Monday, January 31, 2011

You Need What????

My 8yo runs in from playing outside. "Mom! We need something this big!" He holds out his hands. I have no idea what "something" is or why it has to be "this big."

"What for?"

"We're building something to help us catch a RACCOON!"


P.S. The most this trap is going to catch is a little boy's imagination! ;) 

Comparing/Contrasting Penguins (Penguins #5) & PLAY!!!


Another fun day with penguins, primarily using materials from the Math Learning Center's Bridges curriculum...

1. We read about King Penguins.

2. My 8yo filled out a data sheet about height, weight, coloring, and egg production for the King penguin. He used our penguin measurement wall to record how tall the King is as compared to the Rockhopper, his brother, and himself.

3. We read about penguin predators.

4. My son wrote on a chart, comparing/contrasting the penguins we've studied so far. He'll continue to add to it as we go.

5. He cut out "fact cards," each with one fact describing either the King or the Rockhopper penguin. We made mini pockets (seal an envelope, cut in half, and use the two halves for pockets) to make little fact sorting pockets. He labeled one "Rockhopper," one "King," and sorted the fact cards into each. Although the fact cards come with the curriculum, I'm tempted to have him make his own when we do the next set of two contrasting penguins.

6. We read:

Tacky and the Winter Games
Three Cheers for Tacky
Tacky the Penguin
See How They Grow: Penguin (DK book)
If You Were a Penguin
Born to be Wild: Little Penguins

PLAY!!!
Then, the boys spent a huge portion of the day OUTSIDE. For once, it was not too rainy. Not too cold. And I'd just read "The Children Must Play". Here's a pertinent quote:
"While observing recess outside the Kallahti Comprehensive School on the eastern edge of Helsinki on a chilly day in April 2009, I asked Principal Timo Heikkinen if students go out when it’s very cold. Heikkinen said they do. I then asked Heikkinen if they go out when it’s very, very cold. Heikkinen smiled and said, “If minus 15 [Celsius] and windy, maybe not, but otherwise, yes. The children can’t learn if they don’t play. The children must play.”
 So, let 'em PLAY!!!! It's a required part of every child's education!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Math App Saturday (#18 Cash Cow)

It's Saturday and time to mention another fun math app:

I first read about Cash Cow lite on Teach Science and Math. I downloaded the free version and DS8 started playing.Within a few minutes, I made my second math app purchase. Ever. We bought the full version of Cash Cow.

My son's description: "You add coins together to make bigger amounts: .05, .10, .25, 1.00. If you get to higher levels you can add glowing coins together to get more money. When you're done with a level you get to buy things for your farm."

It's a great little game for identifying coin values and putting various combinations together to produce higher valued coins. The game hasn't lost it's intrigue after accompanying us to a lot of basketball games. I, too, find it fun. We've definitely gotten our $.99 out of it.

Check out other math apps I've reviewed. The majority are free.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Measuring Water Temperature & More (Penguins #4)

We had a blast today! Most of what we did was directly taken from or modified from the Bridges in Mathematics curriculum.

1. We read about how penguins are adapted to survive the cold.

2. Looking at a map, we located places discussed in the article, including various oceans.

3. Then, huge fun...exploring water temperature. We used cards from the curriculum which showed average January ocean temperatures for various locations around the world. I asked my son to consider what temperatures he thought would feel cold, were he to enter the water. We took 3 mugs and filled them with: hot water, cold water, and ice cubes. He then had an empty mug and a thermometer. It was his job to figure out how to get a cup of water to equal each of the different ocean temperatures we'd studied. (We did 60, 50, 45, and 30 degrees F.) This was SO. MUCH. FUN! He had a huge ah-ha moment when he extended the assignment by trying to get the water temperature as cold as he possible could. Stumped, he asked why he couldn't make the temp go under 32F. We had a great little discussion about freezing point. His eyes lit up, totally getting the point.

4. After the experiments, I asked him to write in his travel journal, pretending that he'd taken a dip in the Southern/Antarctic ocean.

5. He then wrote another long piece (so easy to get him to write in this context!) describing how he managed to get each different temperature, reflecting on what was easy and hard about the process.

