“Welcome to the secret world of mathematicians … Mathematicians play. They come up with interesting questions and investigate possible solutions,” say authors Rebecca Rapoport and J.A. Yoder about their recently published book, “Math Lab,” which presents shapes, puzzles and games and invites hands-on participation.“Math Lab” — which is aimed at 6- to 10-year-olds who may want to develop “skills in math, science, engineering, writing and well, life” — has numerous exercises that only require items available around the house: toothpicks, gumdrops, paper (assorted colors), string, pencil, tape … and, of course, a curious kid with a bit of parental assistance, when needed.Along the way, an interesting vocabulary will grow: octahedron, dodecahedron, Mobius, parabola, fractal — and one can learn the ancient game of Nim.The book grew out of an after-school STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) center the authors helped to build. Illustrations are colorful and projects are clearly explained, step by step. It would definitely be best to begin at the beginning and work up to the more complex shapes later, no matter how swell they look — followed by puzzles and games.With colored chalk, a broom and string, one can draw giant circles and ellipses on a sidewalk or driveway — and perhaps create a game or grand design. With a needle and colored thread, one can stitch parabolas into elaborate stars. With colored paper, scissors, ruler and a triangle template you have made previously, you can build a complex Sierpinski Triangle.At the back of the book, there is also a pattern for Tangrams, which can offer endless diversion. With each lab is a section of instructions, colorful illustration and, sometimes, a “Think About It” phrase and/or a related activity.A 6-year-old will almost certainly need a patient assistant, while an older child, with adequate motor skills, will be able to follow directions leading to some really sophisticated and beautiful shapes — both flat and three-dimensional — as well as a collection of new games to share with friends.The authors express the thought early on that “Real math is so much more about curiosity and experimentation than most people realize.” Some additional resources and their website are included as well, as kids learn to play with math.“Math Lab” is a large, sturdy trade paperback book, published by Quarto Publishing’s Quarry Books division. ($24.99)
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