Math Busking

Bev Caswell’s AQ Course math busking on the streets of Toronto.

What is Math Busking?

Math busking is a way of inspiring an appreciation for math by making it more accessible and inclusive to a wide range of people. Infused with playfulness, energy, and enthusiasm, math buskers provide large scale, hands-on activities that invite audience participation and engagement with mathematical ideas.

Math Busking Activities

We have gathered a number of math busking activities for you to take math to the streets, or to your school playground, or to use in your school’s math night. These activities can be used as a great starting place to inspire inquiry in your classroom. We often hear students asking: “How does that work?” “What will happen if…?”  “Let me try that again…” 

This game demonstrates number multiples and patterns. Two players, taking turns, must choose to take one, two or three clothes pins (one of which holds a $20 bill) at a time from a group of 12. The $20 bill pin must be left until last, and the winner is the person who takes the lucrative pin on their turn. 

(Game courtesy of The Globe and Mail)

The challenge is to arrange 7 straws all the same length to create 3 separate pens for 3 toy animals.

In this “mind reading” activity, the busker offers to guess the number of the month upon which an audience member’s birthday falls.

This activity can be used to inspire inquiry into place value systems (e.g., the binary system), doubling numbers, the powers of two, and patterning.

Magic Squares
Download Instructions

READ about the Magic Square Exhibit offered in 2010 at Toronto’s Textile Museum.
Click HERE to learn more about the Magic Squares.

In this activity, numbers 1 to 9 are arranged in a 3 by 3 grid. Each row, column, and diagonal of the magic square must have equal sums. This math puzzle has an interesting cultural history. Magic squares used in textiles become culturally significant objects. Popular culture math games such as Sudoku and Ken Ken feature magic squares. 

Tower of Hanoi
Download Instructions

Click HERE for an interactive version of the Tower of Hanoi.

Our version of the classic math puzzle – The Tower of Hanoi – involves transferring a complete stack of boxes from one of three sites to another so that it arrives in the same formation. The puzzle involves moving only one box at a time and never a larger one onto a smaller one. For our version of the Tower of Hanoi puzzle, Susan London-McNab painted and numbered a stack of cardboard boxes, making it a very inviting activity for even the most hesitant audience member.

Bring out the large calculators to test out calculator tricks with numbers!

This game has been used with great results at the University of Toronto’s Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study Laboratory School. It was introduced to me by Lab School Teachers – Julie Comay and Carol Stephenson in my OISE math course in the summer of 2011. It has been modified a little to work in a Montessori classroom and it is now a standard part of the classroom, ready to take from the shelf when the children wish to use it.

Sara Santo’s team of maths buskers in Southbank, London, England.

A little background…

“Math busking” (as it is called in England) was developed by Sara Santos, a fellow at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and a team of university undergrads, teachers, and doctoral students who decided to use street performance as a way “to show the public the surprising and fascinating side of mathematics” through “maths busking”.

Click HERE to read more about “maths busking”.
READ the August 4, 2010 Globe and Mail article,  “A new take on Newton: making numbers a game”