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Back to School – The Easy Adjustment

back to school photosAre we all breathing easier now that the first week of school is behind us? Sort of. I know that some people (me, for example) don’t do well with transitions. Despite three calendars and electronic reminders, I still have forgotten things this week. Is it my system? Is it my aging brain? Do I just wish that summer wasn’t over and am in denial? All of the above, I think. How do you make transition to school easier on your family? There are great online calendars and organizing systems for computers/phones/tablets like Evernote and Cozi, and paper ones for you paper people like MomAgenda and Mom Central that clean,  nice and easy to use (if you remember to use them). I am not really organized (cue the snort laughs from loved ones) so I have to set up no-fail systems – I actually just started a secret snack drawer (no, I can’t tell you where it is) so I have full containers of something for sharing (for those occasional times when it is 10 pm and someone remembers that we need a snack to share with the class – yes, I have beverages, too).  I also have a present cabinet (downgraded to a drawer now that the kids are older, the presents are smaller in size). What do I keep in it? Blank cards, basic (but lovely) hostess gifts, iTunes gift cards, Starbucks gift cards, unopened crayons, cool pencils, children’s birthday presents (anything from Klutz – especially the craft kits), books (I like to buy books anyway, and when you place your Scholastic order at school just order a few extra books or gift sets and you will have a great present on hand). Scholastic also has a great Parents page with tips and resources – sign up for their newsletter, too. I just received a packet of books from them to review and am so excited (some went out the door to family friends to read first – I managed to secure the promise of an actual young adult review or summary of the books in return) because I am busy driving carpool and re-learning some math skills  – Thank you, TenMarks! (a great on-line math resource for when I can’t get my engineer dad on the phone and sometimes even when I can). Now I am off to Staples one more time (this makes 6 times – don’t ask) – thank goodness I went for that 15% discount card! Don’t forget to get ready for Parent-Teacher Conferences! Here is a recent article from Social Moms on Making the Most of the Parent-Teacher Conference. What are you doing to get back into the swing of school? Advice? Snafus? Funny stories? I’d love to hear your experiences – Please share!

My Secret Math Brain

It is true, I have one. Despite years of vowing that I hated math and couldn’t do it, I do have a math brain that I find I can access at will. During my children’s early – read formative – years (which are now long since past or so I told myself so I could go back to not being good at math), I pretended that I was good at math to provide a strong example so they would not end up hating math (it is always the mom’s fault, you know).

Example of conversations in the early years:

Darling blonde daughter : “Mom, what is 400 plus 200?”

Me, while making dinner and answering the phone and chasing after the younger darling blonde daughter: “Umm…600?”

This goes on for 10 minutes, degree of difficulty remains the same.

Darling blonde girl: “Dad, you can’t stump Mom!”

Dad, grinning, “Nope, Mom is a whiz!” (we quietly snort laugh).

This was all good until the Peter Principle was reached and I couldn’t help with the math easily while making dinner, answering the telephone and chasing other darling blonde child. I am a strong believer in empowering girls to be anything they want to be – hopefully more Marie Curie than Kim Kardashian, just saying – and that girls do well having strong role models but if you are not strong in math, you have not relegated your daughters to a life of mathlessness. You don’t have to love calculus to encourage math strength. Also every child should be encouraged in Math and Science or History and Literature or Latin or anything they are interested in pursuing. Soapbox, much?  If you think they will not be good at math, guess what? They won’t be good in math. So don’t project your math fears, channel them. Okay. The preaching portion of the program is over…ish.

Personally, I do not walk around planning math lessons (some mommies do – really, I know some) but I do take advantage of them when they happen.

Lesson 1: You put an analog clock in the playroom and get a Judy Clock, too. What is a Judy Clock? [amazon-product image=”51SuxgYgSsL._SL160_.jpg” type=”image”]B0007KK0EE[/amazon-product]You talk about the time, you let them play with the Judy clock to match the time and progress to showing the time on the hand-held clock. Some day they may own a wrist watch and it may not be digital.

