October 31, 2013

Ordinal Number Fun - Baseball Lineup Card

Teach with your student's interests in mind.  My first-grade son likes baseball, so when we did ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd...), he made his own lineup card. I'm not sure I agree with his batting order decisions but hey, it's math practice, not baseball manager practice.

October 16, 2013

Work While You Work - Poem Study

"Work" is another old, anonymous poem introduced in First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind but with slightly different words. It speaks directly to the modern condition of multitasking and continuous partial attention. We would all do well to heed its advice.

 Work while you work
  Play while you play;
One thing each time,
  That is the way.
All that you do,
  Do with your might;
Things done by halves
  Are not done right.

"Work" has a snappy meter and a simple rhyme scheme. More than anything else though, the meaning of the words is what makes this poem worth studying. Work and play are equally valuable, but each must be done at its proper time and with all of one's might.

Working "Work" Through the Curriculum

Bible: Talk about similarities between the poem and Colossians 3:23. "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men." (KJV)

Math: Discuss the idea of doing things "by halves."

Life Skills: Help your child plan out a day on the calendar. Be sure to schedule some "work" time and some "play" time.

Music: March or drum to the poem. It has a very regular rhythm and each of the words has just one syllable.

I've also written poem study guides for Christina Rossetti's "The Caterpillar,"  the anonymous "Mr. Nobody," and "Hearts Are Like Doors." Please check them out, and feel free to leave a comment below. Also, check out the other posts on Trivium Tuesdays.

October 7, 2013

Uh-oh. Matthew 12 again.

I recently noticed my kids getting grouchy and snippety with one another during (home)school time, especially while working on something together without a parent involved. Kid One would read too fast or mumbly for Kid Two to hear. Kid Two would nudge and poke Kid Three into whining. A good time was being had by none.

So I did what came naturally--I got grouchy and snippety with them. That just validated their behavior. Then my morning reading took me to Matthew 12: "A house divided against itself cannot stand" As it has many times before, the light of Jesus' words illuminated the log of wood on which my critical eye was impaled. The problem didn't begin with my children. How could I expect them to treat one another lovingly when I was gruff and impatient?

Like it or not, I am the mood thermostat in my home. The attitude I have when I teach my kids in the morning, or when I come home in the evening, pervades the home. When I don't like what I see in my family, I need to check my own heart and take responsibility. That's just part of being Dad.

So after repenting and resolving to watch my own attitude, I asked my older kids to read Matthew 12 and tell me what they thought. It's a long chapter, 50 verses that span several topics, but both kids came right back with verse 25: "a house divided against itself cannot stand." They recognized that their attitudes toward one another had gone bad and they wanted to change.

It's been a week now. The house is peaceful. More laughing around the table. More helpfulness. More encouragement. Experience tells me this won't last forever. But at least for now, when whining starts or a temper begins to flare, someone is quick to laugh and say, "You'd better be nice or we'll have to read Matthew 12 again."

Love and unity are the way to go. They are what really make learning fun.

October 4, 2013

Homemade Risk Game

We have a closet-full of board games, but Risk isn't one of them. No problem. My son, who had played once at a friend's house, made his own Risk game with some army guys and an atlas, then got his little brother involved. Instant geography lesson!

Who knew Antarctica was so strategic?

Coincidence that we were studying Napoleon this week?

September 26, 2013

Poem Study: "Hearts Are Like Doors"

Here's another poem from First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind. It's an old, anonymous rhyme called "Hearts Are Like Doors."

photo by Jorge Diaz
Hearts, like doors, will open with ease,
To very, very little keys,
And don't forget that two of these
Are "Thank you, sir" and "If you please!"


Similes and Metaphors

When I teach this poem, I talk about similes and metaphors. The first line relates hearts to doors using the word "like." This is a straightforward simile. A simile is a figure of speech that rhetorically transfers aspects of one word to another, using "like," "as," or another similar word. A metaphor, like a simile, compares or relates unlike words, but it doesn't necessarily utilize a comparing word such as "like." You could say that all similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes.

