Thursday, June 11, 2015

A summer scholar hour

While my husband is off "playing army", I put my boys to work.  Many kinds of work.  We have indoor chores, we have outdoor chores, and we have academic chores.   In fact, I might be the only person I know who home schools my kids during the summer only.

But these boys, oh these boys.  Learning is so very hard for them that if I didn't drill them, any summer learning loss would become doubly dangerous.  And from my end, summer is generally the only time I have to teach them material the way that *I* think it ought to be taught.  Last summer, we had a "Financial Curriculum Summer camp", but timing conflicts this year kept me from repeating that glorious camp. (Sigh).  So instead, this summer we have a daily hour or two of scholarly work, broken into three pieces:
  • Current events.  As I read the paper each morning, I choose an interesting article or two, and I write up a series of questions about it; I have the boys read the article(s) and answer the questions.  I want my boys to work with close reading of text, and also to make inferences about how the subject connects to their lives.  Then we discuss the article together and re-read the relevant parts to support our answers.  Dang, but my boys have trouble reading an article and answering questions about it!  Still, this is a low-effort activity from my own end; I like it as a way of holding my sons accountable for reading and for understanding something of the world around them.
  • Quiet reading for half an hour.  ahhhh, peace and quiet.  There's nothing quite as lovely as sitting together in the living room, all of us curled up with our books, dog snoozing between us, and hearing J-son break into giggles over what he just read.  Very pleasant.  
  • Math Problems.   This, although it is hard going for the boys, I love most of all.  I mean, obviously.   Darn poor kids have a mathematician as a mom!

    I especially love giving  the boys problems that require a mix of arithmetic, words, geometry, and strategy.   For example:  How many triangles can you make from these numbers: 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9?   We reframed the "triangle inequality" as the "T. Rex inequality", deciding that the long edge of the triangle was like the body of the T. Rex, and the shorter sides were like the arms; they have to be long enough to reach the mouth.  That's not quite correct science, but it's a great analogy for working the problem.  (By the way, there are nine triangles.  Can you find them all?  How do you organize them, or do you organize them at all?  Good questions for kids and their parents to play with).
In fact, I like working math problems with my boys so much that I made up a series of worksheets for the boys to play with.  Here's the first worksheet in a trifecta of three; this little trifecta explores "Triangular Numbers".  (To see a picture of why 153 is the 17th Triangular Number, click here).  

On Day 2 of the trifecta, the boys used the birthday candle version of the question -- eventually, and with lots of false starts -- to figure out a way to add up the first one hundred natural numbers, that is, to create a shortcut for summing 1 + 2 + . . . + 100.  They're not quite Gauss yet, but I like giving them a chance to play with these famous problems and making the math their own.


Per a reader request, I've put a pdf with the first 5 pages of math problems here.  More will follow eventually . . . .


  1. " I might be the only person I know who home schools my kids during the summer only."

    You're not, though we do some on weekends and vacations during the school year.

    If you put together your math worksheets in pdf form, I will buy them! I would love more fun math. Most of the stuff we've found that's extra is hard but not necessarily beautiful. (DC1 is currently going through an Edward Zocorro book and it's not that fun or different from what he'll be getting in school later.) Ellison's Hard Math for Elementary Students was great, but it's only one book.

    1. Oh, sheesh, probably not worth paying for. So far, I only have 6 pages of worksheets, and they are all pdf version now -- TeXed up. Do you do LaTeX? That might be the easiest way to get these to you.

    2. Oh, and have you checked out "Anno's Math Games"? There are three books. My daughter and I thought they were cute, back when she was little. The approach Anno uses is not exactly rigorous problem solving, but the pictures are engaging and the topics range far across math fields.

    3. I don't currently have a LaTeX thingy easily accessible. I can definitely view pdfs though.

      What I really want is for my parents to find where my Martin Gardner Aha! and Gotcha! books are and bring them here. We've got a ton of fun math books (like Math for Smarty Pants and Family Math and so on), but not so much in workbook form. (Not that Aha and Gotcha are in workbook form, but they have great comics and they're readable on many levels as a person gets older. I may have to get them used.)

    4. Okey dokey, I've added a link at the bottom of the post. I'll update the link as I get more of these problems written. - MM