Lesson 2: In the grocery store, you measure fruits and vegetables on the scale and look at the price per pound and – voila – you have a math problem. Sure, it takes hours to shop this way so either make sure you have time (no rushing these math moments) or limit (yes, please limit the number of math problems you allow your children to do) each child to only one or two estimations. My mom used to add up everything in the grocery cart as she shopped – to keep track cost-wise but also I believe to exercise brain power – ours and hers. Have your kids do this, too. It’s fun to see who is closest to the actual total. Really it is. Try throwing in a budget lesson, too.

Lesson 3: Build with Legos, Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs (remember those?). Play with modeling clay, puzzles, board games, toys that come apart, writing and drawing materials, paint (all types – relax – there are tons of washable products). [amazon-product image=”51JG3GaCiaL._SL160_.jpg” type=”image”]B00004TFRN[/amazon-product]

Lesson 4: Do origami. Here is a link to the New Art Center that has a class for children in Origami. From the course description: Students will learn about visualization, spatial reasoning, and geometric modeling, and finish class with beautifully made art pieces.

Other resources: I found this great site Brain Cake – it is fun and engaging and a terrific resource. A bit from the BrainCake website: Brain Cake -capability momThe Girls, Math & Science Partnership’s mission is to engage, educate, and embrace girls as architects of change. Working with girls age 11 – 17 and their parents, teachers, and mentors, we draw organizations, stakeholders, and communities together in an effort to ensure that girls succeed in math and science. Welcome to the Girls, Math & Science Partnership, a program of Carnegie Science Center.

And, me? How am I accessing my math brain? Well, it happened like this – I was asked an algebra question (the homework is getting tougher) and figured it out by going through a tutorial on TenMarks. Yes, I did. Hey, I’ve watched tutorials on HTML and sat through webinars (I know) on other fun topics…what makes you think I won’t sit through one on Systems of Equations and Inequalities?  So anyway, there is a free trial that you can customize by grade and topic (yes, for the free trial they let you do this). Very helpful and I used it to solve the algebra problem in question. I have to say that the site is well-organized, the program is thorough and there are hints and do-over worksheets  (gotta love do-overs!) if you need them. But most helpful to me was the step-by-step video that walks you through the problem. I know, right? Great.  I have to say that I was not sure we could go without a math tutor this year – both Middle School and High School math? Yikes. Knock wood – so far so good.

Here are some links to some well-researched articles. You are welcome.

From NPR Girls’ Math Skills Equal To Boys’, Study Finds by Nell Greenfieldboyce

From ARS Technica Female teachers transmit math anxiety to female students by Casey Johnston

From The New York Times Making Math Lessons as Easy as 1, Pause, 2, Pause … By WINNIE HU

Back to School – Math help is on the way!

I see happy smiling moms trawling the aisles of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, grocery shopping alone is a luxury many had to forgo for the summer….it’s the little things, I tell you.  Sometimes I see those same moms at the mall returning garments deemed unacceptable by their off-spring …or maybe that is just me. I see smiling faces of children greeting friends that they haven’t seen all summer but from the mom-talk in the neighborhood, I also know that quite a few are unhappy at the prospect of buckling down to school work.

Transitions are tough for kids – even the most resilient and bouncy are somewhat thrown by this new change in routine. Be sure to ask – and really listen  to what they are telling you – not just the dead-end question, “How was your day?” but “Who did you have lunch with?” “Was the bus on time?” (guaranteed to get a funny bus story) or “How is it going in Math? Are you doing (insert area of previous frustration…long division, fractions…here) yet?”

It is easy to let things ride (slide) as the school years starts up – there are back to school events and easy get-to-know you assignments and review. Tons of review, especially in math. That’s fine if you are confident that your child is in general up to speed in the subject, but when a bigger transition year (4th to 5th grade, elementary to middle school, middle school to high school come to mind) is underway, it is a good idea to build the support in early.

