Topic: Number Theory

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Rational Numbers


Developed as part of the Math Circles of Inquiry project, this module is an introductory activity for rational numbers, likely aligned with Grade 7. Students will be given five points on a number line and will be asked to estimate the values of each in a 3-part task and explain their reasoning. The activity is designed to have students then fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide these rational numbers and justify the placement of their solutions on the number line.

Liar’s Bingo


From recognizing a pattern to generating terms, to abstracting and making inferences, tasks based on patterns embody the “low-threshold, high-ceiling” trait of good problems. Liar’s Bingo is all about patterns. This session involves recognizing patterns and searching for underlying structure, number theory, numeration, and potentially binary arithmetic. Sometimes, as in the game of Liar’s Bingo, order seems to arise magically from something we first assume to be random or chaotic. In this case, we use the game of Liar’s Bingo to engage participants’ desire to find patterns, and supercharge that desire by demonstrating a magic trick that captivates attention by...

Lockers: An Open-and-Shut Case


A classic Math Circle problem! At a large high school, there are 10000 lockers. The lockers are numbered, in order, 1, 2, 3, . . . , 10000, and to start, each locker is closed. There are also 10000 students, also numbered 1, 2, 3, . . . , 10000. The students walk the length of the corridor, opening and closing lockers according to a set of rules. How many lockers remain open? Which lockers? What if the rules were slightly different? Can you manipulate the rules to obtain specific outcomes? This collection of nine locker problems is suitable for...

Mathematical Magic for Muggles


Presented are several easy-to-perform feats that suggest supernatural powers such as telepathy, “seeing fingers,” predicting the future, photographic memory, etc. Each trick uses simple mathematical ideas that allow information to flow effortlessly and sneakily, among them simple, efficient “coding” parity and other invariants symmetry probability One can approach these activities in many ways. At first, you may want to figure out HOW to do a trick. Then, you want to know WHY it works. Finally, you should strive to understand REALLY WHY it works: is there a simple theme or principle behind your possibly complex explanation? Look for simple and...

One, Two, Three, Four: Building Numbers with Four Operations


What numbers can you make with 1, 2, 3, and 4, using the operations of addition, subtraction, and multiplication? Work on these problems builds arithmetic fluency and provides opportunities to identify patterns, develop and defend arguments, and create conjectures. This investigation also highlights how thin the boundary is between a fun warm-up activity for fifth graders and deep questions investigated by research mathematicians!

Piece of Cake; Delectable Fractions and Decimals


While exploring the relationship between fractions and decimals, participants will have the opportunity to practice operations with fractions, notice and explain patterns, review understandings of place value and number sense, and justify their reasoning.

You can get a taste of math research by repeating these two steps: Think about an interesting unsolved problem, and Do Something to try solving it. Now Think about what you notice, and Do Something to explore your results. Repeat.

Pigeonhole Principle and Parity Problems


The pigeonhole principle states that if n pigeons are put into m cubbies, with n > m, then at least one cubby must contain more than one pigeon. Parity problems deal with odd and even integers. Here is a collection of problems that can be used in a single problem solving session, or as individual teaser questions.

Problems are suitable for a math circle or classroom.

Place Value Problems


In this session, we’ll learn how to solve problems related to place value. This is one of the fundamental concepts in arithmetic, something every elementary and middle school mathematics teacher should understand profoundly. Several example puzzles are followed by a rich selection of over 30 additional problems to explore.

This collection of place value problems is suitable for student circles, teacher circles, or the classroom.



Mathematicians have long been fascinated by prime numbers and a great deal of number theory revolves around the study of primes. Develop a deeper understanding of these intriguing numbers by exploring the questions presented in this session.

Primes, Divisibility, and Modular Arithmetic


Number theory is all about adding and multiplying integers: pretty simple stuff, good for elementary school or for PhD mathematicians. Dr. Arnold Ross says of number theory, that the purpose is “to think deeply of simple things.” So let’s do that together.

This session includes multiple problem sets beginning with prime numbers, continuing to divisibility and its rules, and concluding with Modulo (Modular Arithmetic).