. and dislike boredom. Once somebody dislikes maths, forcing them to learn can make them dislike it a lot, and quickly. Thus the fun and joy part are of critical importance. Knowing the territory where the child is exploring, and being able to guide them gently, but let them explore, is important.

    Some books like Ian Stewart's 'Cabinet of curiosities' and

  • by spaceman375 ( 780812 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @01:54PM (#51374859)
    How about Kerbal Space Program []? The physics simulation is spot on. Folks from NASA (including Randall Munroe []) to Elon Musk recommend it, yet it's also great for kids.
  • You could get him that famous Barbie doll that says "Math is hard!"

  • An abacus.
  • I know its a bit of a stretch but math loves physics...What I got as a poor child growing up at christmas was the best a loving parent could offer: a set of two hydrogens and an oxygen.

    Oh I had fun all day long with those little atoms. I lent my friends the hydrogens and kept that oxygen for months, categorizing its weight and marveling at its gaseous nature. Right up until mom decided I should share it with my sister and the last thing i remember after an argument about splitting it was one hell of a b
  • A pythagoras (greedy) cup or a klein bottle would do nicely.
  • How about getting him Tool's album Lateralus. It's concept is based on several mathematic principles. Though, this might be something you'd want to give him when he's older. https://scholarhero.wordpress.... []
  • Get him is a computer and install PARI [].

    PARI is a command-line calculator for exploring mathematics. It's got *lots* of high-level math functions and commands and uses high precision arithmetic (you can set it to use 5 million digit numbers, for example).

    For example: type factor(20345) and it will print out the factors of that number.

    PARI will let him explore mathematics concepts, and if he's at all interested in mathematics he'll see the commands, research what they are for and how they are relevant, and pe

    • I was not aware of that program. I would like to offer a python alternative, a set of number theory functions written by Wm Stein. You can find a copy on github: []

      I would argue that seeing how these are computed using fairly short python code gives an appreciation for how things happen. For example, you can see that factor can be implemented using a few lines of python:

      def factor(n): ... comments were here
      if n in [-1, 0, 1]: return []

  • I did learn to program around 10 or 11, but i really needed a physical model until I was around 13, and did not do any independent programming until I was 14. The thing with math and programming is that it is algorithmic, and rules that are enforced must more loosely in life are enforced rather more precisely. This is difficult to get across to a kid who is still focused on testing boundaries rather than accepting limits. For example recently I had a kid tell me that the computer was broken because he coul
  • Get a raspberry pi. It comes with mathematica and should last all the way through graduate school (but works down to kindergarten). Seriously, had mathematica been available when I was going through university, it would have saved me tousands of hours of tedious work. I had a physics prof who reproduced one of his grad student's theses work from a decade earlier in a day something that it took the student two years to do by hand.
  • It will challenge him and his curiosity for a google while. And eventually he can make the transition for using it as a consumer with Android to more advanced uses.
  • Maybe it's just me but when I was a young teen I was amazed at fractal exploration software. In those days it took ages to draw, might have been part of the fun, but they were just so cool. I don't have mathematical prowess but I'd think anyone who did would be at the very least intrigued by fractals.

    Perhaps some fractal software and a copy of Mandelbrot's Book [] would be a good gift?

  • by meloneg ( 101248 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @02:27PM (#51375243)

    Almost anything written by Martin Gardner should be approachable by a math-favoring 10-year-old. Anything from puzzle books to essays about famous mathematicians.

    • by ahto ( 108308 )

      Seconded, from my own experience.

    • Gardner's Mathematical Games columns in Scientific American used to be some of my favorite reading. Gardner published a number of books that are collections of these columns.

