Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking it easy

We have several January birthdays in our extended family, so we decided to spend a long weekend in the mountains for a collective celebration. We had a great day skiing yesterday, but the weather has turned nasty today: high winds and horizontal snow! Die-hard slope jockeys may love these days because the slopes are deserted, but we are total weather wimps: the kids are still in their pajamas and I'm just sipping my third cup of coffee, messing around on the computer, and trying to stay warm.

I forgot to pack my little gadget that downloads photos, so I decided to combine some reviews that I never posted and list a few of our recent favorite resources, sans photos...

The Secret Life of Math by Ann McCallum is a fun and interesting look at the history of math. It's written in a casual, kid-friendly style and offers lots of hands-on activities for kids to do. I'm currently on a mission to convince my son that Math Is Not Boring; even he has to admit that these projects are fun! You can make an Ishango hatch-mark bone, count on your fingers Zulu-style, practice counting in Cuneiform, and even make Maya number cookies. It's not necessary to do all of the projects, but they do illustrate the many ways that math has evolved since early humans tracked herds of animals, and how math is relevant to our lives today.

We are also enjoying Mathematicians are People, Too: Stories from the Lives of Great Mathematicians by Luetta and Wilbert Reimer. Putting math concepts in story form can make something dry much more palatable. For example, it's hard to get excited over patterns in multiples, but after reading about Thales of Miletus, we learned how recognizing patterns can help you solve a mystery, train your donkey, and even make you rich! Many of the stories tie in perfectly with our ancient Egyptian and Greek unit studies.

Remember that old Capital One commercial where a man is about to pay for something with his credit card, a woman says "Don't let the interest get you," and suddenly a band of marauding Vikings comes roaring into the shop? When Super was about four, she saw that commercial and was convinced that "the interest" was a group of mean, scary guys; she actually had a nightmare that "the interest" was chasing her! It was hard to explain to a four-year-old that those guys were just actors and that "interest" is not a group of hairy Vikings. Now that my kids are old enough to understand the concept better, we're reading Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids by Gail Karlitz and Debbie Honig. It's a clear, accessible introduction to basic financial concepts. Both of my kids have asked me how banks make money, why there is inflation, and what the stock market actually buys and sells. This book is answering their questions in a way they can understand, but it's informative enough that I'm learning, too!

We're into silly story problems around here. We frequently start our math session with a goofy challenge like:

  1. Doofy McDoofington went up on the roof at noon to catch some rays. Whoops--he fell asleep. He came down at 2:15. How much time was he on the roof, and how sunburned was he?
  2. Then he went to Wal-Mart to buy some Solarcaine. He left his house at 2:30. He got lost and didn’t get to Wal-Mart until 3:14. How long did it take him to get to Wal-Mart? And why is he so stupid?
  3. He found the Solarcaine on the shelf at Wal-Mart at 4:05. He waited in line to pay until 5:00. How long did he wait to pay? And why does it always take so long to pay for things at Wal-Mart?
  4. The Solarcaine bottle says “Relief in 15 Minutes!” But Doofy didn’t rub it on his skin. He thought he was supposed to drink it. He drank it at 5:30. He threw up at 6:05. How much time did it take for him to get sick?
  5. After Doofy threw up, he was really hungry for dinner. He ordered a pizza at 6:10. But he ordered banana leaves and marinated durian chunks on his pizza, a special order. The pizza took 45 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to bake. How long did it take total to make Doofy’s pizza? And what kind of weirdo likes banana leaf pizza?
  6. The delivery boy left Prince of Pizza at 8:40. He arrived at Doofy’s house at 8:48. How long did it take him to get to Doofy’s house, and how many speeding tickets did he get on the way?

You get the idea. Some days I'm just not up to inventing such, um, creative problems, so we also warm up our math brains with problems from Primary Grade Challenge Math by Edward Zaccaro. And my new favorite resource is the Guiness World Records Math from Carson-Dellosa Publishing. My kids already like reading about world records, and they find the math pages fun and interesting, especially the "icky" ones like the longest fingernails or the heaviest spider. I like them because they involve both reading and math, and they relate math to "real-life" scenarios (if you can call the longest loaf of bread in the world "real-life.")

One more recommendation: I was browsing in a bookstore the other day and found a cool book called How Writers Work: Finding a Process that Works for You by Ralph Fletcher. It's not like any writing curriculum we've used in the past; in fact, it's not a curriculum at all. It's written directly to young people and it describes the writing process from a real published writer's point of view. We tend to focus on the mechanics of good writing, but it's important to realize that writing is a very personal, creative process that doesn't necessarily conform to any one method. So far, I love this book, and I hope my kids will, too.

Hope you are keeping warm and enjoying good books wherever you are!


Michelle said...

Oh, I love those goofy math warm-ups! And I'm definitely going to check into The Secret Life of Math. That sounds like exactly what my daughter needs right now to connect to the subject a little more. Thanks for the recommendations!

Deb said...

Oh my gosh, my comment got eaten!

Anyway, I love the math problems! At my house, my kids would probably be too busy re-enacting the story to do the math, and I would be busy getting a headache and hollering at them to sit down and wondering why I have hyenas and not Stepford children.

But I love the idea!