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Math IS Fun

See, I think I misspoke (miswrote?) when I titled my last homeschooling post Math Doesn’t Have to Be Fun.  It was catchy, which is a good quality for a title, but I probably should have said something like Math Books Don’t Need to Be Fun.

Because I happen to believe that Math IS fun, and the people who are desperately trying to make the textbooks colorful and exciting are missing the point:  it’s all about the numbers, folks.

Have you ever seen someone getting really excited about Math?  My high school Algebra II/Advanced Math teacher, a sweet, wonderful, energetic Sister of Mercy named Sister Albertine, was like that.  I remember her explaining things to us on the blackboard, calling numbers “cute little creatures.”  I vividly recall the way she taught us about hyperbolas always approaching but never quite reaching the axis, which she demonstrated by taking tinier and tinier steps toward the classroom door.

Sister Albertine in recent years – photo credit: Tennova website

I mentioned in the last post that I love fractions.  I thought it was so cool that to divide them you turn them upside down and multiply them.  I love algebra too, and still enjoy solving a good complicated equation.   Most kids like number puzzles and patterns if they haven’t already been convinced that Math is hard and boring.

What’s needed to demonstrate that Math is fun, though, is not an illustrated textbook–it’s a good teacher with a love of the subject.  For fourth grade math, I hope I qualify!

what we're reading

I’m a day late to the party, and it wasn’t because I was busy reading.  I only wish.

I told you last week that I was reading this for book club:

I started this the night before our meeting, and it’s almost 500 pages, so I couldn’t pay as close attention as I should have, but that’s okay because that’s four hours of my life I will never get back.

Maybe I’m not being fair because the one member of our group who picked the book and is into tech stuff really liked it, and it’s won awards, but I was turned off in the first chapter when the main character was called a “roll model.”  This would be the main character whose name is, I kid you not, Hiro Protagonist.  Anyway, this book is about a futuristic society in which everything is a franchise, even countries, and there are lots of those.  There are no laws anymore, and people live in their own sovereign nations called burbclaves where peace is enforced by private security.  Those who can spend most of their time in the virtual reality Metaverse.  No doubt the Metaverse was cool and cutting edge in 1992 when this was published, but the author’s minute descriptions of it are boring to a modern reader.  To give the guy credit, he coined the word avatar, but we all know what that means at this point.  In my opinion, this book peaked in the first chapter, which was actually pretty cool.

Other than that, I am still on my Patricia Cornwell kick, and am about to finish this:

Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books grow increasingly long and convoluted over the years, and I like her earlier ones, like this one, the best.  I’m not sure why I enjoy this kind of thing so much–I think it might have started with Quincy, which I watched religiously and which inspired in me the brief ambition to be a forensic pathologist.  My first Cornwell book was Body Farm, which I read because of the local connection (Knoxville is the home of the REAL Body Farm).  I found that I liked her writing and the mysteries, but really the key to these books is the characterization.  And now after so many years of reading these books, Scarpetta and co. seem like old friends to me.

And now back to work.  If you’d like more book reviews/recommendations, check out the rest of the linkup at HousewifeSpice!

five favorites

Y’all, I used to scoff at low carb.  But now I’m a believer.  I’ve lost weight but more important I reversed those pesky numbers which were inching up into critical territory.

I love to eat, and that hasn’t stopped.  So herewith I share with you five favorite low carb things to eat.

1.  Apple slices with peanut butter.

This is my bedtime snack these days.  Crunchy all-natural peanut butter because we have ALWAYS used all-natural peanut butter and Kroger brand because we are thrifty.  Okay, I know you aren’t supposed to eat right before bedtime, but I used to eat a big bowl of carb-filled cereal every night before bed.  So I’m getting better.

2.  Hummus with just about anything dipped in it.

Except pita bread because carbs.  Usually it’s celery, occasionally it’s baby carrots, sometimes it’s mushrooms or red or yellow peppers.  You can buy big containers of all kinds of hummus super cheap at Aldi.  Trader Joe’s also has good deals.

3.  Nuts.  All the nuts.

Oh, nuts. So high in fat.  So bad.  At least, that’s conventional diet wisdom.  Y’all, I eat great quantities of nuts and so far I am still losing weight, but if I stop it will be because of the nuts I’m pretty sure.  I buy the cheap mixed nuts from Kroger, peanuts, cashews, sunflower kernels, almonds, and cashews.  Whenever I get hungry between meals I grab a handful, which is roughly a serving.