6. We read some text and a poem about Rockhopper Penguins. My son measured the height of the Rockhopper on our measuring wall, where he could compare how tall the average Rockhopper is to his brother and himself. He then charted the comparative heights on a graph.

We took food cans from the cupboard, determining that they each weighed about 1 lb. My son demonstrated how much an average Rockhopper weighs, using a kitchen scale. He picked up the tray of cans and declared that they're about as heavy as one of our cats, but maybe a bit lighter. He noted the Rockhopper's coloration and found how many eggs they lay.

7. He wrote in his travel journal a second time, describing Rockhopper penguins he saw on his journey.  


8. He then said, "Sometime we should go to the store and find a book that compares all kinds of penguins." Happy to oblige, I referred him to the "penguin table" where I'd collected about 15 library books on the topic. He chose some to read.

9. We ended with several more chapters from Mr. Popper's Penguins.

What a great day!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kitchen Fractions


DS8 loves to help in the kitchen. We recently decided that the two of us will transition back to a gluten free diet, so I promised him we'd replenish our supply of bread and pizza crust. Eager to help, he and I plunged in yesterday morning.

I'm pitifully bad at allowing kids to help in the kitchen. Time is always the biggest factor; I'm in a rush to get dinner on the table, to go somewhere, to get kids ready for bed. So yesterday I decided that THIS was SCHOOL. Kitchen math school.

I wrote the dry ingredients on a piece of notebook paper, slipped them in a plastic sleeve, and had my son cross off each one with a dry erase marker as he added it to the bowl. (I'm planning to do this frequently with the same recipe as we need to keep making g/f bread. He'll independently collect the dry ingredients, saving me time and giving him practice with measurement.)

He set out an ample (more than ample!) supply of measuring cups and spoons. I explained the difference between teaspoons and tablespoons and we started making comparisons amongst various spoons and cups. He very quickly figured out fractions as they relate to measuring. When he needed 2 1/2 teaspoons, he grabbed the teaspoon and a 1/4 teaspoon, saying, "I want to use each of these two times!" He later chose to use an 1/8 teaspoon to measure out 1/2 teaspoon of ingredients saying that he'd just do it four times. This was all his idea, believe me!

He related fractions to previous experiences...talking about Mary and Laura sharing cookies with their sister in the Little House books and playing the iTouch game, Motion Math. By the end of our kitchen time he could measure pretty much anything I requested with any number of different measuring tools, not just the obvious ones.

This whole scenario may seem like no big deal to the average homeschooler, but it is to me. Assigned to read this article for a math class I'm taking, I've been reflecting on how privileged we are as homeschoolers. The article summary:

"Do we foster mathematical swindling - the too-common phenomena of students getting good grades in the subject, yet realizing they have minimal understanding—or the alternative: classroom practices that lead to true understanding?"

It's hard to avoid mathematical swindling in school. Grades carry such a huge emphasis. Testing does, as well. Yes, there are wonderful teachers out there who design classroom environments and practices that lead to true understanding, but with huge class sizes and time/money increasingly devoted to testing, it's not easy.

We're so lucky. We can easily make each part of every day a series of experiences that lead to true understanding. We don't have to settle for a fraction less.


So grateful.

And wish it could be true for all children, everywhere.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

100 Days of Perseverance?? :)

After posting a review of Bruce Goldstone's book, 100 Ways to Celebrate 100 Days, he sent me the following to share with you. Besides being fascinating, it's an excellent example of perseverance!

"I had a blast putting 100 Ways to Celebrate 100 Days together. This was the first book for which I took my own photos--for the Great Estimations books, I set up all the objects in a studio and a very helpful and patient photographer, Arnold Katz, took the pictures. But taking my own photos gave me a lot more leeway--and time. That turned out to be important because several of my ideas were a bit trickier than I imagined.

Probably the most challenging was Jiggle 100. I originally had the fine idea of placing 100 Swedish fish in a Jello aquarium. I'm a big fish fan. I knew that I'd want a pale blue so that the red gummy fish would be easily visible, so I started with clear gelatin and added food coloring. I carefully poured a gelatin layer in a baking pan, let it set a bit, and lined up the fish. Then I added the top layer and waited until the next day to take the shot, so that it would have time to set up.

