This one snuck up on me, but it’s been a great way to pass time in the car and sneak in some math skills. Like most moms, much of my day is devoted to drop-offs, pick-ups, practices, lessons, etc., so we are in the car more than I care to admit. A few weeks ago on the way to gymnastics we decided to keep track of traffic lights. This wasn’t a planned activity. It was actually Ramona who pointed out we hit 2 green lights in a row, and from that point on we tracked traffic light colors all the way to the gym.

Would you believe there are 17 traffic lights between our house and gymnastics class?! Sheesh! On that first trip we counted 9 reds, 8 greens, and 0 yellows. On a subsequent trip we counted 7 reds, 9 greens and 1 yellow. We now know there are 11 lights between Preschool and Target, and 10 lights between home and Kindergarten. Boringly, there’s only one light between our home and the local elementary school (and it’s always red when we get there!).

There’s so much to love about this light-counting game… where to start ?!

1.      Counting light gets everyone engaged in the same activity. This just feels way more positive than the bickering that tends to erupt in the back seats when we aren’t working together.

2.      Light counting gets your kids actively involved in data collection. It’s not trivial to remember the number of greens, reds, and yellows while you’re on the road (try it!). It may be easier to assign a color to each passenger. For a longer trip you might need to keep a tally with pen and paper (preferably not the driver). You could even keep a log in the car to compare results after making the same trip several times.

3.      Within a few trips your kids will have memorized the total number of lights between your home and all your common destinations. Not that this is important to know these things, but I find many kids enjoy this sort of trivial information.

4.      Counting lights provides a nice segue into the world of data analysis and statistics. Once you have counted reds, greens, and yellows for the same trip several times, your kids will develop expectations about how many reds, greens, and yellows are typical. Help them determine the average number of red (or green) lights you encounter for each trip to soccer practice. Then ask questions like “What do you think are the chances we’ll get all greens today?” Or all reds, or only 1 green, or 3 yellows, etc.? Watch your children transform into budding statisticians!  

Now that we’ve become a traffic-light-counting crew, the kids actually get upset when we forget to count. They get excited when we go to a new place and can track lights on a different route. They cheer for the color they’re in charge of counting. Have you ever felt relieved to get a red light? This game can make you feel that way! And of course, the thrill of hitting the rare yellow light can be so exhilarating.

Best of all, traffic light counting is for all ages. Even if you don’t have kids, or your kids are in high school, just try it on your next few trips. You may be surprised how easy it is to get caught up in this simple diversion. π 

Hi my friends. So sorry to leave you alone for so long. The preschool newsletter is done. I can move on with my life! Here's a little post that has to do with big numbers:

Seven Billion
I found this poster inside a National Geographic magazine on our coffee table:
We don’t subscribe to National Geographic so I don’t even know where it came from, but anyway this fascinating picture is called “The Face Of Seven Billion”. It is actually a sort of chart. The face you see is made up of tiny human figures, 7000 of them to be exact. Can you see it better here?:
How about now?:
Each human figure represents 1 million people. 7,000 of them together represent the 7 billion people in the world. Yikes! So many people! Let me tell you, the kids actually “got” this. Well, I take that back. I don't believe they grasp the magnitude of 7 billion, but they "got" how the chart works and they know that there are A LOT of people in the world. I explained the poster to my 7-year-old one time and he understood it well enough to repeat the meaning behind the chart to his little sister who also “got” it for the most part. The 3-year-old, not so much….

I commend National Geographic for creating this interesting, informative, and artistic presentation of our world population, in a way that is impactful even to a child. I must tell you that the back of this poster contained so many more intriguing facts and charts. You really should check out the interactive version on the National Geographic website.

By the way, the arrangement of these 7,000 tiny people creates an image of the most “typical” person on the planet who happens to be a 28-year-old Chinese male. When my kids stepped back and saw this face for the first time they exclaimed “It’s Daddy!” OK, it kind of looks like him, but in fact he’s much older than this “typical” guy. And for those who know “Daddy” I think you’ll agree with me he’s anything but typical! π
Is there some law of nature that states as soon as winter is safely behind us, our calendars must automatically be filled with countless activities, meetings, classes, conferences, sporting events, trips, and celebrations? Everyone has come out of hibernation to make up for all that winter downtime. Due to the sudden upswing in activity around here, I’m a bit backlogged on my writing – so much to blog about, so little time! As soon as I get the Kindergarten newsletter done, I’ll have more time to document the math we’ve been up to.

Despite our busy-ness, we still find time for numbers. Just for fun, here’s a glimpse into a typical morning around here – “arts & crafts” with Ramona:
Enjoy! π
We have short bits of down-time between weeknight activities. On Mondays everyone is home from school by 3:45pm and we have to leave for Karate at 4:10. On Wednesdays we’re all home by 4:15pm then we depart for gymnastics at 5. Normally this in-between time is spent doing homework, playing, snacking, making dinner, whining, fighting, etc… but sometimes all our “stuff” is done and we’re left sitting around waiting for departure time.