4.  Eggs.

Another perfect food with a bad reputation.  Eggs have all the good things in them and they are cheap.  Well, except when you start feeling guilty and buy cage-free.  We consume way too many eggs to be able to afford to pay $4 a dozen, so we compromise and buy one dozen of those for Emily, one dozen of the super high omega-3 kind for me, and three dozen of the cheap kind for Teddy.  No, I am not kidding.  That’s six days’ worth.  I sometimes wonder if the grocery clerk thinks we own a restaurant or run an orphanage.    Anyway, I eat two scrambled eggs for breakfast EVERY morning.

5.  Steak.

I love steak.  It’s one of my favorite foods period.  And suddenly it’s not a forbidden treat–it’s a staple!  We buy steaks by . . . I don’t know, the ton or something . . . from this guy who sells them off his truck for ridiculously low prices.  So there’s always steak in the house, although it disappears more quickly when Teddy is home.

I plan to write a longer post some time in the next month or so on my current diet (and my past diets) so we’ll call this a teaser post.  Head over to Mama Knows, Honeychild for more favorites!

Have you looked at your kid’s math book lately?  Besides being outrageously large and heavy, you’ll find that’s it’s colorful and has photographs on almost every page!  Also little boxes with things like “fun math facts” in them.  It makes my head swim to look in these books.  Sometimes it’s hard to find the math.

Contrast this with a really old math book, if you can find one.  I have some vintage ones that I’ve picked up here and there.  They are tiny–small enough to fit in a coat pocket.  But that doesn’t stop them from being full of really hard math.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I open a math book all I need to see are rows of math problems.  (Well, a little explanation is nice, too.)  When I was a kid, our math books were somewhat larger and more colorful than the vintage kind, but smaller and less distracting than those of today.  I would have been happy to use the series we used most of the way through grade school, but you don’t get to keep your math book.

I kept reading about something called the Saxon math program that homeschoolers all seemed to love.  So that’s what I got and used for Teddy and Jake, and I will be using the same thing for Lorelei.  Besides being full of math problems and devoid of color photography, the Saxon series also just do a good job at teaching math.  Subtitled “an incremental development,” the series starts each new lesson by reviewing what you’ve learned in the lesson just before.  Concepts build on concepts, and nothing is forgotten from lack of use.  Each set of exercises is preceded by a clear explanation with examples, so you can work through it and teach it to your kid (and perhaps remember how to do it yourself if you’ve happened to forget!).

math 1

math 2

 

math 3

 

math 4

You can buy the Saxon series direct from the manufacturer, or you can do what I did and get it on eBay way cheaper.  Now, you won’t get a workbook or a teacher’s manual or manipulatives if you do it that way, but I do homeschooling on the cheap.  It’s a drag not to have an answer key, although not such a big deal for me since I’m pretty sure I can still handle fourth grade math.

So is the approach effective?  Does it work?  I homeschooled my big boys for fourth grade, then sent them back to St. Joseph School.  Well, Jake was close to failing math in third grade.  He had no problem with the Saxon method.  I sat with him and wrote the problems for him because he has dysgraphia and he’d make a mess and get all frustrated before it was even time to start solving the problem.  When he took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills later in the year, he was ahead of his grade level.  Math never became his favorite subject, but he never struggled too much with grade school math again.  Teddy is basically a math genius.  He was already a year ahead when we started, and I think we got part of the way into a second book.  He went on to complete Algebra I AND Geometry before he even started high school.

Math isn’t Lorelei’s favorite subject, but she doesn’t have any particular problem with it.  I’m looking forward to using this book to help her become even more confident in her math skills.  And we get to do fractions!  I love fractions.

Since school time seems to be rushing ever closer and there’s nothing I can do to stop that, I thought I might get myself in the mood for homeschooling Lorelei (and get my head on straight before we get started) by writing some posts about the curriculum we are going to be using.

You won’t find this curriculum on the internet or in a catalogue or at a homeschooling conference because I made it up myself.  I am still making it up, in fact.  To me, that is one of the best parts of homeschooling.

Today, let’s talk about spelling.

Now, if I can consider myself an authority on anything, it would have to be spelling.  There was a time in my life–a time that stretched over several years–when spelling was the only thing anyone thought about when they heard my name and pretty much the only thing people I didn’t know well ever wanted to talk to me about.  I won the Knoxville City Spelling Bee five times, the first time when I was just eight years old, and I came in 9th in the National Spelling Bee when I was 13.  From my own experience, and from observing my kids, and seeing trends in teaching spelling come and go, I’ve reached some conclusions about spelling ability in general and about the best way to teach kids to spell.

