Why I Created a Math Game – One Mom’s Story

Did you know that a startling 60% of college eligible students require remedial help – which they have to pay college tuition for? Studies show that kids who are falling behind in the early grades tend to stay behind through high school. And, because math builds on prior knowledge, many start 9th grade not prepared for high school level math classes.

I am a former reluctant and complaining math student. Throughout my school years I was enthusiastic about learning in most of my classes. But math never seemed to make sense to me. Sure, it was important to count and understand how to measure things and deal with money – but after a certain point, math didn’t appear to have any connection to reality. I certainly didn’t observe any adult that I knew who was actually using anything beyond the basics.

In high school, we learned about things like the relationship between the sides of a triangle, prime numbers, and even something called “imaginary numbers”! Seriously, these were numbers that the teacher admitted did not exist. (Funny, the English teachers never made us learn the meanings of words that didn’t exist.) Of course, we asked why we had to spend so much time and effort mastering these ideas and formulas – but the stock answers were, “because it will be on the test” or “because if you take higher level math or science in college, you’ll need this as a foundation”! I don’t know how we were supposed to be motivated and many of us were not. And now I know that girls especially want to know why and how a formula works, not just when to use it mechanically to get an answer the teacher assures them is correct.

Years later, when I had a daughter, I didn’t want her to have the same experience I did. I wanted to inspire her in math. With the explosion of STEM careers anticipated in the future job market, it was obvious that in the 21st century, math would be more important than ever. So I began to look for math learning toys wherever I could discover them. But one of the things I couldn’t find was a game to teach my kid how negative numbers work.

I wanted an educational toy that teaches negative numbers because I remember vividly how bizarre they seemed when I first encountered them in school. It was a mental stretch to subtract a larger number from a smaller one, or use negative numbers in multiplication! How much easier would it have been if I had a fun visual way to make it more relatable and concrete. By simplifying negative numbers into graphic form on a game board, I hope to make them fun and easy for kids. I’d like to help lay the foundation for the more complex ideas surrounding them later in their studies, and boost their self confidence in math. And, I wanted a solution for parents who want to help their kid pass math and parents who want the best possible math enrichment for their kids.

Creating and producing a learning game is never easy, but after a lot of research and design work, my game is now ready to play.  The game is simple, kids just open the box and follow the directions on the cards. (To see card samples, and learn how, see FAQS. )  And, recently, I Googled “uses for imaginary numbers” just out of curiosity. It turns out they do have real world applications – in electronics.

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What does your Education Level Say About Your Life Expectancy?

Did you know that how long you went to school can actually affect how long you live? At every level of education, there is a difference in life expectancy. This has been shown time and again in studies controlling for other factors such as income, race, and gender. Getting a high school diploma is the first step in increasing one’s statistical longevity, and the advantages above the high school level continue to increase for each year incrementally. There is a strong link between each year of post-secondary education and:

• Seat belt use
• Being a Non Smoker
• Avoiding excessive alcohol (defined as more than 5 drinks in a sitting)
• Having working smoke detectors in the home
• Having a Body Mass Index (BMI) under 30
• Getting regular colorectal screening
• Getting regular mammograms
• Access to healthcare

Even when a 4 year degree isn’t completed, there are still measurable statistical improvements from the additional schooling. For example, smoking is associated with a 6 year loss in life expectancy across the board, and for each year of education after the 12th grade, the number of smokers continues to drop. This effect is paralleled with that of overeating and heavy drinking: each year of additional education reduces their odds by a quantifiable amount. The education effect even extends to spouses: for married people, their health is affected by how educated their spouse is – the higher the spouse’s education level, the better their health.

What is particularly interesting is that the cost of the unhealthy behavior doesn’t predict the connection. For example, health insurance can be expensive even with employer assistance, and there are almost always co-pays. So it is not surprising that more educated people have health insurance – after all, their income tends to be higher and they are more likely to work for employers that assist with the cost. Lack of health insurance is a known barrier to getting adequate medical care. People who have health insurance are more likely to use preventative care that has a measurable effect on their life expectancy – but the likelihood of screenings such as mammograms is still stratified by educational level. And, there are sharp differences in people reporting being unable to see a doctor due to cost: 27% of high school dropouts, 18% of high school graduates, but only 8% of college graduates.

It’s understandable that there would be a connection between education level and access to health care. But what about practices and habits that aren’t expensive? Smoke detectors have a small cost but their implementation doesn’t follow income levels, rather, their use is predicted by educational attainment. Similarly, it’s common knowledge that wearing a seat belt saves lives, it cost nothing to buckle up, and it takes almost no time. In spite of those facts seat belt use isn’t universal, rather, it’s likelihood increases with education. Each year of formal education adds 3% to the rate of seat belt usage. And when it comes to harmful habits that clearly cost money to engage in – smoking, drinking, and overeating – they tend to be more prevalent the less formal education one has.

The association between life expectancy and educational attainment was not always so pronounced. Back in 1960, studies showed very little correlation. But perhaps it began with the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, which resulted in a clear decline in the number of educated people smoking. Since then, the amount and availability of health information to the average person has exploded. During the last 25 years, the longevity disparity based on education has increasingly expanded. In fact, the difference is widest in the youngest segment of the population and appears to be growing wider. In the 21st century, higher educational attainment is becoming more and more of an asset in increasing an individual’s life expectancy.

Further Reading: The Pay Gap Between High School & College Educated Americans is at Widest Ever

3 thoughts on “What does your Education Level Say About Your Life Expectancy?

