How I Support Maths Learning...

Maths is one of the subjects that used to fill me with fear.  I used to wonder how I could ever teach the subject when I totally gave up on my formal maths learning at about the age of ten. After that, I failed every single maths exam and during year 9 and 10 maths (same teacher for both years) my bestie and I played games and tuned out from what the rest of the class was doing. That's right, the teacher completely ignored us unless we disturbed someone else and left us to play 'squares'. Thumbs up for public schooling in the 80s! Of course, during my signwriting apprenticeship and years in the trade, I taught myself many short cuts to achieve the math results I needed to get the job done. It doesn't mean that my methods of figuring out dimensions and measurements were wrong, I just always thought there may have been easier ways of doing things. It was in my head (and heart) that I was a complete maths failure because I failed maths exams at school and that was the only measurement of maths success that was valid to society.

Interestingly, one of our favourite games at the moment is squares! It was a great flashback to my high school maths classroom when I found this one online somewhere (free PDF). We take turns to multiply two dice together up to six, and mark off one side of the product's square. I was amazed at how fast Henry picked this up as he hasn't really learned how to multiply. I loved this game so much that I found some ten sided dice and made my own board of square to play. However, due to the exponential increase in factors and products, the game board is much larger and it takes a lot longer to complete the game. It doesn't matter though as we just pick up where we left off next time we play. A skip counting page is handy to have if you are still learning multiplication (yes, me!).

Lots of our maths learning in this lower levels involves games and hands on activities. We all love games so I try to find as many cheap or free games as I can online. The nrich website is a wealth of information and activities and I have spent many an hour just checking out the different resources available. It is really easy to make hands on activities such as paper Tetris and place value cups. A good thing to remember too is that some of these actives may only be used once for the child to grasp the concept. It is not a waste of time if it works and the child learns! It also proves that you don't need clutter creating expensive 'educational games' to create a love for learning.

Recently we bought some guides in the Beast Academy maths curriculum. This is a comic based maths course and it has lots of information. We also have a few work books to go with level 3 but I am finding Henry is getting more out of the books using them as reading out loud practice with Papa every day. The Boy has also been inspired to do some of the activities so I have printed out a few pages from the Beast Academy website so we can play together. If you are interested in Beast Academy you will have to get it from the US as there doesn't seem to be an Australian distributor. I was lucky enough to get it preloved from a good friend but I would love to get the next two levels too so I might have to wait until they pop up on the Aussie Homeschool Forum classifieds

Late last year we switched maths curriculums from Easy Learn Maths workbooks to Maths-U-See from Maths Australia. I love this program! It is a mastery based curriculum in that the student must master each concept before moving on to the next one. Each lesson adds to the previous in very small increments. After the student watches the DVD lesson with Steve Demme which takes a few minutes (a funny guy so I usually watch too!)  they use the blocks and do one to three pages of the worksheets of each lesson. My children then come to me and explain the concept until I am satisfied that they understand it. If they have shown me that they get it, they do the test page and they are done maths for the day. I started each child at a much lower level than they were doing with Easy Learn Maths so they could experience mastery confidence from the start. This is very important - if the child doesn't feel confident with what they are doing, there will be frustration and tears. There are lots of concepts my children know really well and a few that are new so some lessons can take more than one day. If I think they need more practice, they do a couple more lesson pages (there are six for each lesson) the next day and try explaining the concept to me again. They usually know it very well by this time so they complete the test and move on to the next lesson. I have decided to stick with Maths-U-See as our main maths curriculum (it has levels from pre-school through to senior) and use supplementary games and activities to add more fun when we need it. Below is a stop motion Lily did a few months ago that shows there are many ways to display understanding!

Maths holds no fear for me anymore. I still have much to learn in this subject and I love that I am able to learn with my children. Zoe is beginning Maths-U-See level Epsilon (fractions) and I am really looking forward to seeing where I can increase my knowledge and understanding in numbers. Who would have thought that I would really look forward to maths lessons? Not my 10 year old self!

More birthdays and holidays...

I realise it has been some time since I have posted an update on what Clan Christenson has been doing. Rest assured, we are all happy and healthy and enjoying our life together as always! This might be a longer than usual post as there is always a lot going on...

In October we took a tour with other homeschoolers to the Wivenhoe dam and Mt Crosby Water Treatment plant. It was a great day and we learned so much about where our water comes from and how much it goes through to reach our taps at home. It was lovely to meet new families and to hang out with some familiar faces.