I used to think that if you were smart, and read a lot, you’d automatically be a good speller.  I still think that’s mostly true, but I’ve known plenty of very smart people–some of them my own kids–who still make spelling errors.  Maybe not many compared to the general population, but they still make them.  I can spell words I’ve never seen before, and my ability to spell carries over into other languages I’ve studied, leading me to believe that there’s something about being an excellent speller that you are either born with or you’re not.

That doesn’t mean you can’t learn to spell most words you will need in life, though. (Well, maybe some people really can’t, but I think most people can .)  So what is the best way to teach spelling?

Here’s one way that is stupid.  The teachers at my kids’ school attended a conference and learned about this method–the latest most exciting thing EVER which they stopped using after putting all my kids through it–called “Johnny Can Spell.”  This was based on teaching kids spelling “rules” which the teachers held up on cards and made the kids chant until they had them all memorized by rote.  How many things are wrong with this method?  Well, for one, English is notorious for having few rules and for breaking the ones it does have.  I used to take great pleasure in finding exceptions to each of these rules when the kids would tell them to me.  I remember one of the rules was “English words never end in i.”  It took me only a second to come up with “ski.”  My kid told the teacher and her response was that “ski” is not an English word.  Well, not originally, but it is now.  We don’t speak Old English these days.

The only rule they gave us when I was learning to spell was “i before e except after c,” which is a nice rule of thumb but STILL has exceptions, even if you add “or when sounded like A as in neighbor or weigh.” (weird, leisure)  And even if every single one of these rules was 100% accurate all the time, who spells like that?  Who has the time?

So in my homeschool, we go back to the way I was taught to spell, the way my parents were taught to spell.  I found this little gem or a book originally at my friend’s antique shop.  I lost it when the house burned down but was lucky enough to find it on Amazon so I could use it for Lorelei.  It’s the book they were using in the 1940s in Knox County, and in my opinion they should have kept right on using it.

spelling book

It’s a thin little book–each lesson takes only two pages!–and yet there is enough material in here for an entire school year.

Each lesson starts with a little story showing the words in context.  So on the first day of the week you read the story and find the words.

spelling book 3

 

Then you copy the words in your spelling notebook.  You can write a story with the words, or use them in sentences.  I used to love this assignment as a child.  It was so fun making up sentences, and I loved trying to make them into a story even when that was not part of the assignment.  Lorelei is burned out on sentence writing, because there were so many rules attached to the assignment (at least five word sentences, can’t begin with articles, must use all “third grade” words) that she would get frustrated.  I’m looking forward to helping her learn to enjoy writing and being creative.

On Tuesday, there are a set of exercises to do with the words.  These vary.  Sometimes you look some of them up in the dictionary, or you might divide them into syllables, or talk about their root words.  There’s lots of variety.

spelling book 2

On Wednesday, you take a practice test.  If you miss any words, you write them down correctly in your notebook.

On Thursday, you practice the words you missed.  The book provides clear guidelines for how to study the words: “Look at the hard word and say it softly; look at the word and say each letter; close your eyes and try to see each letter of the word without looking at it; look at the word and copy it; write the word three times without looking at your book.”  Some people might think this is boring.  I think it’s a lot better than copying words on the computer in different fancy fonts. or writing each letter in a different color, or making the words into a train.  Believe me, when Lorelei was doing those things last year the last thing she was thinking about was the actual words and how to spell them.

There are also Review Words from the earlier chapters to look over on Thursday, and extra words to learn if you have time.

On Friday, you take the final test, which includes the Review Words.  If you miss any, you are supposed to keep a record of these and study them in your spare time.  Chances are they may come back in the form of Review Words in a later chapter.  Plus at the end of each six week unit, you spend a week reviewing all the words you’ve learned, following basically the same pattern outlined above.

And that’s it.  Basic and simple, and it works as well or better than any method of teaching spelling, without unnecessary bells or whistles.

Does anyone disagree?  Have you found other more effective ways of teaching spelling?  Tell me in the comments!

It’s Answer Me This time!

cda21-answermethis3

1. What’s your favorite thing on YouTube?

I love to look up old Sesame Street and Electric Company clips from my childhood and show them to my kids.  Also old commercials.  Here’s one favorite:

2. Who taught you to drive?

My parents.  I think my father took me out the first few time, and then after that my mother just let me drive everywhere we went (only if my sisters weren’t in the car, though, because they would freak).  I also took Drivers Ed.  And I failed the test the first time I took it!  I was past 17 before I got my license.