  1. What’s scary is that so many people still drop out of high school. So, for people least likely to have health insurance they are the least likely to quit smoking and wear a seat belt?

  2. Shocking that so many people still dont wear searbelts
    I didnt know formal education had anything to do with it
    Smoking also tends to be younger when you havent finished school anyway. I wonder if they only looked at smokers over a certain age who havent quit?

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If Your Child Doesn’t Develop This, Some High Paying Career Options Will Be Denied

“[I]t has been well demonstrated that children who do not acquire number sense early in their mathematics education struggle throughout their entire subsequent school and college years, and generally find themselves cut off from any career that requires some mathematical ability”.  — Keith Devlin, Stanford Mathematician

With technology changing, tomorrow’s job market will be dramatically different than today’s.  High tech careers, which demand excellent STEM skills, will grow exponentially and many jobs that don’t require a college education will be exported to lower wage countries – or replaced by new inventions.  Already college graduates enjoy a lower rate of unemployment and higher wage growth than those with a high school diploma, according to a recent Georgetown University report. 

So, how do parents make sure their child is primed for success in the STEM-oriented job market they will ultimately face after graduation?

Part of developing a strong background in STEM will involve a good foundation in math.  Studies show that children who fall behind in the early grades tend to stay behind in high school.  A good grounding in math requires excellent number sense.  In fact, current US Common Core standards for math emphasize number sense as a fundamental goal. 

Number sense means:

A basic understanding of what numbers mean (including fractions, decimals, negative numbers)

Being able to use different ways to express the same number, for example, 50% or ½ or 0.5

Estimating skills

Rounding skills

Determining the degree of precision needed in a situation

Choosing measurement units to make sense for a particular task

Comparing physical measurements between various systems of measurement (such as the English system and the metric system)

People with number sense are those who can use numbers flexibly.  Research with low and high achieving math students between the ages of 7 and 12 has demonstrated that the high achieving students use number sense.  The researchers concluded that low achievers are often struggling not because they have fewer memorized math facts at their disposal, but because they don’t use numbers flexibly.   A 3 minute video demonstrates this flexibility associated with number sense as applied to multiplication.   

Without number sense, there is no foundation for advanced math understanding – just as without a knowledge of phonics and word meanings there is no advanced reading.  Mere memorization of math facts and regurgitation under timed test pressure is no substitute for understanding.  Today’s kids will need to build a strong base in number sense for tomorrow’s economy.  

Pay Gap Between High School and College Educated Americans is at Widest Ever

6 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child’s Math / Spatial Skills


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6 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child’s Math / Spatial Skills

Spatial ability is the comprehension and recall of the spatial relations between objects.  Spatial skills and math skills are related to each other (see previous blog entry below).  When you improve your child’s spatial skills, you generally improve their math skills as well.  You don’t have to use high tech or expensive methods to help your kids’ spatial skills.  Here are 6 easy ways to give your kids an edge:

Board Games 

Board Games give children a great visual in the form of the board itself, and there are many that exercise spatial skills.  In clinical research, a game similar to Chutes & Ladders with consecutively numbered, linearly arranged, equal-size squares was shown to improve kids’ understanding of the number line.  Skippity is a simple strategy game that anyone who knows how to “jump” in checkers can learn in 1 minute, and requires kids to visualize each move they are contemplating before acting.   Robot Turtles helps kids understand the basics of programming displayed visually on a board.  Escape Medusa’s Rage allows kids to visualize and understand the number line – including negative numbers – in a large, colorful graphic.

Jigsaw Puzzles     

Children who play with puzzles develop better spatial skills.  A recent study by the University of Chicago found puzzle play to be an important predictor of spatial skills even after controlling for differences in the parents’ education, and household income.  When doing a jigsaw puzzle, children visualize where and how a particular piece will fit before they try it.  The trial and error aspect reinforces their correct guesses and helps teach them why some of their guesses are wrong.  Children are stimulated to learn by self-correction, and learn that persistence pays off.  Some puzzles even combine logical thinking with art appreciation, for example, puzzles of famous paintings such as Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir.

Building Blocks & Construction Toys    

Essential skills and ideas are practiced and built up through block play, including measurement, estimation, comparison, balance, and symmetry.  Blocks and construction toys come in such a wide variety of types – from traditional wood square cubes to plastic bendable toys like Reptangles, Squigz Benders, or Joinks to variety boxes like Craft – Struction.  Many Lego sets come with plans that are given in pictures, not words, so that children can create regardless of their reading or language skills.  Kids sharpen their spatial skills by comparing what they’ve built with the diagram and correcting any inconsistencies.

Innovative STEM Toys  

More complex than building blocks are new toys that are designed to address the growing interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math).  Kids can learn by doing in the physical world, offline. 

Thames and Kosmos Kids First Aircraft Engineer  gives kids the kit and instructions to build 10 simple airplane models including a helicopter. Snap Circuits  allows kids to create their own electronic games and gadgets.  Goldiblox sets seek to inspire girls in particular with toys like their create your own Zipline Action Figure (including a doll that rides on the zipline). 


Mazes are purely visual and teach kids to look before they leap.  They can choose from strategies like starting at both ends and meeting in the middle.  Printable mazes and toys that allow kids to create their own mazes  are great ways for kids to practice spatial skills while having fun.


Geometric pattern coloring books help kids create their own patterns using color and careful attention to detail.  Patterns of the Universe demonstrates 17 mathematical themes such as – Prime Numbers, Venn Diagrams, and Fractals.   

Further Reading: 9 Great Children’s Books to Help Your Kid Learn Math

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