Well, it turns out that Swedish fish dissolve in gelatin. Who knew? Instead of a beautiful school of shimmering fish, I uncovered the mold to find a hideous, whitish mass of oozing fuzz between two layers of slippery blue slime. Not very photogenic.

I was determined to get the fish-in-an-aquarium idea, so I scoured the Internet for other fish-shaped candies. Nada. Then I came up with a brilliant idea--I'd make my own. So I bought a candy mold and made tiny white chocolate fish.

This idea worked perfectly. The finished mold held a beautiful school of one hundred glowing white fish. I was about to take a photo of it when I finally came to my senses. This book isn't supposed to be about 100 cool things I could do with the number 100. It was fun activities for kids, parents, and teachers to try. And while I didn't mind making dozens of white chocolate fish, I could hardly expect my readers to be so patient.

So I reluctantly gave up on the fish idea. Next was grapes. An obvious choice, but high on the do-able scale. Since the idea was a bit less exciting, I decided the mold shape should be more interesting. I got a fancy ring mold, arranged my grapes, and waited.
It unmolded just fine and I actually set it up for the photo, when the next problem hit--the curve of the mold shape acted as a lens and distorted the grapes like faces in a funhouse mirror. My goal in all of the photos was to have items be as clear and countable as possible. So another mold went slipping down the drain.

Next I took a decent photo of grapes in the rectangular mold. It was a little drab, but at least you could count the grapes. I was relieved to be done with Jiggle. That photo was in the book until almost the very end. When the book was put together, I was happy with nearly everything...except Jiggle. So I got my steam back for one more try and came up with the idea of berries. At last I took the shot that's in the book: 48 raspberries and 52 blueberries in yellow gelatin. The photo is cheerful and even offers a bit of subliminal addition support, too.

You'll notice that I managed to feature fish elsewhere, as a rubber stamp for Stamp 100. That stamp is from my own rubber stamp collection, which I gathered when I was in elementary school myself. Sometimes a bit of hoarding does pay off." -Bruce Goldstone

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Penguin-Filled Weekend (Penguins #2)

Left to babysit her little brothers while my husband and I took our older son to a basketball tournament, our daughter proved to be full of penguin pride. She made her little brothers penguin habitats, using materials out of the recycling bin:


Then she froze them a penguin ocean so the penguins could catch fish.

The boys have played with their penguins all weekend. They put them in a pile and take turns drawing to divvy up the penguins. They play, play, play. Then they put them all in a pile and do it all over again.

I read them some penguin books:
Tacky the Penguin

A Mother's Journey--a fascinating look at the mother's role while the father sits on the egg

Penguin (by Polly Dunbar)--the boys think this book is hilarious

The Emperor's Egg--love this reflection on what the father does to care for the baby penguin..."Can you imagine it? Standing around in the freezing cold with an egg on your feet for two whole months?" ...My 8yo ds kept asking when the dad eats. He was appalled to find out that he doesn't!

Yesterday my 8yo asked me whether Killer Whales eat penguins. We looked up their predators. It's been interesting to listen to the boys as they play. They're adding more and more "real life facts" to their play as they learn about penguins. ("A Killer Whale is going to get us!")

The boys watched Happy Feet last night (minus the scary parts.) We're all set to continue our study tomorrow! Hope you'll join us. :)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lighting the Writing Fire...An Update

I mentioned that one New Year's Resolution was to excite my boys about writing. I've hugely changed the way writing looks in our school day, doing much less with specific assignments and a lot more with writing workshop time, providing lots of choice, relaxed suggestions, etc. It seems to be making a big difference.

On our first day on the Penguin Unit, ds8 wrote in his "travel journal", talking about what he'd seen on the first day visiting Antarctica. (Text shown as written in journal.)

Today we landed in antarctica. We saw all kinds of Peguins today. It is sometimes 0 degrees in the summer in antarctica. We came in a plane with no windows or heat. There is no freash food on antarctica, all the food came from hillecopters in other states and provinces. 

For my son, this marks a big change in writing, from short, simple, "let's get it over with" sentences, to more interesting, thoughtful content. I'm pleased.

