Neighborhood Math: Thinking, Noticing, and Wondering


Last spring, I was fortunate enough to attend the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) annual meeting in San Diego. I left the conference with new ideas and connections – and also this fantastic sticker, which is on the back of my math notebook. It’s true – I’m always noticing and wondering.


It’s hard for me to go for a walk around our neighborhood without getting distracted by all the rich math around us. Recently I walked over to Rainbow Grocery to pick up some fruit and was amazed at the numbers and patterns I saw in the produce area. These plums invite  an open-ended question with many possible answers: What do you see here? You might notice a variety of additive combinations, see that three groups of three makes 9. Or maybe your eyes are drawn irresistibly to the shape of the group of plums on the left, which brings up all kinds of ideas to explore: square numbers, the attributes of a square (is this a square or not? why?), and symmetry, just to name a few.


On my way back from Rainbow, I passed the City Lights lighting store and found the most interesting pattern of numbers in the lighting fixtures on display. I wonder if you see what I did – I noticed that all of the lighting fixtures on display had an odd numbers of bulbs, and I wondered why that was. This led to a question about how odd and even numbers are used in design, which I’m going to research to see if I can uncover any patterns.


Then I passed by these three doors and thought what an interesting puzzle these street numbers make. What are the missing digits, and how do you know? What else can we notice and wonder here? If I think the middle one is 1627, then where is 1628? Which made me wonder how street numbers were distributed. What number do they start with? What do they end with? What does it look like on my block in Berkeley?


And then I got an email from Chantal Guillon, the bakery around the corner, with this image, which I had to share with the PKS faculty and staff – how many salted caramel macarons do they make in a month? Even middle school head Mike Levy’s cheeky response (“Three. The picture makes it very easy.”) brought mathematical wonderings to mind. Fifth grade teacher Li Laoshi and I decided to investigate further by taking a field trip over to Chantal Guillon to measure the height of one macaron to help us answer our question (and of course we had to sample one too while we were there).  

At PKS, we believe that math (like everything we teach)  is not something that lives isolated in a classroom. Our goal is to get our students to take the ideas that we discuss in school and notice and wonder about them in their daily lives. I’d like to invite you and your family to explore math in the PKS neighborhood (and your own as well), and share some of what you think, notice, and wonder. Share your pictures, your questions, and your ideas during the month of October. There will be a poster board on display during morning drop-off and in the afternoon during pick-up where you can post your findings directly, or submit them to me by email. I am looking forward to your discoveries!