The other metaphor in "Hearts Are Like Doors" is harder to pick out. "Thank you, sir" and "If you please" are two of the little keys that can open a heart.

Young children can learn about similes and metaphors, but have a hard time using them skillfully at first. My little guy started with "That wall is white like this table." Not bad, but few people reading this sentence know how white our table or wall is.

To help your child understand these figures of speech, try starting a simile and asking your child to finish it: "As cold as ___." As fast as ___." The clouds are like ___." If you need some inspiration, here is a pdf simile worksheet. You have to register to get rid of the nag screen, but you can see enough to get some ideas.


Other Teaching Points

  • Manners: Brainstorm other polite "keys" that can open people's hearts.
  • Punctuation and Phrasing: Observe and punctuation provided in the poem. "To very (pause) very little keys." There is no punctuation at the end of the third line. The "these" rhyme is enough to indicate the end of the like. There is no need to pause.
  • Bible Connection: In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." The door in this passage is often thought of as a person's heart door.
I've also written poem study guides for Christina Rossetti's "The Caterpillar" and the anonymous "Mr. Nobody." Please check them out, and feel free to leave a comment below.

September 24, 2013

Let's Hope They Have Questions

Christopher Danielson is a math teacher and teacher trainer whose blog is always thought provoking for me as a teacher. He turns the "Any questions?" question on it's head like this:
See, in math classes asking questions is usually a sign that you have not learned.
“Any questions?” is a signal to students to speak up if they don’t get what has just been explained.
We have it all backwards.
It shouldn’t be, “What questions do you have?” [I hope you have none so that I can tell myself you learned something.] 
It should be, “What new questions can you ask?” [I hope you have some because otherwise our work is having no effect on your mind.]
I'm going to apply this right away with my own kids and my other students. Every lesson will end with a variation of "What question do you have that you couldn't have asked before this lesson?" 

Read the rest of Danielson's article.

September 16, 2013

Number Line Addition Game with Dice

A friend told me the other day that her first-grade son was discouraged about math. He is having a hard time memorizing addition and subtraction facts within 10. He was calling himself stupid and saying that he was no good at math. How sad to see a little guy developing a math complex.

Anyway, she asked me for some tips. I shared with her a game that I had played earlier in the week with my own son. It's great practice for addition facts within 10, especially plus 1, plus 2, and plus 3, but can be adapted easily to subtraction or to numbers up to 20. It's from Singapore Math's Primary Mathematics 1A (affiliate link).

  • A number line 0-10 (or 0-20) with squares big enough for game tokens. (We
    Post-It Notes Turn Dice into Math Dice
    used Professor Plum and Colonel Mustard from Clue.)
  • Game tokens.
  • A die (number cube) with stickers (two each) labeled +1, +2, and +3 stuck onto the sides. Depending on the skill you want to target, you can replace the stickers with -1, -2, -3, or whatever.
  • Each players token starts at zero for addition or ten for subtraction.
  • Players take turns rolling the die and moving their tokens up the number line by the amount shown on the die. For example, if they are on 2 and roll a +3, they say "Two plus three equals five."  If a player lands on another player's spot, the other player's token goes back to the beginning. 
  • The first player to reach the goal wins the game, or a point. If a player overshoots the goal, the player's token goes back to the beginning. 
 You can draw your own number line, or use my simple 0-10 or 0-20 printable number lines (pdf).

Do yo have any recommendations for fun ways to practice math facts? Share in the comments.

September 6, 2013

Go Fish! Number Bonds Version

Our youngest is doing Singapore Math 1 this year and is learning number bonds now. Number bonds, are simply sets of three numbers—two parts and a whole—that go together, like 3, 2, and 5. They are usually represented something like this:

When children learn this one number bond, it becomes easy for them to memorize the fact family 3+2=5, 2+3=5, 5-3=2, and 5-2=3. It also helps later to be able to break numbers down to make them easier to work with.