Now I just need to keep up my other resolution...to write 250 words/day myself. And NOT on my blog. :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Traveling to Antarctica to See PENGUINS! (Penguins #1)

For the next couple weeks, we're studying penguins. Travel along with us on Day #1 of our unit... :)

1. We sang the "7 Continents" song and located them on a map. I bought the maps at Target for $1 during back to school time. I've known the song forever. I'm not sure if I made it up or not. ;) Here's another version.

2. The boys wrote (4yo dictated) what they know and wonder about penguins. I generally have kids make their own KW (know and wonder) booklets, but I found a KWL penguin book that they enjoyed cutting/folding.

3. We read a poem introducing Antarctica. [from Math Learning Center's Bridges curriculum] Here's another Antarctica poem.

4. We make passports (photo above, from Bridges) that included our height and weight, which we measured. This is in preparation for measuring penguins, so I designated an area of the wall for this purpose.


5. I made little "suitcases"* out of cardstock and each child "packed." (*Just fold a piece of cardstock in half and cut the top into handle shapes.) My 8yo made a list of what he'd take to Antarctica, my 4yo "wrote" (I helped) and drew pictures.

6. We broke out the cold-weather clothing box--no snow here so far this year--and the kids donned winter wear for the journey. We enacted getting aboard an airplane and flying to Antarctica.

7. When we arrived, we watched several YouTube videos showing Antarctica. My 4yo quickly bored of this and wanted to reboard the jet.

8. Each boy colored a penguin to serve as a cover page for a travel journal. I don't like to use coloring pages (I'd actually printed one for ds8 to look at while drawing his own picture), but both boys were eager to use the coloring page. I let them. We stapled lined paper behind the cover to make the journal pages.

9. We read from Greetings from Antarctica as a model for what a visitor to Antarctica might see and experience. The book includes letters from the author to a child back home.

10. After reading about the remote tent camps in Antarctica, my guys layered on winter clothing again and set up camp in a play tent in our living room. They fashioned walkie talkies from clothespins, because they would attach to their clothing. They discussed going to see the penguins.

11. The mail arrived at a perfect time with a special package. I debated long and hard before ordering these, but I loved what Joyful Learner's daughter was doing with hers (I love ALL her ideas!...what an awesome teacher!)...so I ordered a Penguin Toob for my boys. They set them up on playdough "ice", made eggs, and took their penguins swimming in the "ocean" (hardwood floor.) I wanted this specific set because we'll be studying several of the species included in the pack. With all the fun they've had today, I'm considering another set for an upcoming birthday to expand the "family."

12. My 8yo ds journaled (see #8) about the first day of his "trip." I wrote about that here.

13. Update: The boys are playing and playing and playing with their penguins. Fantastic start to an exciting unit! I'll write a new post showing the habitat their sister made for them. Amazing. ;)

Find more penguin resources here:

KidZone Penguin Activities

MathWire Penguin Activities

My Penguin Blog Entries (with more links)

Isn't homeschooling great?!!! :)

See what others are up to...





Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Penguin Math Game Pieces

I've caved to PP...aka peer pressure. Or maybe it's penguin pressure?  Yep, I'm going to do a penguin unit study, too. If you want to do it along with us, start gathering penguin books. I'll be posting our lessons as we go.

In preparation, I've also been working on preparing this penguin game from Mathwire. While I think the clothespin penguins are very cute, I needed two types of penguins/game pieces and I wasn't sure that my kids could keep tall pieces steady on such a small board. So I made penguin game pieces from flat marbles. (You know...vase gems, glass blobs.) I bought a huge bag of them at a garage sale. You can also get them at the dollar store.

I tried several ways to paint them. The ones pictured above were painted on the bottom of the glass so that the top, shiny part shows up. Although the photo isn't great (it's hard to take a clear picture of curved glass!) this looks pretty cool because it gives the effect of the penguins peering out through glass or ice. You just have to remember to paint the layers backward, layering eyes before body color.

I also took photos of the game board with the painted pieces facing up.