3. What’s your favorite thing to cook?

I can’t think of one particular thing.  I like to cook things out of my head, with lots of ingredients, that don’t require recipes.  I make wonderful cakes, but get a little tired of having to bake so many!

aunt hatties cake

4. Are you a hugger or a non-hugger? Why?

I’m not one of these people who wants to hug you every time we cross paths, but I put up with it.  I have been clung to by so many children for so many years that sometimes when people touch me it makes my skin crawl, frankly.  But I enjoy a good hug with people I have not seen for a long time.

5. Where do you pray best?

In church, if the kids aren’t bothering me.  Otherwise, in my bed before I fall asleep.

Picture of IC that looks like a painting

6. When is the last time you saw/spoke to your grandparents?

My grandparents are all gone now.  My paternal grandfather died when I was about one month old, so I don’t remember him at all.  My maternal grandfather died in September 1980.  I was 13 and it was my first real experience with death.  He used to bring us treats from the grocery store–he loved to hunt for bargains–and I think the last time I saw him was a couple of days before he died when he came to visit and left some nectarines for me.  I remember how strange it felt, eating them after he had died.  My paternal grandmother died of a stroke in April 1995.  She was in the hospital for several days, so that was the last time I saw her alive.  Before that, Teddy was born in February of that year, and she would have visited me in the hospital, so that was probably the last time I spoke to her.  Finally, my maternal grandmother died in January 2009.  The last time I saw her was on Christmas at my sister’s house.  She’d had a stroke years before and was aphasic, so I didn’t often speak to her by phone.  I do, however, have the last time she called me to wish me a happy birthday saved in my messages.

My maternal grandmother, Mima.

My maternal grandmother, Mima.

My paternal grandmother, Granny

My paternal grandmother, Granny

Head on over to the Catholic All Year to read other responses.  You can answer for yourself in the comments if you want!

I’m late to the party, but thought I should do my bit to promote NFP Awareness Week.

If you aren’t Catholic (and in a sad commentary on . . . lots of things, maybe even if you are) you may have no idea what NFP even is.  The doctor I went to see right after I was married didn’t.  Of course, that’s been a while back, so maybe the situation has improved.

NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, and it’s not your parents’ Rhythm Method, which didn’t work.  Learned properly and followed exactly, it’s just about as effective as the Pill.  Only it’s permitted by the Church and non-abortifacient, and if you don’t care about that stuff, maybe being able to avoid pregnancy AND possible blood clots and other unsavory consequences of bombarding your body with unnatural hormones for extended periods of time might pique your interest.

I remember my first exposure to NFP.  I was a Senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, in a co-ed class taught by a priest, and he showed us some goofy movie.  We heard the words “cervical mucus,” became disgusted and/or embarrassed, and quickly tuned out.  Now, I give him props for at least trying, but I can think of better ways to introduce the topic.  And because no groundwork had been laid beforehand (at least, not that I remember) to explain exactly WHY artificial contraceptives were wrong, other than “because the Church said so,” none of us understood the importance of what he was trying to teach us.

I was engaged to be married before I heard about NFP again, not in a marriage preparation class, but rather in a Christian Marriage class at Georgetown, which I took voluntarily as one of the classes I needed to get a minor in Theology.  This priest had us read Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics, Familiaris Consortio, and Humanae Vitae before we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  These books changed my attitude and shaped my future life (and John’s, which he didn’t much appreciate since he was not a Catholic at the time!).

I’m not going to go into the details and the science because if you are truly interested and want to know you can Google the links as well as I can.  I can only share with you the freedom of knowing that you  are 1) following the law of the Church; 2) not polluting your body with chemicals; 3) not interfering with intimacy with unpleasant and inconvenient devices.  Given today’s value for doing things naturally, I’m surprised that more people don’t embrace NFP for purely ecological reasons.

Well, you say, but it doesn’t work.  You have five children and everyone I know who writes about NFP has at least that many if not more.  I don’t want five children.

I didn’t want five children either.  I wanted ten.  See how I don’t have ten?  John didn’t want ten.  That’s called compromise.  I’ve been married for not quite 25 years.  If NFP doesn’t work, why do I only have five children?  Do you think that six-year space between Teddy and William was just luck?

Teddy's Graduation

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