      Highly recommended.
  • by call -151 ( 230520 ) * on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @02:32PM (#51375287) Homepage

    There are a bunch of good Martin Gardner books to consider. A couple of possibilities are:

    • "Entertaining Mathematical Puzzles" has a great range of puzzles across a range of topics
    • "Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing" though not explicitly about math, has lots of good engaging content. Kids of that age often love codes.
    • Various "Aha" /"Gotcha" series ones
    • various logic puzzle ones

    These are generally good in that they encourage mathematical thinking and analysis and don't rely much on prerequisite material. And they are well done, with a good playful attitude about things. And they are often Dover books and reasonably priced, as well!

  • The Art of Problem Solving [] is an online self-teaching maths website with a really strong focus on curriculum quality. So if the kid likes maths, you can let them learn more of it!

    Here's one discussion of 9 year olds [] using the sites successfully.

  • Go is a wonderful board game that can offer endless depths of logical thinking skills.
  • Get him Ivan Niven's The Mathematics of Choice (How to Count Without Counting). Most computer nerds never heard of this one, and may not get the relevance, but I think it is totally appropriate for young teens. I read it in high school when I was 14 or 15. And yes, this is the best recommendation you will receive today. It's a basic, extremely well-written combinatorics book, so you can read the book yourself and create interesting programming problems for him for reinforcement. Don't deny your nephew
  • Just a suggestion that you might want to widen your horizon a bit. Most of what you've been doing is related to number theory. You might consider topology (mobius strips), geometry (compass and ruler), real numbers (show pi is irrational), platonic solids (wikipedia has some you can print, cut out, and fold), zeno's paradoxes (there a many), probability (die rolls and coin tosses), and almost any basic physics demonstration.
  • Asimov on numbers.

    Recreational mathematics Yakov Perelman

  • How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff [] is an old but classic work that everyone should read. Its lessons about the ways that statistics are misused are as relevant as ever today. I read it in junior high school, but a bright 10-year-old should have no problem grasping it. It has entertaining cartoon-style illustrations, which help.

  • Many of the Manga guides are good. Biochemistry is the best ( The statistics one is good too but probably a little beyond most bright 10-year-olds. An interesting math book is Math Girls ( - it sort of has a plot but its more math than story. There are some good kids programming books like Python for Kids (
  • Get him a soccer ball or something off-topic. He's gifted in math, give him something fun outside of that to do. A drone?
  • Magic the Gathering, something you can DO together, and requires a fair bit of math, critical thinking and creativity.
    Or this game "Spectromancer" [], which requires a fair bit of basic math (addition, multiplication over x-turns).
    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      Playing Monopoly properly requires quite a bit of maths.
      Mortgaging is the obvious one. But the biggest one is how to decide where to build : you may need to take into account the position of other players (and know that a 7 will fall much more often than a 12), whether it is better to build a lot on cheap property or less on expensive property, the risks, etc...

  • How bout a toy he might enjoy like a Star Wars action figure.

  • The Gardener and Perelman books already recommended by other commenters are good, as I can confirm based on my own experience. Though not tested on my younger self (too old for that), the books by Al Sweigart [], especially the one about crypto, also look good if you want some math designed to be implemented on a computer.
  • "The Number Devil" is a very good kids' book that our family has enjoyed and has been gifted to lots of friends' and relatives' kids. []

    Even for ideas that were already know to myself, the presentation of them is fun. The framing story of a child who does not enjoy math class but is excited when meeting the titular devil character is not particularly suprising, but the whole thing is quite enjoyable.

  • The book, "You Can Count on Monsters" might be interesting. At 10, this might be nearing the edge of being too simple, but it's a book about prime numbers, factors, multiplication, sets, etc., presented with the numbers as monsters, with multiple visual depictions of how to imagine the numbers. For instance, the 6-monster is a combination of the 2-monster and the 3-monster, visually demonstrating that 6 is a combination of 3 and 2, whereas every prime number monster is visually distinct.

  • Buy him a box of Smarties.
    He can count them. And eat them.

  • As previously mentioned
    fencing lessons (or any martial art really)
    slide rule, but get something nicer than a "student" model

    Add in Arduino or some other microcontroller that has a practical interface. Get the development kit.