On to the game. My little guy brought out his set of Go Fish cards last night after dinner and we decided to play "Go Fish to Make 10." (We could have decided to make any number.) You've probably got the idea already, but instead of fishing for pairs of identical cards, you fish for pairs that make 10. For example, if you have a 3 in your hand, you ask for a 7. Don't forget before playing to pull the cards out of the deck that won't work. Last night we had to take out the 11s and 12s.

Above is the Numbers Go Fish Game that we have [amazon affiliate link]. The cards are large and sturdy, the numbers are clear, and the pictures are interesting. A regular deck of playing cards works fine too, but I like having zeros and ones (not aces).

It's nice to have another game to practice number bonds and fact families. I've previously written about others like Salute, Eleven, and Number Bonds Dominoes. All you need for these games is a deck of cards or some dominoes. Please share your favorite ways to practice number bonds in the comments area below!

September 5, 2013

How's your ear for languages?

This is a fun game to see how many languages you can recognize by listening to 20-second snippets. The variety of sounds that people make when they communicate is amazing. I got 450 points on my first try, getting tripped up by Tongan, Yiddish, and (gulp) Portuguese.

Try the Great Language Game!

August 30, 2013

Poem Study: "The Caterpillar" by Christina G. Rossetti

Christina Rossetti's "The Caterpillar" is a wonderful first poem for a child to memorize and study. It is short, simple and concrete, yet contains many poetic and literary elements that even a child can grasp easily. I'll share them below.

photo by Cyndy Sims Parr

First, the poem itself:

Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry,
Take your walk
To the shady leaf, or stalk,
Or what not,
Which may be the chosen spot.

No toad spy you,
Hovering bird of prey pass by you;
Spin and die,
To live again 
A butterfly.

A shorter version of the poem appears in the excellent First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1 and in several places online. Here it is:

Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry,
Take your walk
To the shady leaf, or stalk.

May no toad spy you,
May the little birds pass by you;
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly.

I think either version is fine. The first one seems to be the poet's original, the second a later simplification, but on to the study!

First, read the poem several times and just enjoy the words and images. The poem is very concrete and accessible; everyone has seem a caterpillar inch along. Everyone has seen toads and birds. Reading and enjoying "The Caterpillar" might be enough, but there is so much more to gain from this little poem.

Notice the rhyme scheme. Rossetti writes in couplets (including the two-word units "spy you" and "by you!").

Notice the punctuation. The first two lines contain no commas within or between the lines. The caterpillar is hurrying and so should the reader. Don't pause between the first and second lines. Then there is a comma between the "shady leaf" and the "stalk." Pause with the caterpillar as it ponders two possible places for its chrysalis.

Notice the line length. The lines alternate between short and long, like the scrunch-up-and-stretch-out motion of a caterpillar or inchworm.

Notice the Christian Imagery. In addition to her poetry for children, Rossetti wrote a lot of devotional poems. The butterfly is a common Christian symbol for resurrection. The caterpillar appears to die when it becomes a chrysalis and returns glorious as a butterfly. "Spin and die to live again a butterfly" on one level is about a caterpillar spinning its cocoon, but on another level, it might refer to a spinster who appears to have missed her opportunity on earth, but will be resurrected gloriously in heaven. (Rosetti had a series of suitors, but never married.) This point may be over the heads of children, but the best children's poetry also works for adults.

What else do you enjoy about "The Caterpillar?" Do you have a favorite poem to study with children? Please share in the comments!

You may find similar articles to this at Trivium Tuesdays.

August 19, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading 8/19/2013

There's a children's book exhibition on in my town and one book that caught my eye was A Rock Is Lively by Diana Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (affiliate link).

The illustrations are bright and beautiful. The text is hard to classify.

Is it poetry? "Bubbling like a pot of soup deep beneath the Earth's crust ... liquid ... molten ... boiling"

Is it geology? "Depending on what type of rock it is, a rock melts at temperatures between 1,300 and 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit ..."

 However you categorize this book, the illustrations and poetic writing will satisfy your artistic side while the informative text will thrill your inner rockhound.

