Category Archives: Math

You Are Going to Love Me for This One

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.

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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.

Beanie, meanwhile, makes sandwiches.


Brain food!

From the Archives: Bubble Gum Math

(Originally posted at Here in the Bonny Glen in August, 2005.)

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.


Hey, did you know there’s a Math-U-See blog now?

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.

Putting Her Money Where My Mouth Is

Christine of the lovely blog The Simple and the Ordinary wrote me a little while ago to ask for suggestions for good math resources that might appeal to her daughter. I recommended some books by Marilyn Burns which Jane has read to tatters:

(reprinted from Here in the Bonny Glen, October 2005)

031611739001_aa_scmzzzzzzz_Math for Smarty Pants by Marilyn Burns

Oh how my Jane adores this book, and others in the Brown Paper School Books series! Other favorites are:

I Hate Mathematics!

The Book of Think : Or How to Solve a Problem Twice Your Size

This Book Is About Time

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.


So how did Christine’s kids like them? You can find out in this post.

20/400 Foresight

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.

Go Knit Your Math Homework, Dear

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).

Look, No Exclamation Points

The packers are here. I am sitting still long enough to nurse the baby, but I will take great care not to convey excitement or frenetic activity because PEOPLE WANT TO TAKE AWAY MY DR. PEPPER. Oh, look, I blew it already. Ah well. I’m a woman in labor, remember? Right about now Dr. Pepper is my equivalent of a nice hot bath. (Says the woman who spent most of her last labor in the tub. NOTHING beats a hot bath during labor.)

Anyway. Jane thinks you should entertain yourselves with her favorite website today: Absurd Math.

I Guess the New York Times Doesn’t Know About Singapore Math

An opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times ("Teaching Math, Singapore Style") discusses the recent decision by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to revert to the old-fashioned method of teaching math by drilling the basics.

…[I]n the late 1980’s…many schools moved away from traditional mathematics instruction, which
required drills and problem solving. The new system, sometimes derided
as “fuzzy math,’’ allowed children to wander through problems in a
random way without ever learning basic multiplication or division. As a
result, mastery of high-level math and science was unlikely. The new
math curriculum was a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes,
touching on dozens of topics each year.

Many people trace this
unfortunate development to a 1989 report by an influential group, the
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. School districts read its
recommendations as a call to reject rote learning. Last week the
council reversed itself, laying out new recommendations that will focus
on a few basic skills at each grade level.

Under the new (old)
plan, students will once again move through the basics — addition,
subtraction, multiplication, division and so on — building the skills
that are meant to prepare them for algebra by seventh grade. This new
approach is being seen as an attempt to emulate countries like
Singapore, which ranks at the top internationally in math.

Sounds like the NCTM is thinking along the same lines as many home educators. The Singapore Math curriculum—a series of math texts and workbooks originally used in Singapore primary schools—is quite popular with American homeschoolers. What’s funny is that I’ve always thought the Singapore math books jumped around a lot, which is the opposite of the approach Singapore-the-country is being lauded for in this article. That was actually something Jane enjoyed about the 2nd-grade Singapore Math workbooks: they included fractions, geometry, and graphs along with the multiple-digit addition and subtraction that was the main focus of that year’s material. (But they do include a lot of drill in the basic processes, especially if you use both the workbooks and the non-consumable texts.)

Jane loved the puzzles and riddles in the workbooks: in the early grades, Singapore Math feels more like a puzzle book than a math text, what with the games and the cartoon illustrations.

A little way into the third-grade book, Jane got bored with Singapore and asked if we could go back to Math-U-See. We switched, and she’s been cranking away with MUS ever since. It’s an approach that really works for her; she loves Steve Demme’s sense of humor, she enjoys his explanation of the concepts, and the DVD format really appeals to her. She likes to watch the DVDs with a markerboard in front of her, and she’ll pause every time Mr. Demme sets up a problem, solving it before he does, to see if she got the right answer.

She tends to watch three or four lessons in a gulp, and then she’ll go back to them later, one by one, doing two or three of the six workbook pages that make up each lesson. When we reached the fractions book (Epsilon, I think it is?), she watched that DVD like I watch the BBC’S Pride and Prejudice: in binges, over and over. Even now, she still sometimes asks for it, although she has moved on through the Zeta level (decimals and percents) and the Pre-Algebra, which she is just finishing up. I’ve been looking at the Algebra level, trying to decide whether to order it here in Virginia where the sales tax is lower but we’ll have to move it, or wait until we get to California. (You order through regional distributors so you wind up paying sales tax from just about every state, I think.)

Rose likes Math-U-See too, but she enjoys a bout of workbookery from time to time—at which point we whip out the Singapore books for a week or two.

But I digress. I’m intrigued by the NCMT decision; I’ve heard about the fuzzy math but graduated high school a few years before the 1989 report that introduced it.