Looking for non-traditional methods and materials for math instruction? These free sites offer creative math exercises and problem-solving activities that can help your children learn math concepts -- minus the dry textbook questions.

Relating Math to the Real World

RealWorldMath: This site enables students to take the math concepts they’re learning and apply them to a variety of tasks using information, images and tools in Google Earth. After downloading the Google Earth application, download lessons at the RealWorldMath site, and you’ll be able to open the files in Google Earth. One lesson gives students practice solving volume problems using some famous geometric places (the Great Pyramid of Giza; the Leaning Tower of Pisa; the World Trade Center site; and others). When you open the file, you can click on and fly to different locations and you’re prompted through the exercises.

Other activities inlude: calculating time zone differences; using historical data and solving cipher messages to find hidden U-boat longitude and latitude positions; finding area and circumference of circles after flying to various “crop circle” locations; estimating and measuring distances between landmarks; exploring mazes and labyrinths around the world. The site’s author also provides suggestions for using the activities in other subject areas, and additional resource links. There is a password-protected “Teacher” portion of the website where you can access lesson overviews, worksheets, and some answer keys. Fill out the form under the “Contact” tab and the author will send you the password.

FoodMaster: The hands-on activities at this site use food and cooking to teach math (and science) concepts. You can download individual chapters and answer keys for grades 3 - 5, 6 - 8, and labs for high school. Explore measurement and conversions, ratios and percentages, comparisons, etc. using a variety of foods. Many activities involve graphing and experimentation.

Problem Solving

MathCounts: Solve a variety of word problems: compare the value of two summer jobs; perform calculations with gift cards; explore percents and probabilities with ice cream, and more. There's an archive, where you can view past problems and answers. The exercises can be searched by topic (Moon Math; Pizza Problems) or concept (measurement, percents and fractions), with new problems presented each week. Also at the site are MathCounts Minis, videos teaching math concepts, with downloadable worksheets and answer sheets.

Math Maven Mysteries: This Scholastic site presents short story mysteries to solve, and in the process, you're reviewing key math concepts. Categorized by skill and diffifculty level, and the mysteries can be downloaded.

Math In Your Backyard

Maths Outdoors: It's amazing what math investigations can be done with just some sticks and stones: shapes and symmetry; angles and fractals; measurement, multiplication and many more. This site is full of a lot of great ideas, not just for exploring math concepts, but for educating outside in the other subject areas.

Careers Using Math

Math Apprentice: Interactive site that shows how math relates to different interests and disciplines. A player takes the role of an intern to explore eight businesses where math is used to solve problems. Enter a building, and an employee explains the math behind a particular job, and presents you with an activity. You can also read more about a career and explore math concepts used in each profession, (eg. learning the importance of shapes and angles when designing bicycle frames).

Math games using a standard deck of cards can help your kids learn and review math concepts, plus have some fun. Beyond modifications to old faves like Go Fish, War, or Concentration, the following games provide a variety of computational challenges, and can be adapted to various age groups. (Note: be sure to check out the comments at the end of this post for additional games).

Remainder Jump: This game uses playing cards plus a printable game board to review division and the concept of remainders. The object of the game is to be the first player to reach "Finish," so players must develop good strategies to move the farthest on the board. They'll be dividing, subtracting, and thinking about factors of numbers, plus honing their mental math abilities. Other free math games, puzzles, and worksheets are available at the site, called Beast Academy. You can also print out their standard deck of Beastie cards.

1000 Wins: For practicing addition of 3-digit numbers.

Fast Food: For practicing multiples of numbers: make cheeseburgers, fries and sodas to score points.

OrdOp: Use a standard deck to practice order of operations and computational skills.This version includes a printable set of cards numbered 1 - 25. Here’s a video showing how to play:

Bino: Players try to make combinations of cards that will give them the most points, using both ordinary and binary numbers.

Dice and Card Games: This 11-page PDF includes a single-player solitaire-style game for studying sums or multiples of numbers; Go Fish, Concentration, and War variations; other addition and multiplication games.

Acing Math: This 69-page download features a collection of card games categorized by grade, and covering the core processes, plus other areas such as fractions, percents, decimals, positive and negative numbers, patterns, place value, exponents, and others.

Two Math Games With Cards You Can Easily Make:

Easy Piecy Decimals: You’ll need to make a deck of 20 or more playing cards with monetary decimal values between $0.00 and $1.00 to two decimal places. A 10-sided die is also needed, and you can print one here. The object is to practice adding, subtracting, and rounding simple decimals. Links to additional resources to teach decimals are listed.

Algebra Rummy: This game’s goal is to get players more familiar with algebraic terminology. You need to create a 54-card deck with algebra terms. Play is similar to standard Rummy, except you’ll be forming sets of 3-or-more like terms (3y, 5y, 6y), or like coefficients (4x, 4y, 4xy). Game can be extended by forming equations. Includes a list of algebra terms and links to additional resources.

Make Platonic Solids With Cards: Not really a game, but a twist on building with cards. Downloadable template and instructions for forming a cube, tetrahedron, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron out of playing cards. Make cuts and slide them together -- no glue needed.

Be sure to check out the comments section for more games that have been added to this article.

Algebra 1: This is a full course, broken into modules, so you can use it in its entirety, or just the parts you want. The course includes lesson plans, with links to related Khan Academy videos, worksheets and assessments with their answer keys, and each unit ends with a real-world project.

Geometry: The course is modular, so it can be used to supplement an existing Geometry program, or serve as the main curriculum. It's project-based, emphasizing real-world examples, such as using Geometry to create architectural designs for an apartment or house, or designing a floor plan that maximizes open space and natural light.

Calculus: Covers Limits & Continuity, Derivatives, Applications of Derivatives, Integrals, and Applications of Integrals. Includes links to workbooks and videos.

Math Video Library: Visit Mathispower4u.comfor video tutorials in Algebra 1 and 2, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus.

Free Textbooks:

(If you know of any other free math courses, please list in the comment section).