Archive for the ‘maths’ Category

Proper maths

February 19, 2014

Fainjin has the start-of-year blues.  “School’s so boring!” he complained.  “Everything’s boring!”

“What exactly is boring about it?” I asked.

“Everything!”

“It can’t all be boring.  Is lunchtime boring?  Playtime?”

“No…” he admitted reluctantly.  “Maths is boring.  It’s not even proper maths!”

Ah. This takes me back.  When I was at primary school, it was the fashion to teach everything in terms of set theory (at least, that’s how I remember it).  At the start of every year we would go over the definition of a set, the members of a set, the empty set, union, intersection, cardinality and so on.  It was interesting the first time.  Every first day of school after that I would stomp into the house and my mother would ask, “How was school?” and I would snarl back, “We did sets. AGAIN.”

“What’s proper maths, then?”

“Like, plus and equals and stuff! Take aways!” the poor boy was pining for sums.

“And what are you doing instead?”

“I don’t even know.”  So I took a look at his maths book and discovered they’re doing statistics.  How many siblings each classmate has, people’s favourite animals, favourite sports and so on – things that can be counted and expressed in bar graphs.  It is maths, and it’s also really good for the kids (and teacher) to get to know each other, since they’ve come from several different Year 2 classes last year.

I had a word to the teacher and he promised to help Fainjin find something “proper” to do too.  Meanwhile, I’ve been bribing him to school with the promise of extra addition and subtraction worksheets to do at home or at lunchtime.

Rather like I used to bribe his sister with grammar worksheets!

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

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Yi, Er, San…

October 15, 2013

At breakfast this morning (breakfast is often when the best conversations in our house take place), Fainjin said, “We did Chinese maths yesterday.”

“Chinese maths?  What does that mean?” I asked.

“We did maths in Chinese,” he said nonchalantly around a mouthful of toast.

I didn’t really believe him (you’d think I’d know better by now).  I asked him a few questions, and it turned out his class had had a relief teacher yesterday.

“Well, can you write down some Chinese maths for me then?” I asked.

So he did.  He wrote a sum, and some numbers.

1+2=3 10 4

1+2=3
10
4

This afternoon he brought home a worksheet he had done, too, with all the numbers on it and some more sums.

He really enjoyed this, and was so proud of himself!

He really enjoyed this, and was so proud of himself!

Colour me impressed!

It was also quite handy later on – to bribe him to dry the dinner dishes for me, I promised that he could watch a youtube tutorial on the numbers in Chinese.  It worked a treat.

© UpsideBackwards 2013.

Prime

September 30, 2013

It’s the first day of the spring school holidays.  Pearl is out with a friend, and Fainjin and Babess and I have just been shopping, now sitting down for some morning tea.  There’s some conversation about what we will do with the rest of the day, who needs a drink of water, and so on.  Trivialities.

All of a sudden, Fainjin says, “Mum, what numbers can’t you equal?”

I frown at him.  “What do you mean?”

“What numbers can’t you equal?”

Does he mean unattainable ages?  Imaginary numbers? – unlikely, I don’t think those come up until university-level maths these days and he hasn’t even done multiplication really yet…

“Sweetie, I don’t understand your question.  Can you give me an example of what you mean?”

He thinks for a bit.  His expression clears… “Well,  in colours, you can’t make red or yellow or blue… so what numbers can’t you equal?”

I’m impressed with his analogy.  Primary colours are an interesting comparison to prime numbers.  As I said, he hasn’t really done multiplication yet – some doubles and halves, counting in twos and fives and tens – but he seems to instinctively grasp the idea that there must be fundamental building blocks in mathematics as well as in art and light.

Explaining prime numbers to a six-year-old without a clear grasp of multiplication is an interesting and delightful experience.  Especially when an intrigued five-year-old starts chiming in with more questions.

I can tell these holidays are going to be fun.  I really hope he doesn’t start asking about imaginary numbers tomorrow though – I still struggle with those!

© UpsideBackwards 2013.

One

September 15, 2012

“Oh Mum,” Fainjin assumed his I’m-about-to-tell-you-something-important demeanour, “did you know, one is the most important number?”

