Saturday, February 4, 2017

Homeschool Math: Mathematical Map Coloring with Math Lab for Kids

We've had a lot of real-life learning this week. It's gone something like this:

  • Monday: Let's go watch a homeschool matinee of Hidden Figures with your friends, then talk about it excitedly for hours!
  • Wednesday: Let's go to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and help children in the city's after-school programs explore some of the real tools used in paleontology!
  • Thursday: Let's have our Girl Scout troop over so that you can all collaborate upon the creation of two complete Girl Scout cookie booths!
  • Friday: Let's run our first Girl Scout cookie booth of the season! I bet you've forgotten how much work it will be!
Counting in all of our extracurriculars so far this week (ballet for Syd, Uzbek class for Will, two nights at fencing for me and Will, horseback riding for Will) and the fact that while I take Will to her extracurriculars, Matt is generally out delivering Girl Scout cookies with Syd, and we've really only reliably had time each day for math, and perhaps an interesting project or two. Fortunately, I've always got an interesting project or two up my sleeve (or rather written down in my planner...), so the kids have kept their brains in gear without succumbing so far to the stress that is my February.

One project that we've all been particularly enjoying is map coloring, of all things. I had no idea, until I received this free copy of Math Lab for Kids from a publicist, that map coloring is a genuine Mathematical Thing... but is IS! And I have rapidly become completely obsessed with it.

The point of map coloring is that no adjacent pieces can have the same color. We practiced that in the first lab--

--and also practiced the tenet that you should be able to color any map with only four colors:

It's kind of like a logic problem, because although it's possible, it's by no means guaranteed that you can just start blithely coloring away with your four colors and make it work. It takes planning, and a lot of figuring out, and plenty of trial and error.

The second lab made the process easier, because it taught us the greedy algorithm, which is an actual thing. Using the greedy algorithm, we were all able to correctly color a four-color map of the United States--

--on the first try!

Because I'm mean, I then made the kids label their maps with all of the state names. I was surprised, actually, at how many Syd could label from memory--those road trips have paid off!

We do a lot of map labeling for history and geography, so my new plan is to add this map coloring element to that work. The kids love it, and it sneaks in plenty of logic and fine motor practice--and the results are so pretty!

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