A Rock Is Lively Cover

August 17, 2013

How To Learn More from Making a Tin-Can Phone

Everybody's made a tin-can phone or string phone as a child. They're fun, they work (Can you hear me? Yes!!!), and they're quick and easy to make. But what can we as parents and teachers do to increase the fun and learning? Read on for the basics of how to make a tin-can phone, and then read some ideas for experimenting for more fun and learning!

photo by Florian Seroussi (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Making a string phone is easy. Here's what you need.

  • Two paper cups.
  • A length of non-stretchy string.
  • Something to poke holes in the cups (a sharp pencil will do).
  • Two paper clips (big ones work best).

And here's what you do.

  1.  Poke small holes in the bottom of your cups.
  2. Poke string through the bottom of each hole.
  3. Tie a knot around each paper clip so that the that the paper clips are inside the cups. This anchors the string and prevents it from pulling through the hole in the cup when you pull the string taut.
  4. Decorate as desired.
  5. Enjoy your phone by holding the string tight between two people. One talks, and the other listens. 

 Then experiment!


My students experimenting with string phones
Kids will probably have lots of ideas for experimenting with their string phones, but here are some to get you started.
  • Make a phone for each person and connect them so everyone has an earpiece and a mouthpiece as in the photo above (They could hear each other well).
  • Try different materials: cans or plastic cups instead of paper cups, different kinds of string or twine.
  • Experiment with the string length. How long of a string can you use before the sound is too weak to hear? The video after this list shows people who really push the limits.
  • Do the people on the phone need to be in a a straight line? Try talking with the string going around a wall corner. How about around the leg of a chair.
  • Will the phone work if the string passes under a rug? What if it's wet? What if someone pinches the string?

Can You Hear Me?: The Longest Tin Can Phone Ever.


What do kids learn from string phones?

Kids often understand intuitively why things work if they get hands-on and experiment a lot, but it never hurts to ask the "why" question and see how much they really understand and what needs to be taught. Depending on the interests and abilities of your children, they can learn about sound waves and what media sound travels through, how signal can be dampened and amplified (maybe focused is a better word). They can also learn some engineering when they try to keep the line tense without it ripping through the cup. Kids can learn about real telephones which operate on the same basic concept, except the sound signal is electronic instead of accoustic. (Here's a page about how telephones work.)

Enjoy your string phones, and if you have questions or ideas for further experiments, please leave a comment!

August 6, 2013

Home-Made Hot Air Balloon

The first human flight took place in a hot air balloon in France over 100 years before Orville Wright took to the air. It's not easy to make a working airplane, but balloon technology is simple--just heat the air inside a balloon so that the air inside and the contraption itself are lighter than the air that is displaced.

We made our balloon with a thin trash bag, straws, aluminum foil, tape, and six birthday candles, following the excellent instructions from sciencetoymaker.com.

Here is our balloon's second attempt at flight, after trimming some weight from the straws, trash bag, and foil.


 A fun way to add some literacy and history to this activity for younger kids is with Hot Air, the story of the first balloon flight with passengers aboard (animal passengers). For older kids, The Twenty-One Balloons a fun mix of fiction, history, and balloonology is recommended.

Enjoy making your balloon, and keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of water handy just in case!


August 5, 2013

Anti-Pattern Recognition

Math is largely about recognizing and creating patterns. But sometimes the best way to practice something is doing the opposite. Hmmm. Is avoiding a pattern another way of creating a pattern?
Take from a deck of cards all the Aces, Kings, Queens and Jacks.

Arrange them in a 4 × 4 square so that every row, column and diagonal contains one card of each value (A,J,Q,K) and one card of each suit (Heart, Spade, Diamond, Club). source
It's really tough not to have cards of the same value or suit in any row, column, or diagonal, but look at the sense of accomplishment on the faces of these ten-year-olds who stuck with it and solved the puzzle.

June 27, 2013

Four Fours and Making Math Fun

Today I gave my kids the "four fours" challenge. Here it is:

Find a mathematical expression for all the numbers from zero to twenty using common symbols (+, -, x, ÷, √, and !), parentheses, and exactly four 4s. The simpler the expression, the better.

To get you started:

I had to teach my daughter what √4 and 4! mean. She was very motivated to learn them because they were a great tool to solve the challenge.