    Model aviation is a blast. Free flight, control line, remote control, drones, rocketry, they are all good and I recommend all of them. I find control line most satisfying, but have flown all of these. I fly RC about as much as control line. I currently do not do rockets but this wi

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      "Applied ballistics are pretty fun".
      Archery, ball sports, golf, tennis, etc. are good choices. Get the kid outside and being a kid.

  • That was the epitome of geeky and awesome when I was in 5th grade.

  • Like Top Spin. We used it in my undergrad Abstract Algebra. The assignment was to define the Algebra of the game so that anyone could pick it up and solve it in the lease number of steps. We had 3 days to complete the assignments.

    Any puzzle which can then be used as a door way to higher Math while being fun to a 10 year old.

  • Ask him what he wants for his birthday and get him that.
  • Gift a journal for a monthly fun - math, popular science, computing ...
    I am a [] subscriber; the magazine is newcomer-friendly, covering stuff like games, programming, Raspberry Pi, history... By coincidence, Oct 2015 issue teaches (python) profiling on prime numbers and the sieve method served as an example.
  • There is only one book that he needs.
    Abramowitz and Stegun - Handbook of Mathematical Functions.
    A printed copy is about $30. Or get him the pdf for free.

  • []
    Then, each year, you can give him more parts to build the Analytical Engine.
  • Try the Murderous Maths series of paperbacks, available as a fairly cheap box set. They have a light-hearted presentation covering a variety of maths fields and actually go quite far into some of the more interesting/harder aspects. They're similar to the Horrible Histories series. My kids found that very interesting at a similar age.
    • by dbc ( 135354 )

      Came here to say that. I absolutely recommend the Murderous Maths books. Other good books: The Number Devil, and The Life of Fred. Those were all top favorites of my daughter at that age, who considers herself a fan of all things mathematical.

      It is also good for math-loving kids to spend time with other math-loving kids. Here on this side of the pond you can find Math Circles in some communities, which I take it is an idea that the Russian immigrants brought over with them a few years ago. Also, my daug

  • I believe it was Paul Erdos who said he never met a number [integer] that wasnt interesting in some way. I saw a book that went through all the integers from 1 to 1000. There is a new one from another author that just does 1 through 10.
  • My nephew was into conjuring tricks when he was coming up to 9, and a lot of conjuring tricks have a mathematical basis. I gave him some non-transitive dice []. Some of the other stuff which that site sells is also targetted at mathematically inclined children.

  • Get outside. A smart kid will spend enough time indoors.

  • I can suggest two books.

    "The World of Mathematics" is a four-volume set edited by James R. Newman. This might be somewhat dated, but it should still be relevant. Besides mathematical essays, the set also contains biographies of mathematicians and histories of mathematical concepts.

    Any book by Martin Gardiner, who wrote the monthly "Mathematical Games" column for "Scientific American" magazine for 25 years. See [] and [].

    While some of the conte

  • Do mathematicians not scribble out their thoughts on whiteboards / blackboards anymore? Bonus for gridded sections.

  • if the boy is so incredibly technically oriented, he probably lacks in his social areas and artistic sides. Rather than pushing him more into his math-freak corner, which he would probably reach without much help, I would give him something that would help him play with other kids, rather than a computer. Something like a football, a skateboard, a guitar or mini-keyboard (music and math have a lot in common), or a kids bike.

    I am by no means implying that this is the case with your nephew, but I find it amaz

  • It is a collection of Isaac Asimov's non-fiction essays about Mathematics, published in book form in 1977.

    Clear, concise writing, covering topics as diverse as the history of mathematical disocoveries, the concept behind zero, pi, imaginary numbers, infinity (and beyond).


    I enjoyed those when I was younger, and it should keep him entertained for some time.
  • I recommend M. P. doCarmo's "Differential Geometry of Curves and Surfaces" (Prentice Hall, 1976). It's pretty intuitive, and it restricts to |R^3, so you don't need tensors or graded algebras to understand it.

Kiss your keyboard goodbye!