Call the tutor or be prepared to dust off your pre-algebra brain (mine is too dusty to access – guess which route I take?) – you have a short window (September, usually) before new topics are introduced.

The tutor is always a good resource and we have a great one- but is not always needed – there is an on-line math help program that I found through a neighbor called Ten Marks (I wrote about it here ).  It is an individualized program and really well-designed – there are games and incentives and it is fun. Really, even I think it is fun. One of their pages has even been picked by a Minnesotan Homeschooler as her top great pages on Facebook (see below). If you are homeschooling, it goes without saying that you are really particular (I applaud you and know I couldn’t do it) and I am glad for great math program finds.

On-line math and apps are always more fun than worksheets – give these a try. Chances are your kids won’t even notice – or care – that they are honing math skills because it is so much fun. So here are some sanity saving games and apps for math- yes, you are welcome.

Five great math pages on Facebook from Alicia Bayer and her husband who homeschool their four children (ages two to eleven) in Westbrook, Minnesota. She blogs about their homeschool life at http://magicandmayhem.homeschooljournal.net.

I also found on Wired.com Geek Dad’s picks for some cool apps

and another really great site moms with apps

Since I was reeling through the world wide web anyway, I googled ‘Back to school advice’ – Wow. Pages upon pages and some really great articles. Here is a rule I didn’t know but am instituting pronto.

The 5-2-1-0 rule (I like the premise plus it ties into this math-y post) from Dr. Randolph Nunez, a pediatrician at Lincoln Hospital in New York:

— Five servings of fruits and vegetables.

— Two hours or less of non-homework screen time. Kids exposed to many hours of television, video games, cell phones and computers have decreased school performance.

— One hour of exercise.

— Zero candy, juice or soda loaded with sugar.

Come to think of it – that’s a good rule for anyone.

Summer Brain Drain…Summer Slide… (whatever you call it)…how to stop it

capability mom ten marksWe are just into the last month of summer – long, hot days at the beach or pool, still some summer camp and here in the NorthEast, we don’t start school until after Labor Day and, even if your children don’t agree, they are losing some math skills. How do I know this? Because I read about an on-line math tutoring program called Ten Marks the other day and it got me thinking…hush, it happens.

From an article in Boston.com: In a study released in June, the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that students typically lose one to two months of reading and math skills during summer break, and that teachers often spend up to six weeks reviewing topics already covered. Yikes.

Here is a link to a nicely formatted page that highlights the research from the National Association for Summer Learning (yes, there is such a thing).

So I have a math packet for one child (courtesy of her teacher) and she has been faithfully working at it but I do need to give a boost to my younger child in fractions. I contacted TenMarks and the company, a local (Newton) based organization let me try it (so I could write about it here) but even the demo (take a test drive) on the site is nice and a good representation of the program.

So here is what happened –

I got an email with sign-in information and telling me (the parent) about the weekly lessons. My children (who are both solid math students but not making up math problem sets for each other on long car rides – okay, or anywhere else) found the site easy to navigate and easy to work on the topics they wanted (er, I wanted them) to highlight.

Both logged on with a code scribbled on piece of paper (I, lazy summer mom, gave them the codes to get into the site and did not help, I mean, hover) and both were able to finish the worksheets with relative ease (meaning the problems were not out of their knowledge base but challenging).

Here is why I like it – If a problem is confusing, there are helpful hints and if the student is still stuck, there is a video that walks through the problem.  An interesting part of the program allows the student to go back over their work and get all the problems right – good reinforcement of the math concepts and nice (for the confidence) to get all 10 out of 10 problems correct.

As far as confidence and competency and math – it is obviously important for everyone but it has been shown that girls self-select out of math (even if they are good at it) in the upper elementary grades (source – here) and that 50% of all jobs are math-based – I don’t know where I got that statistic but here are some cool jobs that need math). Now I do not care if they don’t want to be math majors in college, but I do care if they limit their options in general.

TenMarks is running a special summer package now and click here to find out more about it and stop the brain drain, well, at least for the children. No promises for parents.

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