I put this penguin paint template on Google Docs to show how to paint each type of penguin. (Click on the photo.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Children's Math Book Review: 100 Ways to Celebrate 100 Days

Several months ago, I received a review copy of Bruce Goldstone's book, 100 Ways to Celebrate 100 Days. Having read a lot of "100 Days" books, I doubted that there could be "anything new under the sun."

I was WRONG.

I LOVE this book. It's totally unlike anything I've ever seen for 100th day celebrations. In his usual, stunning photographs, Goldstone celebrates 100 with a single verb and 100 on each page, with suggestions to do something...  For instance:

"Brush 100" with photos of:
*100 toothbrushes and a suggestion to brush teeth 100 strokes in the morning
* 100 brushes and idea to brush hair 100 times at night.

"Lick 100" with photo of:
*lollipop and suggestion to lick one 100 times and see what's left

"List 100" with photo of
*book page listing 100 places, with suggestion to make your own list of 100 things: foods, animals, names, places, etc.

"Print 100" with photo of
*100 fingerprints and idea to turn them into bugs, birds, animals (shown)

"Seek 100" with photo of
*100 numbers photographed at various places with suggestion to find your own 100 numbers on a scavenger hunt.

My favorite page?

"Speak 100" with picture of "hello" written in 100 languages with pronunciations.

The photos are bright, beautiful...as I've said of Goldstein's books before (here and here), they are "I Spy" on steroids. The visuals ROCK!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy which I LOVE!!!  THANK YOU!! If you order from Amazon, all commissions go toward foster care through Grace and Hope at no additional cost to you. THANK YOU!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Penguins, Penguins, EVERYWHERE!!!!

Animal Clip Art
Have you noticed the outbreak of PENGUINS???  I've seriously been on at least 8 blogs in the last two days (and I've probably only been on about 12 total) that are ALL FEATURING PENGUINS!!!  You've got to check these goodies out:

At Joyful Learner:
Math Monday: Penguin Day
(be sure and look around her blog for a LOT of older penguin entries...great stuff!)

At Mathwire:
Entire Page of Penguin Activities

Penguin Math Games
(look at the adorable penguin gamepieces made from clothespins!)

Penguin Math-Literature Connection

Pascal's Penguins

At Almost Unschoolers:
Penguin Rescue: A Roman Numeral Puzzle
Circle Penguin, A Simple Fraction Craft

At A Place to Share:
Penguin Fact and Opinion

At What the Teacher Wants:
Penguin Pie

At Finally in First:
Tacky the Penguin
Penguins Making Words

And my own review of the book 365 Penguins--with problem solving ideas.

I guess it's time to get busy and do a penguin unit. ;)  Thanks, everyone, for the awesome ideas!!!!!

Join the linkup at Joyful Learner!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gifted Kids and Standardized Testing

I'm not big on labels. But sometimes, labels give you access to resources that you wouldn't otherwise receive. In the public school system in my state, it's convenient to have a designation of "talented and gifted" or TAG. Despite the fact that schools have no money (and therefore no cash for TAG activities), the label can sometimes help you to access services, quicker and with far less hassle.

So it was when my DS14 entered public school for the first time, almost two years ago. Homeschoolers (and public schoolers/educators, for that matter) may be interested in knowing what's happened with him. It may apply to kiddos you know.

DS14 is bright. No doubt. However, in our state, "bright" isn't enough. In order to receive a TAG label, you have to qualify using more than one piece of information. One of these MUST be a nationally standardized test, scoring above the 97%.

So, consider. I send a child to school who has, for seven long years, been taught to THINK...not to TAKE TESTS. I ask to have him tested, knowing full well that he has the ability to qualify.

He takes the computerized test. Comes home that day and says, "I wrote some comments in the comment box below a couple of the questions."

"Why?"

"Because several of the questions didn't have any correct answers."


WHAT?? I'm sure that's what the public school teachers would have said, too. Let me explain.

For much of my ds's life, he's participated in testing curriculum. That's right. TESTING CURRICULUM. On a daily basis, we made note of which questions needed editing. Which were confusing. And which were simply *wrong.* I taught my son to be critical of outside sources.

I taught him well. So well, that he missed TAG qualification in his first round of testing...because he was testing the testers.