Now, I’ve been talking a bit about the “most important” number recently, discussing the nature and history of zero with Pearl and some of the kids at school. So I was interested to hear what Fainjin might have picked up from that, and why he was begging to differ.

“Is it really?”, I enquired. “Why do you think one is the most important number?”

“Oh, because,” he began, “after you get to the last number, you come back around all the way to one again…”

Here we go, another discussion on the nature of infinity with the 5-year-old…!

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

How many fingers am I holding up?

June 11, 2012

While I prepared dinner this afternoon, Fainjin was in the loungeroom colouring in, practising his writing, and – as it turned out – playing about with numbers.

“Hey Mum!” he yelled at me as if there were miles between us instead of just a hallway.  “I worked something out!  Five plus one, equals, SIX!”

“Yes it does,” I replied, wondering what he might be counting.

A minute later he yelled again.  “And five plus two, equals, SEVEN!”

“That’s right.”

Having established a pattern, the next sum was immediate: “Five plus three is EIGHT!”

I put the veges in the oven and went to see what he was up to.  He was just writing numbers and adding them up, as far as I could see – not counting anything in particular.  “The first one has to be five,” he told me, but I still don’t know quite why.  “Five plus five is ten!”

I went back to the kitchen.  After a little while, he called out, “Mum!  What’s ten plus ten?”

“I think you can figure that out,” I encouraged him.

Later, over dinner, I realised I hadn’t heard his answer.  “Did you figure it out?”

“Yes!” he was proud of himself.  “I counted on my fingers.  Ten plus ten is… twenty-one!”

The Dad and I exchanged glances.

“Hmmm, really? Perhaps we should check.”  I held up both hands and we agreed that was ten.  Then I raised one finger at a time and we counted on from eleven.  Twenty!

Fainjin looked thoughtful.  “Maybe I have more fingers than you.”

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

Homework grumbles

February 20, 2012

Pearl came home with her homework notebooks and a letter from the teacher today.  Last year’s teacher was anti-homework, which suited me just fine.  This teacher is following the “school policy” line of 30 min homework per day.

20 minutes of that is supposed to be reading, and I have no problem with that time or proportion.  Of course, keeping Pearl down to 20 minutes a day would be an impossible task, and not one I would ever attempt.  The suggestions for parents made me raise an eyebrow though.  I should read with her, discuss the pictures (pictures?!), ask her what she already knows, what she learns from the text and what might happen next.  Help her to sound out words and discuss possible meanings of words she doesn’t recognise.  Have her read out simple recipes while I cook them.

That’s all good advice for parents of children learning to read.  But Pearl is not learning to read.  She is reading to learn, or more often, for enjoyment.  She can use a dictionary and has a very wide vocabulary.  I know she is ahead of most kids her age (according to standardised testing), but surely most 9 and 10yos in her class aren’t still reading picture books with their parents each night?  And I think encouraging her to cook simple recipes herself would be better – that’s reading and maths and life skills all in one.

That brings us to maths.  All the maths homework is web-based.  There are great resources on the web, but I think tailored and directed exercises would be useful too.  We try to limit Pearl’s screen/internet time, too, and this is working against that.  Plus they want $100 (I am told, haven’t seen a letter from school yet) to subscribe to one of these websites.

Pearl claims not to have been given any spelling homework, despite it being on the “must do” list provided by the teacher.  We’ll have to investigate that.  Given that one letter home used lots of American spellings and was dated in “Feburary”, I look forward to the spelling homework with some trepidation.

Grumble grumble grumble!  And really, all for 10 minutes of work per day, since 20 min of reading is not an issue.  But I feel strongly that if you’re going to do homework, it should be of maximum value, not just to fill in the time.