In term four we fit in an enormous amount of learning. Here we see the children's Spanish class room (Miss Dominique is just so lovely and the children really enjoy her classes). In our science lessons we use a few different texts such as Exploring Creation with Physical Science. In this lesson we explored atoms and molecules using some wire and a battery. The children were able to see how we can break water molecules into its constituent atoms of hydrogen and oxygen. But what they really got from the experiment was time with Daddy making things fizz and change colour! 
Of course, we have to be really careful that the children's schooling doesn't get in the way of their real education. Such as modelling snow play dough, testing plastic bag kites on a windy day, exploring the structural integrity of a large cardboard box when filled with water and the testing of sail fabrics using an indoor sailing ship. Not to mention role playing royalty, map making, rummy-o and reading just because they feel like it!

Since my return from the braiding convention in the US, the children have been busy making lots of kumihimo braids. We made them into key rings and sold them at our annual home schooler's Spring Fair. They were really surprised to sell about a dozen of their lovely creations and happily pooled their money for a feast of chocolate!

This year I am reporting on the children's art learning to the HEU. We have been exploring colour and its mixing properties in many different ways. We also found a lovely place to do our spelling every day. Except that we have a large amount of lavender plants in the front yard so the children and I do tend to get rather sleepy if our lessons take too long!

We were a part of another homeschool class earlier this term, this one was equine studies in the beautiful Samford Valley . The children learned so much about caring for and being careful around horses. We made some wonderful friends and were able to visit a few more times to have a rides on the lovely Willow and to cuddle the guinea pigs and new baby chickens. It is nice to be able to visit the area we nearly moved to only a year ago. I love Samford but I am really glad we decided to stay in the Gabba.  

Our Boy turned seven at the end of September and we spent an amazing day with my Sis, Nikki, and her beautiful children at the Gold Coast. We ate cake and doughnuts, played in the Pacific Ocean and swam in the hotel pool. Nikki and I braved a restaurant with six children between us and we were pleasantly surprised they all behaved very well. (We are doing something good there, Nik!) The day was so awesome Henry fell asleep in the car on the way home and though the girls deny it, I am pretty sure he wasn't the only one!

Yesterday our Lily girl turned nine. She has had a rather busy week with her final Australian Girls Choir performance at QPAC and both girls performing in a play for their drama class. For her birthday, Lily chose to spend the morning at Wet and Wild followed by an afternoon of cake, movies and Minecraft. All three children are scraping the bottom of their energy banks and I am very glad we are on holidays because there is no way they could do any lessons with so much going on this time of year. It is pretty safe to say if they went to school all learning ends at about mid fourth term anyway. Right now our children are following their passions and NOT being at all bored!

What I love about term time is that all the really cool places to visit are not really busy at 1-2pm in the afternoons. So when one of the children gets an idea that we should explore the MtCoot-tha  botanical gardens, we just head over for a hour and have a ball. There is always something new to discover there! Also this term, we have joined a little homeschooling group who meet at the Daisy Hill koala park for afternoons of running around. The mums sit and chat about excellent literature of course and only hear from the children when they are hungry. There is even a resident wallaby who, we discovered last week, has a baby in her pouch! The photo on the bottom left is of a lizard in the hole of that log. Do you see it? No, I don't either but Lily did and our lovely friend took some close ups (the old iPhone is rubbish at zooming but Tracey has the real deal camera) and we could see the lizard! Lily has eagle eyes...

I must admit I did declare holidays this year a few weeks before I anticipated (I really should have looked at the calendar before putting the books away!). The truth is, I am really tired. And if I am tired I am pretty sure my children are too so instead of official daily lessons and feeling like we are getting nowhere, we are spending time together and the children are getting better at not bickering. There is also much more time to spend on things that take lots of time and make lots of mess. Take stop motion videos for example. This week Lily decided she wanted to make one (we discussed stop motion video once - a couple of years ago) so I found my old point-and-shoot camera, a borrowed tripod (cheers Suey!) and Lily made some magic. She took 372 photos then I had to figure out how to make a video with them. Luckily, my new mac has a movie maker that makes it all very easy. Lily sat with me during the editing and while I did most of the dragging and dropping (it really is that easy!), she made all the decisions. Not to be out done, Zoe made one too. She watched me edit Lily's so did her movie all on her own. Check out their creations below.

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Everyone survived...

NannyO and I really enjoyed our time in the US recently and the family survived without me for 12 days! After a week of inspired learning (see my other blog post about it here), on my return I decided to forget about the book work for the rest of the term and just enjoy doing fun stuff with the children. Of course we still do lots of reading about Australian history and geography, Bible studies as well various fiction books (Animal Farm is the one we are on now!) and we usually fit in our new spelling curriculum, All About Spelling.

Henry practices the violin every day and has a lesson once a week. Lily is also still going to choir once a week and practices singing all the time! Along with all of that, we have been doing the following...

