Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Formula for Math

My family is celebrating Mother's Day today, Saturday, by giving me the day off! It is a wonderful, thoughtful gift. I am enjoying it so much.
The beautiful flowers all my men gave me for Mother's Day. A girl's dream!

Thor and Nick Fury from The Avengers. One of my other Mother's Day gifts! A nerdy girl's dream!

 I have been sitting in my quiet room (except for the times the Monkey comes in to let me know people are not doing his bidding), watching movies on my computer and reading books. I just received Cookie Boy's new math book today, and could not put it down until I read it cover-to-cover.

You will draw one of two conclusions from that last sentence. Either:
a) "She must be one of those "math nerds", who really gets into Khan Academy and things like chemistry."
b) "She is really weird."

Both of those would be incorrect. Well, okay...I am a little weird. But mostly, b is an incorrect answer to this particular question.

First, to clarify, I am not a math nerd.

I am, generally, abysmal in math. For example, I was never in the "higher math" classes in school. Except eighth grade. The school sent my mother and me a letter the summer before eighth grade, informing us I was being placed in advanced pre-algebra.
 My mother read it, and promptly called the school to see if there had been a mistake.
There had not been a mistake.

Now, this seems like the kind of incident that a child might resent her mother for, holding it against her for life.
"You never believed in me and my ability to do higher math! If you had just believed in me, I could be teaching Linear Algebra at Harvard right now!"

 I believe I was standing at my mother's elbow when she made the call, and when we found out there had been no mistake, we looked at one another and shrugged. She said something equivalent to, "If you want to take advanced Pre-algebra, that is up to you."
I gulped, thought about it, and accepted the challenge.
It was the only year I ever attempted an advanced math class.
Except chemistry - which is not a math class, per se, but a science class with a lot of advanced math in it.  Ms. Alfieri had pity on me and let me wash lab equipment for bonus points to bring me to a passing grade. Saintly woman.

I even chose a college major based on how much math I had to take.

True (embarrassing) stories.

Suffice it to say, math was never my forte.

Which is why it totally makes sense that I coach an engineering and robotics team.

Life is full of irony.
Which brings us back to the question: Why was I eagerly reading a math book on my day off today?

Let me first say this: I am finishing up my 9th year homeschooling my children. I have come to this truth: I could have learned math, and learned it well. I am learning, even as I teach my children, even at my ripe old age of thirty-mumblemumble. 

There are many different ways to approach math, it turns out. I always thought numbers were not complicated, opposed to learning the different rules for using the comma, reading TS Elliot, or learning all the reasons why the War of 1812 occurred. I mean, 2+2=4, and there just is not any other way about it.
Turns out, math is just as simple and complicated as anything else. And there are many ways to teach it, approach it, and learn it.
The way I was traditionally taught in school just did not work for me. I was always confused. I could memorize formulas, but use them???? Hah! (Actually, taking Metaphysics was much the same experience for me. I memorized every single thing I could, but just could not apply any of it. For one year. Then, it all made sense. I guess I have a slow brain.)

Each of my three big boys is taking a different math course. I used Saxon with all of them in their younger elementary years. When The Young Adult was in 6th grade, he almost exploded from hatred of Saxon math. Perhaps "hatred" is not a strong enough word for what he felt. He had a complete aversion, antipathy to the abomination he felt Saxon math to be.
And his grades
He begged me to find him a new math course. I could see the sense in that. I looked around.

Don't let anyone tell you homeschoolers are always nice and without prejudice. All you need to do to counteract that little fallacy is get on a message board about math and read the threads about what math curriculum to purchase. I have never in my life felt so much like I was walking a battlefield laced with mines, which were constantly exploding in my face.
Apparently, math curriculum is a very hot topic.

In the end, I found a program called LIVE Online Math. The Young Adult needed a teacher, and this program offered a video course along with a once-a-week online classroom meeting. It is a great program. Mr. Bovey is an excellent teacher. He might also become a saint after a few years of teaching The Young Adult.
I thought, as homeschoolers, I would never have the experience of of getting a note sent home from a teacher.
God bless Mr. Bovey.

Romeo also wanted to switch. After braving the math threads again, I decided to try him out on Singapore Math. He took to it like a nerd takes to Tolkien, and he has been happily zooming through Singapore, learning the ability to do mental math in a very speedy manner.

Cookie Boy, however, decided to stick with Saxon. (He is not a fan of change, in general.) Fine. It works for him. But now he is taking Saxon Algebra 1/2 and is doing fine, but....I have not been totally convinced it is meeting his needs. However, I could not find a program to switch him to that offered enough....mathy reasons to switch. Cookie Boy really likes math. He says he maybe even wants to teach math when he grows up.
I wonder if he is actually related to me?

Almost two weeks ago, I attended a conference where the speaker brought some curriculum she used, in order to show us examples of what her family did.

Now, another thing to know about homeschoolers - most of us are kind of crazy about curricula. We love us some good curricula! Homeschool fairs or homeschool conventions? All KINDS of curricula to explore! We are forever talking shop with one another: "What do you use for science/math/history/literature/Latin? how does that work? Can I see?" We like to swap curricula, borrow curricula, try out new curricula - we are all kind of nerdy-nerds.

So, like the good homeschooler I am, I listened up as the speaker displayed all her books on two tables. Books I have never used! Some I have never heard of! Some I have heard of, but never witnessed in person. Dozens of books for me to flip to through! Sigh!!!!

One was a math series, Life of Fred, by Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph. D.. I had heard of it, but only in passing. She even spent a few moments talking about that series. As I sat there and listened, it intrigued me. At break, I went and got my hands on that book. As soon as I read two pages, I KNEW I had found the new math program for Cookie Boy.

