Halloween Math: Counting Kit Kats & Charleston Chews

Masking Math in Halloween Adventures

Before Halloween, think of a question that you could research as a family, something that leads to collecting some basic data on Halloween night, and mask informal math studies with collecting and counting candy and costumes!

Of all of the subjects that are taught in elementary school, math can be the hardest one to explore creatively at home. Simple exercises in counting and basic addition and subtraction can be integrated into daily routines, and math concepts arise in cooking and baking projects, but more challenging and content-specific math concepts can be difficult to weave into day to day activities at home.

However, the candy collecting done on Halloween presents an opportunity for some informal at-home math studies! Even kids who are too old to trick-or-treat (or those who don’t collect candy) can use the holiday as an opportunity to practice what they know about basic logic, data collection, and statistical analysis…

Before Halloween, think of a question that you could research as a family. Ideally, the question will be something that leads to collecting some basic data on Halloween night, and will be about something that your kids are genuinely interested in, like:

  • Which kind of candy will you get the most of in your neighborhood?
  • How many people in our neighborhood will have the same costume?
  • Which neighborhood gives out the most candy?
  • Between what times at night will we have the most trick-or-treaters?

After you’ve developed a research question, brainstorm ways that you could answer your question. Each of the sample questions could be solved fairly simply: Kids can count and sort their candy to find out which they get the most of; parents can help kids keep a tally of costumes that they see while they’re out and about; friends in other neighborhoods could be polled to find out how much candy they received; and if your kids are older and won’t be going out, they could track the number of visitors to your house along with the times at which they visit.

Answering each of these questions requires careful data collection, and depending on children’s ages and abilities, the potential uses for the data may vary. For the youngest children, a simple candy sort may be all they’re interested in doing. However, this activity doesn’t have to end with a single conclusion – challenge your child to come up with different ways to sort (by color, flavor, shape, etc.) and see if they can draw multiple conclusions. Older students might be interested in not only assessing their data, but in comparing it with other neighborhoods. Friends can be recruited to help, and data can be saved for the next year in order to compare.

Another simple way to use the information that you collect is by creating a visual representation. Can you turn the information that you collected into a graph of some sort? Which type of graph would be easiest to create, easiest to read, and best suited for the information that you’re sharing?

In addition to allowing students to practice the real world applications of math concepts, data collection activities can help them to think critically about their community. If you live in a big town but don’t get many visitors on Halloween, what might this say about the average age of people living in your town? If there are lots of kids with the same costume, might they have bought them at the same store locally or made them together at home? There are many conclusions that can be drawn, and beginning to ask and answer such questions can help students be inspired to ask and answer similar questions in the future. In doing so, they will learn valuable skills and can begin to recognize the power of their own mind.

[Photo credit: (cc) Mathematical Association of America]

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