It’s the end of an era. We finally finished reading the Harry Potter series. The adventure began almost two years ago when we chose The Sorcerer’s Stone as bedtime reading material, which evolved into a Harry Potter obsession like I’m sure many of you have experienced as well. Except I’m willing to bet few or none of you read the whole series out loud so I think I earned some mom points there (notice I didn’t claim cool mom points, but I’ll take whatever points I can get, even those I award to myself).

As we are in the habit of celebrating our accomplishments, here was an opportunity to summarize our HP experience from an analytical standpoint. First off, let’s just look at all those books, all 7 minus 1 of them (The Chamber of Secrets was on loan to Nana so didn’t make it to the photo-shoot):
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These are long books, so it’s fun to figure out just how much we actually read. We also wondered which one has the most pages? Which one has the most chapters? Which one was the best?

In order to keep track of our data I pulled out the laptop. I had not introduced the wonder of Excel to my kids until now, and as soon as Bart started entering data my mind raced with all the cool stuff I can show him and his sisters some day. Anyway, we set up a simple spreadsheet and I recited numbers as Bart entered them in a table.  We then set up some graphs and observed the following HP facts:

Longest Book: Order of The Phoenix

Shortest Book: Sorcerer’s Stone

Most Chapters: Order of the Phoenix

Least Chapters: Sorcerer’s Stone

We also ranked the books in order of our personal preference and added comments where appropriate.
Favorite book: The Sorcerer’s Stone (of course, that’s what got us hooked).
Least favorite: The Prisoner of Azkaban. Reason: because Voldemort isn’t in it.

Here’s our analysis summary:

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To celebrate, we watched The Deathly Hallows (Part 1) which was released on DVD just as we finished the book – how convenient! We snuggled on the couch, ate popcorn, and critiqued ways in which the book was better than the movie.  We can hardly wait for part 2 later this summer! I sure will miss Harry Potter but I know he’ll continue to be part of our lives for many years to come. π
 
Spring break was fabulous this year, but it's good to be home too! Since my brain is still on vacation, here's a little something I wrote a few months ago but neglected to post.

Disclaimer: I went to a talk last night where the speaker revealed information about the potential toxins in fruit snacks (not to mention they practically cement themselves to teeth) so I hesitate to advertise the fact that I feed them to my kids but I swear it's an occasional indulgence...he he...

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Yes, here comes another counting activity. Maybe you are bored with my silly counting games by now, but I swear to a preschooler this stuff can be really fun! I’m sure if you have a toddler you spend plenty of time counting objects, so my goal is purely to give you as many ideas as possible for integrating math into your everyday routine. If you reinforce these math (in this case, counting) concepts enough, it will become second nature to your children. In fact, at some point they will begin to automatically think about numbers without your prompt, as was this case in the following example.

My kids absolutely love fruit snacks, which makes them an excellent bargaining tool on many occasions. This particular day, I decided to let them have fruit snacks after school ‘just because’ (just because we ran out of every other kind of snack, just because I didn’t feel like cutting up apples, I don’t remember exactly why….). In any case, they each got a little packet of the beloved snacks, and upon opening her bag Ramona commenced with counting the pieces before eating any.

What happened next warmed my heart. She counted her snacks (remember we’ve been working hard on 1:1 correspondence) and came up with a total of 12 fruit snacks.
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Having never counted the number of snacks in a bag myself, I wasn’t sure if she got it right. Before I could butt in and check, Wanda took the initiative to check the answer herself. Twelve again:
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Not satisfied that his little sisters could accurately count snacks, Bart then triple-checked their answer and verified 12 fruit snacks in all:
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I realize you may be thinking so what, they can count to twelve, big whoop, but keep in mind I was only a casual observer throughout this process. I did not force them to count nor did I quadruple-check their answer. They just happen to be in the habit of doing this type of thing when the opportunity presents itself, and they like to make sure the answers are correct. It’s not such an impressive accomplishment at this point, but I like to think we are laying the groundwork for future independent and analytical thinkers. Only time will tell! Π
 
Math Me Up is going on vacation! To my 5 regular readers, I don’t want to leave you hanging so decided to provide a list of some websites I turn to for mathematical inspiration. This is only a sampling (I can’t reveal all my secrets in one post!) and I hope they keep you busy until we’re back in the country next week. In no particular order, here we go…

Cool Math For Kids: This website describes itself as “an amusement park of math and more designed for fun, fun, FUN!” While this site has tons of useful information I go mostly for the games. We’ve barely scratched the surface of all that’s available, but two games that were big hits with us are Brick Breaking and Coffee Shop. The kids don’t even realize these are mathy games. Genius!

Fuel The Brain: More games, worksheets, teaching guides, articles, etc. mostly math related. You can make custom worksheets too – very handy!