It’s times like these you have a choice that goes something like this: a) read a magazine while the kids play their DS, b) turn on the TV, c) force your son to practice piano 15 more minutes, or d) play a math game! I freely admit option a and b are good for me many an afternoon, and option c was really just for the tiger moms out there, which leaves option d as a fine choice for those afternoons when everyone is getting along and you find yourself with a few ounces of patience left and 20 minutes to kill.

We encountered this situation a few days ago, so I pulled out a game that’s been sitting on the shelf for months:
Math Bingo! Since we never played before I wasn’t sure how hard this particular version would be (keep in mind the players are 3, 5, and 7 years old), but I figured we could wing it. And so we did, and it worked! I made a rule that you can’t yell out the answer, you have to raise your hand and wait to be called on:
The other rule was that someone had to help Ramona:
Some of the problems were a little challenging for our age group, but we muddled through:
We completed 2 rounds and before we knew it, it was time to leave for karate class. Twenty minutes, 20 fairly challenging math problems under our belts.  And guess what, no lie, this was actually fun! Kids love it when you sit down and play a game with them (even a math game, I promise).

If you are interested in obtaining this game for yourself, I’m sorry to report it’s no longer available in the $1 bin at Target, which is where mine came from. I saw it for sale on e-bay for $6.95, but honestly I don’t think you want to pay that much. There are tons of math bingo games out there, just google “math bingo” and you’ll be all set.  π
I recently attended a presentation on Teaching Math To Preschoolers, organized by our school district’s Preschool Parents Club. The speakers provided lots of ideas for integrating math into the lives of 3 -5 year olds, and one of the main points was this: Count! Count! Count! Count everything, all the time, and those numbers will sink in before you know it. As you can imagine, I bought into the count-count-count philosophy years ago so our kids are pretty much mad-counters at this point.  Today I want to share a counting game we’ve played a lot lately.

We often hold up our fingers to show how many items we are talking about. How many different ways can you show a number using the fingers on one hand? That’s the challenge I presented Ramona while we waited in the car at the bus stop. We started with the number 2. Well, there’s the obvious:
But how about this:
Or this?:
Moving on to number 3:
I have a soft spot in my heart for chubby, clumsy fingers. Some of these are pretty tricky for little hands. What good practice for improving finger dexterity though, don’t you think? The bus came before we got to 1, 4 or 5, so we tried some of those combinations at dinner (sorry, no pictures!).

When working with a preschooler, one-hand combinations are enough. For older kids, how about using both hands? How many different ways can you form the number 3 using the fingers on both hands? How about all the other numbers? See if your (older) kids can figure this out. With so many possibilities, how can you keep track of the combinations?

I am excited to let you know that my friend Jill’s son already figured out this problem. He devised a method where he assigned each finger a number, then worked out each finger combination and removed any duplicates to come up with an answer. She took a picture of his work so I hope she doesn’t mind if I share it with you:
And guess what, Jill told me they did this at the dinner table. I just love spontaneous math lessons. Thanks Jill for sharing! π
Hi!  This is Chao.  I gave the kids these worksheets a few days ago.

For Wanda, I made her do additions.  She's good with results up to 20, but gets confused about the tens.  So first I had her add multiples of ten to get used to the scale.  Then I had her add a double digit with a single digit without need to carry, like 56+3.  

Then I had her round large numbers to the nearest hundreds.  The kids have a hard time dealing with large numbers.  I want to show them that they are the same as single digit numbers.  It's just the scale is different.  I also want them to have a sense for numbers and understand that most of the time you only care about answers up to a certain precision.  Whether you pay $25,137 or $24,972 for a car is not important.

I only found out about Geoboards last year. Maybe I used them in school long ago but I certainly don’t remember. If you haven’t seen them before let me tell you, they sure are cool for playing around with math concepts, particularly geometry which happens to be one of my favorites.  Here’s what they look like:
Each board has a grid of small pegs, and you connect rubber bands around the pegs to form different shapes. The boards come in different sizes; the ones shown here are 5X5 grids.

One benefit of geoboards is that all ages can have fun and learn with them. A preschooler can make simple shapes: triangle, square, rectangle, etc. They can make big shapes, small shapes, and crazy shapes – let them use their imagination!
For younger elementary students, show them a shape/pattern and ask them to re-create it on the geoboard.  They can get a little complicated believe it or not. Here are some example patterns we tried:
For older elementary students, geoboards can be used to explain perimeter and area. Don’t be surpised if geoboards make future appearances here on mathmeup! Rather than bore you with more pictures of my kids, here’s one of several available videos to show how geoboards can be used:
So where can you find these wonderful boards? I ordered mine from Amazon, and have seen them at Becker’s teacher-supply store as well. They are not expensive, and you can really get mileage out of these things for years to come. π