I explained to him that these tests have been thoroughly checked and that he could be sure (ha...relatively) that one of the answers was right.

So he went back to public school and took more tests. His scores went up. And more tests. His scores went up. And more tests. His scores went up. After exactly ONE YEAR in public school, he tested at the 99th percentile and qualified for TAG.

What does this tell me?

Nothing that will surprise you, I'm sure. But the system of testing to qualify for TAG is insufficient at best, harmful at worst. My son was a brilliant, creative thinker--clearly TAG material--but it took him a year to learn enough test taking skills (by doing it over and over and over again) in order to qualify. (Either that or he gained so much "content" in one year of public school that his scores skyrocketed!!)

I am very aware of a great number of kids who will never qualify based on tests. Kids who've experienced early trauma. Have large stressors in their lives. Or simply freak-out when it's test time. We know that the thinking parts of the brain basically go into lock-down when stressed or anxious. So how are kids under stress ever supposed to qualify?

Maybe it doesn't matter. No money exists for services anyway. But how have we reached a point where the ability to fill-in bubbles counts for more than the ability to think creatively, pose interesting questions, and problem solve?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Children's Math Book Review: The Dragon's Scales

On one of my giveaways, I asked folks to comment with their favorite children's math book. Someone suggested The Dragon's Scales, a Step Into Reading Level 3 (Grades 1-3*) book. I wasn't familiar with it. After reading it with my kids, I've found it so cute that I'm having a hard time returning it to the library! It's now on my wish list.

Summary: When a dragon threatens to disrupt the life of the townspeople, a little girl challenges the scaly creature to a math contest involving knowledge of weight.

The girl outwits the dragon through questions like, "Which weighs more, one apple or two peas?" and "Which weighs more, a little bag of gold or a big bag of cotton?" The dragon always goes for the obvious...large things or multiple things must always be heavier. After she beats him in the contest, the girl teaches the dragon, asking him which weighs more, "a bucket of bricks or a bucket of feathers?" At first the dragon starts to say that they must be the same since they're in identical buckets. After a long, hard, dragon-think--and with the help of the girl--he decides that the bricks must weigh more. And the town gets its own "watchdragon."

It would be fun to follow this up by having kids compare a variety of objects with a balance bucket, asking questions like "which weighs more...10 pennies or 10 dimes? 25 cottonballs or 5 buttons?"

*Although this is a Grade 1-3 book because of it's early reader designation, it also seems ideally suited to preK-K children who are ready to explore weight.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Technology: Making Connections

I'm cleaning. Ugh. Among other issues (like lacking organizational genes), I find it very hard to throw things out...especially items that I know *someone*  *somewhere*  would appreciate.(Sometimes those people exist only in my imagination.)

I came across an album of photos I took 20+ years ago when I was student teaching and directing a play at a high school 2000+ miles from my home. I didn't label the photos. Had no program, so no names. Hated, HATED, to throw them out. So I did a 15 second Facebook search, found the graduating class from that year. Emailed the site owner and asked if he wanted the photos to offer to classmates. He sure did! A pile of photos of long-ago highschoolers is now on their way to a new home.

Have an interesting story to share? :)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Children's Math Book Review: Manga Math Mysteries Series

The Manga Math Mysteries are a new series of Manga cartoon books for grades 3-5 that look at math through the eyes of children attending Kung Fu School. I'm not that thrilled with them--probably because I'm not excited about any Manga/graphic novel cartoons--but my 8yo son enjoyed them, so I'll mention the series in case educators are looking for books that would especially appeal to the grade 3-5, cartoon-oriented child.

In the series you'll find:

#1 The Lost Key: A Mystery with Whole Numbers
#2 The Hundred-Dollar Robber: A Mystery with Money
#3 The Secret Ghost: A Mystery with Distance and Measurement
#4 The Kung Fu Puzzle: A Mystery with Time and Temperature
#5 The Ancient Formula: A Mystery with Fractions
#6 The Fishy Fountain: A Mystery with Multiplication
#7 The Book Bandit: A Mystery with Geometry
#8 The Runaway Puppy: A Mystery with Probability

While all are out in hardback, it looks like several are out in paperback and will continue to be released throughout 2011.
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