It turns out that "four fours" is a common challenge, but I found it in Jo Boaler's excellent What's Math Got to Do with It?: How Parents and Teachers Can Help Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject (amazon affiliate link). The book is full of research-backed suggestions for parents and teachers to help their kids thrive in math. Dr. Boaler will be teaching a course called "How to Learn Math" on Stanford University's free online platform. It's from July 15 to September 27, 2013. You can find out more about it here. I'll be taking the course. Please let me know if you will be.

June 19, 2013

Student-Created Math Questions

Student assessment can take many forms. One thing I like to do is ask the students to create their own questions, answer them themselves, and share the questions with others.

The raw material I gave the students is from the well-known "Eric the Sheep" problem (Here's another blog about it).

Eric the sheep is lining up to be shorn. He is last in the line. Each time the shearer takes one sheep from the front of the line, Eric sneaks past two sheep to get closer to the front. There are 50 sheep in front of Eric to start with. It takes the shearer ten minutes to take a sheep from the line and shear it. The shearer never takes a break! Each sheep produces 5 kg of wool.

Use the information in the story of Eric the sheep to make up an interesting story problem that you can answer. You don't need to use all of the information.
And here are my students' questions with the their ages (I teach a multi-age class). I had to help a few students polish their questions to get rid of excessive wordiness or vagueness.

1. How many times does Eric pass two sheep? (10 year-old)

2. How many minutes does it take to pass 24 sheep? (10 year-old)

3. After 60 minutes, what place was Eric in? (10 year-old)

4. How many kilograms of wool did all of the sheep provide? (8 year-old)

5. What number is Eric to be sheared? (11 year-old)

6. How many grams of wool were sheared altogether? (11 year-old)

7. How much wool is sheared before Eric is sheared? (12 year-old)

8. How many sheep did Eric pass? (12 year-old)

9. How long does the shearer shear before shearing Eric? (12 year-old)

10. If Shawn, who started at number 34, skips one sheep every time the shearer takes a sheep, who arrives to the front of the line first, Shawn or Eric? (12 year-old)

11. One-third of the sheep are pink, two-sixths of the sheep are vomit green, and the rest are purple. (a) How many purple sheep are there, and (b) how many kilograms of purple wool were there? (13 year-old)

These questions cover all the types of questions I would have asked and then some (number 10!). Some of the students missed their own questions on the first try, but were very motivated to find the correct answer.

This kind of activity is excellent assessment for learning. We can see what the students are and aren't comfortable with, and we can be sure that if their answer is incorrect, it certainly can't be because they misunderstood the question. After all, they wrote it!

May 23, 2013

Over 100 Words in Signature

Today my students found over 100 words hiding in the word "signature." Most of the kids are English language learners. It was a fun way for them to think about spelling and learn some new vocabulary.

It all started with me pointing out that the word "sign" is the root of "signature," which is a spelling word for some kids this week. A student pointed out that the word also contains "gnat." Someone else found "nature," and we were off to the races.

Right after taking this photo, a student found "granite." Can you find any other words? Add them in the comments.

Over 100 words in "signature"

March 24, 2013

Be a Citizen Scientist

Citizen science is a fun way to participate in a bigger science project than what one can do at home or even in a lab. Citizen scientists help collect data for professional scientists to analyze--think bird counting or amateur astronomy. Or they can help analyze and report on data that has been gathered by professional researchers.

At zooniverse.org, you can mark and measure craters on images of the moon, help model the Earth's climate 100 years ago by transcribing Royal Navy ships' logs from World War I, or identify species and ground cover on the sea floor. These are just a few of the science projects available to work on and there are over 800,000 people taking part worldwide. My son and I analyzed some photos of animals in the Serengeti that were taken with motion-sensor-equipped cameras.

Scientific American has a list of current citizen science projects.

Scistarter.org is a kid-friendly portal for citizen science. It helps budding scientists find projects based on topics, activities, locations, cost, and more. Some of the projects are gamified to add more elements of fun.

Please let me know in the comments if you've participated in any citizen science projects, or would like to.