In fact, if Cookie Boy grew up and wrote a math program, he would write Life of Fred.
Math awesomeness - Life of Fred

 It is genius. Smart, witty, funny, thoughtful and simple. I actually read one whole book and felt cheated when the book ended, mid-story. A math cliff-hanger?

Fred, in the book I purchased, is a 5 1/2 year old little boy who teaches mathematics at KITTENS University. He is kind of smart and kind of gullible. He gets into all kinds of interesting situations, like, is he supposed to use the lamb in the back yard to make lamb pizza? How do you open a box with blunt scissors (and how NOT to open said box)? And how to get fired from a job in a pizza place in one day. Oh yeah, you also learn all about fractions, as well.
You can go here to read a sample from the book we purchased, Life of Fred: Fractions. We are going back a little to make sure Cookie Boy has all the concepts, as taught in this sequence.

I can't wait for Cookie Boy to begin this. I have a feeling we have a winner.

Friday, May 11, 2012

I Brake for Car Decals

I guess I have been spending an inordinate amount of time in my van lately, hauling kids from one place to the other, because one of my new favorite hobbies is checking out the rear window decals of the vehicles I share the road with.

I am not sure if this is a nation-wide phenomenon or it is more a product of the "look-at-me-and-marvel-at-my-fabulous-offsring" lifestyle of the affluent area I live in, but these decals seem to grace the back of most SUV's, minivans, and cars I see.

Many people have the "cute cartoon people to depict our family" on their rear window. Like this:

The Stickersons: Family Car Stickers Decal Kit

I like this one better. My nerd family would have this one... if we did this kind of thing:
Star Wars Family Decal Set Stick People Car or Wall Vinyl Decal Stickers

Although, every time I see the "Family Stick Figures", it makes me think of some of the really big Catholic families I know. I so want one of them to put a set of these on the backs of their vehicles. Like my friend Ana's family - Dad figure, Mom figure, four big girl figures, two little boy figures, a baby figure, and two dogs.
It would take up the whole back window of their Suburban and would be SO awesome! People would be plowing into each other trying to comprehend it all! I am tempted to get her a set....

 Personally, I like this one I found on Amazon best:
ChainSaw Decal F*@K Nobody cares about YOUR STICK FIGURE FAMILY Funny Vinyl Sticker 8"x5"

The next most popular type rear window decal is the "my-child-participates-in" variety.
 soccer window sticker decal clings & magnets(thanks - you just make 'em. I am sure you are a fine company!)

 After being trained in child safety by a variety of agencies in the Dallas area, and being involved in the Safe Environment training for years, it creeps me out a little to think people are willing to advertise their child's name, team, jersey number, vehicle make and model to every stranger on the road. Can you imagine?
"Hey, Jeremy! I work with your mom and she got sick at work and asked me to come pick you up from practice.....You aren't sure you should come with me? Well, will this help you believe I know your mom? She drives a 2010 silver Toyota Sienna. I can give you the license plate number, if that helps. You play for the Frisco Football League Cowboys and you wear number 12. You also are a gymnast at WOGA. You have a sister named Ella and she plays soccer... See, I know your mom!"

Not to mention it is just a little obnoxious. One tasteful decal is not too bad, but in my area of the world NO ONE has their child in just one activity! And we like to brag about our busy lifestyle down here! I really do not want to know how over-committed your children are!

My very, very favorite was a small SUV we saw at a local soccer field a few weeks ago. The back window was not very large. The family had two sons clearly committed to every sport known to man. A third child had one smaller decal smack in the upper center. I wondered why that child only got one when his brothers' praises were being sung all over the back window. I finally decided he must only be two or three years old, and therefore is just gearing up. They will clearly need a larger vehicle with a wide back window when he gets going, too. I think they left about 5 square inches in the center free for the driver to check out the rear view in their current vehicle.
Offense 1 - They had the decals that not only advertised what sports/activities their children participate in, they also had their children's names on each one. The names, oh! the names of those poor children! My hope is that they had family meaning. Perhaps they were the dignified monikers for distinguished great-grandfathers who won the Purple Heart in WWII. I hope. Because if they were just going for "unique, different from all the other kids", they succeeded, and not in a good way.
Offense 2 - My first thought when we pulled in next to this vehicle was, "Those poor kids! They must never be home!" Why advertise that you over-commit your child and your family. Does any child need to be involved in five or six sports? If you want them too, and they want too, well...okay, but don't brag about it!

It made me think about what I can possible decorate my new-to-us-minivan with.
"My son wears a kilt - Scottish Highland Dance - Young Adult" (He would KILL me!)
"Our robot can beat up your robot - First Lego League - Romeo"
"Engineering Rules! - First Lego League - Cookie Boy"
"I break for 'bots - First Lego League - Young Adult"
"Soccer for recreational use only"- FSA - 64 - Romeo"
"My Son is a model Scout - Romeo"
"Boy Scouts of America - Cookie Boy"
"My son will make Eagle Scout if it kills me - Young Adult"
"Homeschool Book Club - read it and weep - Romeo"
"All my children are honors students - Homeschooling rocks!"

Speaking of homeschooling and decals/bumperstickers, I want this one thanks, Shop Great Products:

Before I get off this topic, I will leave you with  some helpful tips for those of you choosing to sport Child Activity/School Spirit/church affiliation decals on your car of choice:
  • Going 60 mph in 40 zone does not advertise for First Methodist on Main Street well.
  •  It does not reflect well on you or your honor student when you go 40 through an active school zone.
  • Leave off the decals that proclaim peace to all people/races/religions if you are going to continue to travel on my bumper. Respect applies to driving as well!

Beep beep!