I am lucky, Pearl seems willing to do the homework, at least – probably because it’s mostly reading and playing on the internet.  She has to keep a reading log too.  All previous attempts at this have ended – with teacher permission – after a week or two, when she has filled several pages and I have noted that we are several books behind because she reads so much and so fast.  We’ll see how long this one lasts.  If the aim of it is to show the teacher that Pearl reads books, I suspect we won’t have to do it for long.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

I’m so smart I can…

February 9, 2012

As one of their first activities, Fainjin’s class have made self-portraits.  They are lovely, paper-plate faces on top of blocky paper cut-out bodies.  The kid-drawn faces have yarn “hair” glued to the top: Fainjin’s is almost exactly the right shade of red.

On their “tummies” is written a list of three things they can do, with the intro “I’m so smart I can…”

Fainjin’s list is:

  • count to 100
  • run fast
  • make lego

I’m not sure that he can count to 100, but perhaps he can.  He knows lots of numbers, so maybe he can sometimes, even if not all the time.  I  love that he thinks it’s an impressive and important skill.

© UpsideBackwards 2012.

We’re doing maths!

December 31, 2011

About a year ago, a lovely friend came to visit from overseas.  Before she left, she gave me a bag of mosaic and craft kits for the children, to be given to them at an opportune time.

I thanked her, and tucked them away “for a rainy day”.  And there they stayed.

Yesterday was very rainy. The children played with toys in the morning, and we ventured out in the wet to the local cinema in the afternoon.

Today was, if anything, even more rainy.  Cabin fever was setting in.  I cleared the kitchen table and called the children to sit down.  They were pleasingly mystified, then delighted when they saw what I had for them.

Fainjin’s set was five mosaics – a rocket, a plane, a boat, a helicopter, and a train.  He had foam shapes to stick all over them.

Pearl had a “decorate-your-own” tote bag kit, with felt stickers to make her own design.

Babess had a sparkly bunny mosaic.  Hers was a paint-by-numbers type (or stick-by-numbers, I suppose), so she needed quite a bit of help with it.  Pearl was more than happy to help her.

They all settled down for about two hours, sticking and chatting.  Fainjin particularly liked naming the colours and shapes, and pointing out the patterns in his pictures.  I told him that “patterns are maths”.

“Hey Daddy!” he crowed, “We’re doing maths!”

He finished two before lunch, then later in the afternoon came asking for the mosaics again.  “Mummy, please can I do some more maths?”

I know our friend would approve!

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

A keen social observer

August 22, 2011

Pearl sat a competition exam for mathematics today.  She tells me it went “quite well”; it sounds like she found a few questions tricky.  That is completely fine, as I told her – it’s her first time entering this competition after all, and we’re very proud that she was even chosen by her school to enter in the first place.

She sat a similar exam for English (reading comprehension) earlier in the month, and really enjoyed it.  She was nervous beforehand, but came home exultant.  I hope her confidence is well-founded, and/or that she won’t be too disappointed when the results come out if they’re not quite what she expects.

This morning she was more nervous, and cranky with it.  She refused to get up and get dressed, then snarked at everyone when she did emerge from her room.

Fainjin, meanwhile, was in fine form.  He was eating Sultana Bran Buds, which is only relevant because it’s cereal that comes in little square “parcels”.  He held five of these up in one hand, and cheerfully said, “Here, Babess, I’ll read you a story!”

“Once upon a time there was a biiiig family and they lived in a house with a new kitchen.  One name was called Daddy [he pointed to one Bud], one name was called Mummy-Kate [another one], one name was called Big Boy Fainjin, one name was called Little Babess, and one name was called Angry Pearl.”

I wish I could have heard the rest of the story.  But I was too busy biting the inside of my cheeks, and ducking out to laugh with The Dad.  I need to build up my resistance to this sort of comedy so I can report it more accurately in future…

© UpsideBackwards 2011.

In a hurry

June 20, 2011

Babess is three tomorrow. I can hardly believe it. But she has life all mapped out for the next few years.

“Soon I will be free, and then I be five,” she asserted the other day.

“No, Babess!” her big brother scoffed.  “You be free, den FOUR, den five.”

“Noooo,” she insisted.  “I be free den FIVE ‘cos I going to school.  Two, free, five.  I don’t want to be four.”

I’m glad she’s got that organised, then.

© UpsideBackwards 2011.


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