Jane really appreciates the great optical illusions and Escher-art book suggestions. She has added more than a few promising titles to her birthday wish list, so perhaps we’ll have some reviews to share in the months ahead. In the meantime, here’s a nifty YouTube clip we found. Jane was looking for help in drawing “impossible shapes”; I didn’t know what she meant until she showed me pictures in the Harold Jacobs Mathematics book. (Highly recommended, by the way—we have never used the Jacobs books as textbooks, but rather they have been ‘fun reading’ for Jane and others for several years. She has Mathematics: A Human Endeavor and the algebra book, and actually the Jacobs geometry book is item number one on her birthday list.)
Back to the video clip. Jane spent a good bit of time yesterday working out how to draw the “impossible triangle.” This morning we found this Paint tutorial demonstrating that triangle and several other “impossible” shapes. Simple and fun.
But again, I’m just passing on a link I got from someone else—in this case, one of the moms on my local homeschooling email list. This is a real find: a FREE online computer game designed to help kids memorize the multiplication table.
It’s called Timez Attack, and it looks and plays like a "real" computer game. Its creators have designed games for PlayStation, so they’re the real thing. Gameplay is brisk and exciting. There’s a video demo at the website so I won’t bother trying to describe it; you can go get a preview yourself.
You can download a free version or buy a fancier one with more levels, different backgrounds. The free version goes all the way through the times table up to the twelves, so it’s pretty complete. Big hit with my kids, and for Rose and Bean it has been a painless (fun!!) way to drill the times tables (Bean hadn’t started learning them yet, but she’s got a good chunk under her belt now). Very, very cool.
As Karen has noted, I can wax pretty enthusiastic about Math-U-See. Here’s what it looks like in our house. Jane is not in the picture; she prefers to take her algebra book off somewhere after she watches a lesson. I’m a floater, available to answer questions and prevent small unit blocks from entering the baby’s mouth.
Rose didn’t happen to have her dry-erase board out the day I snapped this, but usually she gets herself all set up with the markerboard, markers, eraser, and remote control before she turns on the DVD (as I described in this post). When she was seven, I’m pretty sure the markerboard was a huge part of math’s appeal—that and the bubble gum. She really likes to work problems on her board while Mr. Demme is solving them on his. She pauses the DVD and works it out, then [snatches the remote away from her little brother and] hits play to see [because now she can’t hear above his outraged shriek] if she was right.
A while back, Wonderboy’s OT gave me a
booklet to read about something called "Suck-Swallow-Breathe
Synchrony." At first glance, I wouldn’t have expected it to revitalize
the study of math in my home, but that is exactly what has happened.
The booklet describes how the coordinating of these three
actions—sucking, swallowing, and breathing—is the brain’s first major
task after a baby is born. Successful "SSB Synchrony" lays the
groundwork for umpteen other developmental milestones down the road.
The entire discussion was fascinating, but what really jumped out at me
was the description of how, later in life, the brain uses SSB synchrony
as a tension reliever or to help focus on other tasks. This is why
Michael Jordan sticks out his tongue when he’s playing basketball. This
is why people chew on pens, mints, and fingernails. This (I now
realize) is why I seem to be incapable of writing a novel without
consuming vast quantities of gummy bears or gumballs. I always thought
it had to do with being a sugar junkie. I now understand that it’s
about the chewing—it helps my brain to concentrate on the work.
Adults, the booklet explained, quite unconsciously avail themselves
of the concentration aid provided by oral stimulation. I am reminded of
the editorial meetings of my past: almost everyone at the table had
something to sip, munch, or chew. Kids gnaw pencils in school, but gum
isn’t usually allowed, for obvious and logical reasons. But our OT told
about how she used to work in a school for the deaf, and when she
convinced the parents to allow the kids access to pretzels and gummy
worms while they did their schoolwork, productivity skyrocketed. A
child who would normally have spent 45 minutes struggling through a
page of math was now finishing his work in 10 minutes.
My kids, having heard snippets of this conversation, immediately saw the possibilities.
"Let’s test the theory!" cried Jane, my junior scientist.
"Mommy, where’s some gum?" asked Rose, wasting no time. "Let’s all do some math and see if it works."
"I want to do math too!" wailed Beanie, who, being only four, hasn’t yet climbed on the family Math-U-See bandwagon.
"Mom will make up some problems for you," reassured practical Rose.
And so began a routine that now occurs several times a week,
unprompted by me. The kids get out math books, and that’s my cue to
produce some gum. They chomp contentedly and work with impressive
concentration. Whether the Impressive Concentration is indeed the
effect of the gum, or whether it is the effect of the desire to
continue getting gum (heretofore a rare luxury), I cannot say. And I don’t much care.