Enchanted Learning: Here’s where I turn for worksheets galore. I bought a membership for about $20 which gives access to different lesson plans and worksheets covering all the school subjects, not just math. I think this site is popular for homeschoolers and teachers, and I’ve used the Enchanted Learning sheets for Math Club in the past.

Marcia's Lesson Links: Just a huge list of different websites that offer lesson plans, etc. on a variety of subjects. This is for the littlest kids, and I appreciate having a no-frills list of links to so many ideas at my fingertips.

Maths Insider: I found this website/blog a couple months ago and am pretty sure Caroline and I could be good friends in real life (the chances of us meeting are slim, she apparently writes from somewhere in the middle east). Anyway, she’s an engineer, an educator, and a mom who’s philosophy toward math learning reminds me of myself. Only I think she’s been doing it a lot longer, is better at it, and a lot more people know about her!

Online Math Learning: The ads are a little annoying, but I have turned to this site for ideas on how to introduce new topics and how to word the problems I make up. It’s organized by grade & subject so it’s easy to find examples on loads of math topics.

Museum of Math: The Museum of Math! It’s on my list of places to visit when it opens in Manhattan hopefully next year. For now it consists of a traveling exhibit and a cool website. Whenever we make it there you know I’ll tell you all about it.

So what are your favorites? Leave a comment to enlighten me about more math-tastic websites. There’s so much out there to explore. Happy spring break everyone! π
 
Here’s another one of those activities perfect for a preschooler. I’m almost ashamed to admit the quantity of arts and craft supplies in this house. Our entire living room has been converted to the “kids’ office” where we have amassed more toys, books, games, and just stuff than we know what to do with! Despite the plethora of art supplies sometimes it’s hard to think of something fresh and new to do with them. Here’s a counting activity we did that makes use of the ink stamps sitting around. The setup:
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We used several ink pads and lots of different stamps – note the number stamps. On a large sheet of paper I drew a grid then inked a different number of stamp patterns in each square (kids can help with this too!). I drew a box in each corner where the answer will be stamped. The objective is to count how many stamps are in each square on the paper then use the number stamps to place the correct number in the smaller box. Maybe it’s easier to just show you another picture:
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Hmmm I didn’t realize that was so blurry, but I think you get the idea.

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You can try other variations, for example stamp (or write) a number in the small square then your child can make that many stamps in the larger square. Or give your child a blank grid and they can create their own worksheet. Don’t be afraid to try some “big” numbers too. Make it a little challenging!


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We’ve been working hard on accurate counting. Ramona can recite numbers beautifully but until recently hasn’t really grasped the concept of counting objects with a 1:1 correspondence. I’m not sure when a child is supposed to learn to count objects accurately. My unscientific Internet search yielded lots of different answers that essentially boil down to “every child is different” but it seems three years old is an appropriate age to at least introduce object-counting.

I could tell by observation that Ramona was ready to master this skill and she just needed more practice. We spend a lot of time counting crayons, fruit snacks, stuffed animals, you name it. Activities like this help reinforce the object-counting, and it’s a fun crafty sort of activity that passes the time and consumes the art supplies on a chilly spring day.    

So, this was all about counting accuracy and number recognition, but clearly there are lots of other variations you could try with stamps. A few more ideas:

Use stamps to create patterns. See if your child can see the pattern and repeat it, or fill in the missing stamps in a repeating pattern. Let your child create patterns of their own.

Using a small size stamp, draw different shapes for your child to identify.

Expand upon what we did above by stamping out simple addition or multiplication problems. If you have number stamps use those to write math sentences.

To really test the object-counting skill, make the same stamp in several different colors on one page and have your child count how many there are of each color.

So help me out here, what other ways can we use stamps to practice math skills? I’ve got a drawer full of stamps and ink, what else can I do with this stuff? π 

 
The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (a.k.a. PSSA) tests took place earlier this month.  Remember back in grade school having to sit through a few grueling days of number 2 pencils and scantron forms every year? Maybe your experience was different, but that’s how it was where I grew up.  Things haven’t changed much from my perspective, though from what I hear there’s far more controversy over standardized testing than ever before (or maybe I just never paid attention until now).  Anyway, the PSSA is administered beginning in third grade.  Prior to third grade there’s lots of “benchmark” evaluation but the real deal of sitting at your desk for hours filling in bubbles doesn’t start til you hit third grade.

When test week started Bart came home from school and asked me first what is the PSSA, and second why doesn’t he get to take it? He asked these questions as if feeling some affront for not being chosen or allowed to participate.  Since he’s only in second grade he has to wait another year to join the PSSA club, but since he asked I was prompted to research a little more about what the test entails. To my delight some practice tests are readily available.