This is the ancient art of kiumihimo. I have been practicing kumihimo for more than a decade (for those who have seen my website you would have noticed that I make sageo using kumihimo) and it wasn't until I spent some time with a few master kumihimo practitioners that I realised I could easily teach the children. I also realised how little I actually know about the art! Henry was frustrated after about five minutes but the girls have been doing a little each day and have produced some lovely braids. For now I really like that the children are enjoying the process of making art and not thinking about any utilitarian end products. Perhaps they may come up with a way to make these beautiful braids to sell but that is not the main reason for making them. 

The children spend so much time playing and sometimes they come up with some interesting games. One morning they were pretending there were giant spiders in the house and turned the playroom into a giant web which they had to climb through without touching the strands. It was great for their balance development not to mention interpersonal relationships and teamwork! Then they all found scissors and it was gone in a moment! I am not sure what happened to the spiders...

We also get out to the park at least once a week when the children have Spanish in the Park on Tuesdays. They have discovered a really cool stream that we can watch as the seasons change. Nana and Papa make sure all three do their part in the garden (good thing too as I am not much of a gardener) and we have some lovely new lavender to admire in the front garden.

While I was in Seattle I collected some money and maps to show the children. It was fun to show them where NannyO and I walked every day we were in the city. We sure did cover some ground! The money provided the children a new image for rubbings. They also really enjoyed my photos from the trip not to mention the FaceTime call from me when NannyO and I were at the top of Seattle's Sky Needle! We really do live in an awesome time in history. 
Of course there is always Lego to play with - here Henry was challenged to create a bridge for a marble to cross. He didn't quite get it until I told him he would have to use gravity. Then he changed this design to have one end higher than that other. It was all taken apart and used to build something else before I could get a photo of it!

This year we are studying colour as I am going to report on the children's visual arts learning for the year. The activity on the left was about using water based textas and watching them melt together. Initially it was an exercise in colour mixing, but then we were all more interested in the way the colour would leach out of the coffee filters into the water. Again, the end result was far less important than the process. One dreary day we used fairy lights inside a glass tumbler to make some interesting line patterns to draw. I loved this activity but unfortunately they children were not that interested in it. Pretty typical! The activity on the right is actually a maths activity about circle division cleverly disguised as an exercise in pattern making. This one we have done quite a few times but we still enjoy it.

This was a blatant maths activity but the children didn't seem to mind as it was lots of fun! We took the numbers of pi and created some cute graph art. Firstly, each number was assigned a colour then squares on the grid paper were coloured according to the number. Henry and Zoe decided to do the easy bar image but Lily, the ever stubborn rebel, wanted to change it up a bit. Each of her numbers were assigned a colour but with every number she changed direction. She says she made a few mistakes but really liked the way it turned out. Me too! It was also a great opportunity to tell them more about the numbers of pi and their significance. 

Another maths activity that was fun was studying the multiples of four using paper plates. Henry was surprisingly frustrated with threading the yarn so he used a sharpie to find the next multiple. We experimented with different patterns on the plates and probably exhausted the activity for an other multiple learning. I will have to search Pinterest for more multiples activities...

This activity explored the molecular properties of plastic under the pressure of water. Well, that is not really why we did it, I just wanted to show them that they could poke holes in a bag full of water and it wouldn't leak! It was fun but perhaps it would be a better summer experiment as they all ended up jumping on the bag to see the small jets of (cold!) water cover their feet.

Here is an activity that I actually had nothing to do with aside from taking a few photos and notes for my report. Henry and Lily had all the crayons out and were dividing them into their colours and giving them all names! They were even able to discern differences with each major colour - there were three blues for example; sky blue, sea blue and ocean blue. The different pinks were fuchsia, pig pink and lavender (which was kind of purple they told me). It is this kind of incidental learning that happens all the time if they are given enough time to discover things. I love that they are allowed to have this time and I don't feel at all guilty that they are not in front of a work book doing sums.

This month we are also a part of an equine studies class. A fellow home educator is running these classes from her amazing home near Samford. The class doesn't involve riding as a feature, though they may get a little ride on the last day, though they are learning everything from equine physiology to the costs of keeping a horse. The course is aimed at 8-15 year olds and I was dubious about Henry's interest but he has really loved being a part of the class with his sisters and new friends. The girls are horse mad so it is not surprise that they are really enjoying our time on the farm. The two horses in the class are so amazingly gentle and patient and even I have loved getting close to them. Here is a little video of Zoe learning to lead the horse, Smokey.

With all of this going on it is no wonder that we had to put the workbooks away for a while. I have been researching a new maths curriculum and I think I have found a good one. We will get started on that next term. For now we are working on some good habit training and by the time we get the books out again in a couple of months, we will all be refreshed and ready to learn. 
That is the plan anyway!

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