Truth be told, Jane is one of those people who loves numbers and
patterns and mathematical puzzles and formulas. She is working through
her great-uncle’s latest college math textbook for fun. I know, I know,
it seems weird to me too. But then, when I look at a window with twelve
panes, I see twelve rectangles, or maybe thirteen, counting the whole
window. Jane sees—oh, I don’t know how many—my brain went numb after
she passed the two dozenth rectangle. (Maybe I needed some gum.) She
has That Kind of Brain. So really, I’m not sure how much additional
assistance the bubble gum is giving her. But what the hey. It cracks me
up to hear the girls literally beg me to "let them" do some math. Gee,
I’m such a nice mommy—I always say yes.
Posting will be light this week because we have company, but I wanted to share this fun video clip on the Math-U-See blog. Steve Demme, my children’s favorite "movie star" (ha! what does that say about us?), has a fun take on how to memorize the Greek alphabet. Enjoy!
Those pictures of the kids hugging their MUS books and cheering? Totally believable. No joke, my kids feel the exact same enthusiasm for Math-U-See. I finally broke down and ordered Rose a new Gamma workbook last week. I had planned on having her use the empty pages in Jane’s old one…there are six pages per lesson, and Jane usually only does two. I KNOW I unpacked that book after we moved in, but I can’t find it anywhere. How much do you want to bet it turns up sometime this week?
Anyway, when the UPS guy rang our bell yesterday, Rose went running to greet him, on the off chance the delivery was for her. She didn’t know her book was on the way; she just has high hopes for every package that arrives.
"Rats," she said gloomily, carrying in the package. "It’s not for me. It’s for YOU." Her tone was accusing and despondent, full of subtext: YOU, dear mother, get too many packages. YOU get all the good stuff.
"I think you are mistaken," I singsonged, after a glance at the return address. Rose stared at me blankly for a moment, then lit up. Gasped. Clasped her hands.
"Is it my Gamma book????" she shrieked. You could hear the multiple question marks. Also half a dozen exclamation points. She fairly snatched the package out of my hands and began struggling with the tape. Shoved it back my way, asked me to help rip it open. Snatched again the moment the first box flap broke free.
"IT IS!!!!!!!!!!!! MY GAMMA!!!!!!!!!!" Exclamation points were zinging around the room. I narrowly escaped being bashed in the face by one. Another one landed right beside the baby and I am pretty sure she ate it. She has been interjecting little excited yelps ever since.
This passion for MUS is the reason math studies have never been an issue around here. It’s a method and presentation that Jane and Rose really click with. Beanie is hounding me to "do Alpha." I’ll be interested to see, four or five years from now, what Wonderboy thinks of it. Assuming I can remember where I’ve put the darn books.
I find her curled up in bed with these books at night. On long car
trips, it’s a sure bet that at least one of them makes the cut for her
travel bag. Once we loaned Math for Smarty Pants to a friend, and I
thought Jane was going to explode with impatience during the week or so
this precious book was out of her possession. She is constantly
regaling me with Fascinating Tidbits About Math and Other Stuff she has
picked up from one of the Brown Paper School books. The cartoony,
chatty style is what first roped her in, but it’s the wealth of
puzzles, tricks, and "really cool facts" that keeps drawing her back.
It is so intensely frustrating to me that I still cannot locate the Math-U-See Algebra program I bought before we left Virginia. Argh argh argh. Here I thought I was being ohhh so clever, buying it early while we still lived in a state with lower sales tax than California’s.
I have been through every box, I think. And yet I know it’s there, it must be there, somewhere.
Jane finished the MUS Pre-Algebra book shortly after we arrived here. Since then, we’ve been working out of the Jacobs Algebra book, which is certainly an excellent text. It’s just not Math-U-See. And she loooves Math-U-See. And I love it, too, because Steve Demme’s explanations of concepts are so clear and simple and memorable; and because Jane can work through it on her own.
Note to self: Leave the cleverly frugal strategies for people who are, you know, ORGANIZED and can remember where they put things.
Hat tip to Boing Boing for the link to a Science News article about how some mathematicians are using knitting and crocheting to create physical models of mathematic principles, from simple Mobius strips to, um, whatever this thing is. A hyperbolic plane! That’s it!
During the 2002 winter holidays, mathematician Hinke Osinga was
relaxing with some lace crochet work when her partner and mathematical
collaborator Bernd Krauskopf asked, "Why don’t you crochet something
useful?" Some crocheters might bridle at the suggestion that lace is
useless, but for Osinga, Krauskopf’s question sparked an exciting idea.
"I looked at him, and we thought the same thing at the same moment,"
Osinga recalls. "We realized that you could crochet the Lorenz
I am SO using that line on Jane the next time she is at loose ends. "I know, darling, why don’t you go crochet the Lorenz manifold?"
BoingBoing includes links to other nifty math-craft posts (including instructions for the aforementioned Lorenz manifold).