The thought certainly crossed my mind, would it be cruel of me to give this test to a second grader, or to give this test at all? I mean, here is a test that some consider the bane of our public educational system. It has been accused of robbing teachers of using creativity in the classroom, of forcing them to focus on test scores above all or otherwise risk losing school funding if students don’t score well.  It is the backbone of the (in)famous No Child Left Behind act signed into law in 2002 (well before my children were born).  Honestly, I have no strong opinion regarding these standardized tests aside from thinking they must be pretty boring. But I also have no experience with them beyond what you are about to read. Ask me again in a few years. 

Getting back to the practice test, I asked Bart if he wanted to try it. “Yeah sure!” was his enthusiastic response, as my guilt melted away. I appreciate that he was up for the challenge. I printed out the math section and let him get to work, with the understanding that if it was too hard he could stop, and he certainly didn’t have to finish all 40 questions.     

He plugged away for awhile, asked me to clarify a few questions, he stayed focused, and overall I’d say this experiment was a success. He answered about 25 questions before the whining commenced.  “I don’t get this!” followed by pound-pound-pound on the table. After another three minute he announced “I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s too hard and the questions don’t make sense,” and it was over.

Later we went over the questions together and I was relieved to see he got the majority of the questions right. Of course, there were plenty of answers like this:
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And this:
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However it was definitely useful to see what kids are expected to know by the end of third grade, as well as identify areas where Bart might need help.  The highlight of this test-taking experiment had nothing to do with math though. Check out the typo Bart found:
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Nothing like being called out by a 7-year-old you standardized test masters – ha ha ha!! I know, I know, it’s just a practice test, but it does make you wonder about who makes this stuff up.  π
 
With kids you learn something new every day. Especially with a 7-year old boy obsessed with random facts and trivia. Did you know that less than 5% of the world’s population has the ability to lick their own elbow? Did anyone ever tell you it takes a sloth six days to digest food, or that a newborn kangaroo is about as long as a paperclip?

Bart devours everything from the Guinness Book of World Records to Weird But True, to Bart’s King-Sized Book of Fun, and everything in between, and usually at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table. Today’s math minute was inspired by an animal featured in the National Geographic Almanac 2010.
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Meet Tylosaur, a vicious prehistoric marine dinosaur with two rows of teeth and body length up to 29 feet. 29 feet long? Just how long is that?  Well, get out your tape measure and see for yourself! 

With one kid at each end of the tape measure we marked off 29 feet leading from our family room into the kitchen, then tried to imagine a nasty swimming dinosaur that size inside our house. This literally took about 2 minutes, but I think it made an impression. In any case if we ever need to estimate what 30 or so feet looks like, we can always look back and say “remember the Tylosaur”. By the way, did you know that astronauts can’t whistle on the moon? π

 
Since I posted about word problems last time, I can’t resist sharing this example of creative word problem solving I found in one of our endless stack of papers:
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As a kindergartener just getting the hang of the whole reading thing, this problem must have been a little overwhelming for Wanda. I like how she took time to supply an answer though, rather than give up completely. It’s a completely valid answer, it just means “I need a little help here Dad.”

You can see how Chao walked through the problem with her to break it down and eventually find the correct answer. While this exercise was a bit out of her league, I think it’s important to push kids outside their comfort level and see what they can come up with. If you are in the habit of mainly reinforcing what your kids learn in school, try giving them a bigger challenge now and then. You may be surprised at what your little one(s) are capable of! π
 
Word problems are popular in our house. We make them up all the time, it’s sort of a reflex at this point. Most of the math homework the kids bring home consists of only word problems. I guess that’s the trend these days rather than straight up addition and subtraction problems. That’s cool with me, I think word problems are fun! Even a 3 year old can see what’s going on. Consider these examples, straight from the mouth of my smallest sweetie in the past few days:

In the bathtub:
“If I have three pillow pets and you take away 3 of my pillow pets, I won’t have any pillow pets. I’ll have zero.”

Riding in the car:
Ramona: My friend Nina has 5 yellow dresses. I’m going to take one. How many dresses does she have now?
Me: 3.
Ramona: Not threeeee, four!!

She gets it! In case you’re wondering, Nina is her imaginary friend (along with Casey and Milly). Nina’s mom, Lilianna, buys her lots of dresses. Nina in this case is not to be confused with our real-life friend Nina. We have no shortage of imaginary friends these days, it gets confusing.

My point in writing about this is to demonstrate that even a toddler can catch on to this “math talk”. She has picked up the verbal cues to form a word problem.  She hears us speak the pattern frequently, and has figured out how to apply the words to her version of the world.  She’s showing us she can think through situations and come up with an answer (often correct, as in the case of Nina’s dress). She also thinks this is fun.

 Of course sometimes she just makes up crazy stuff that makes no sense, and I try to encourage that just as much as the well-reasoned word problems. I’m not saying this is particularly brilliant, but it shows how repetition helps the “math talk” sink in and helps mathematical thinking become part of our everyday lives. Making math an integral part of our daily lives… now where have I heard that before?  π