anne

May 192016
 
two girls wearing "smart is beautiful" T-shirts

Smart is beautiful, indeed!

When I posted a few weeks ago about finishing our math curriculum, I casually mentioned that we will move on to learning JavaScript. Readers Bertie and Mama Paul asked for details on what materials we are using to learn computer programming.

Per usual, I will give a long answer to a short question.

We decided last year that one of our goals for our children is that by the time they graduate high school, they should be proficient in computer programming in some way. Since increasing use of computers and technology is the way of the future, we feel that this is as important as being good at math or English. We haven’t nailed down the goal to a specific just yet and for now are just getting our feet wet in the world of learning computer programming.

My husband is one of those amazing self-taught people in computer programming. He will tell you that he is no expert but compared to the average person, he has mad skills in not just one but many computer languages. He learns by reading books.

I know almost nothing about computer programming. except for a little HTML. When I first moved to Washington, I tried learning C++ by reading a book during my commutes on the Metro. Since smart phones and tablets weren’t invented at that time, I was writing the exercises down on paper. When I told my husband this was how I was trying to learn C++, he told me that this was ridiculous and that there was no way to learn computer programming without sitting down and doing it at a computer. Sure enough, when he tested my knowledge by having me type one of my exercises into the computer, it was full of errors and didn’t work.

Through a lot of trial and error, I have come to appreciate that computer programming requires 3 general abilities:

  1. Logical/big picture thinking ability. Knowing how to structure things in the right order or how to creatively achieve a result within the limitations of your available resources.
  2. Mathematical ability. There is definitely an “applied math” aspect to computer programming. Many exercises, even for kids, require knowledge of geometry, algebra and other mathematical functions.
  3. Detail orientation. One of the more frustrating aspects of computer programming is the attention to detail required. If you have a comma or a bracket out of place or if you misspell a word, your program can fail and often you won’t know why until you spend a good deal of time hunting for the mistake.

In my experience, there is a lot of material out there to teach children generally about computers and computer programming but not very much when you want to learn an actual programming language! Learning the actual languages is generally reserved for kids who are at least in junior high and high school or even those in college. So, we have to give a lot of credit and respect to people who have been coding for decades, they are all probably self-taught with not very helpful learning materials to work with.

With my children, we started learning code last year through the website learn.code.org. It is free and supported by major technology corporations. It is about as user-friendly as you can get. You code examples that move around characters from popular video games. The graphics and embedded videos are awesome…but it doesn’t teach actual programming languages. Learn.code.org teaches more of skill #1, logical/big picture thinking. You “code” with blocks of text and you need to know how each block works but the code you are generating isn’t code that really works in any computer language. Sometimes they call this “pseudocode.”

I had to learn along with my children on learn.code.org. It was tough going at first. Making the computer do anything requires a little mental gymnastics to figure out how you can express in code language what you want to achieve. Something like “Draw a circle” requires a lot more code than you might expect as well as knowledge of angles and degrees. We made it all the way through the available lessons on learn.code.org and they did get very challenging at the end!

screenshot of learn.code.org assignment

Example of a “free play” assignment on learn.code.org.

Another activity my children have been participating in is an amazing local program called FredX Coders. It is also completely free! A wonderful group of local people created a coder dojo along with our local university. On select Saturday mornings, usually once a month, kids come in to learn coding along with a parent. My husband takes our daughters. Sometimes my daughters are the only girls in the class. This program so far has taught the kids about Scratch, a free online program that seems similar to learn.code.org in that it teaches pseudocode. The kids LOVE Scratch and play on it for fun. FredX Coders also teaches real languages too, often walking kids through a page of code and teaching them how to tweak various parts of it.

My daughter's first Scratch  game: "Lion Hunter"

My daughter’s first Scratch game: “Lion Hunter”

For this year, I wanted to move us forward into actually coding something in a “real” language. My husband and I discussed which language would be best for the children to learn and settled on JavaScript. I read great reviews of the book JavaScript for Kids by Nick Morgan so thought we would try that.

book cover JavaScript for Kids

JavaScript for Kids by Nick Morgan on amazon.com

So far, we are about 100 pages in to the book. My 7 and 10 year old are handling it well and I am learning along with them. It seems to me that the book would work best for someone at least 12 years old. I was worried my 7 year old would find it too hard but she is advanced for her age and has been doing just fine. My 10 year old seems like a natural at computer programming.

The book is not perfect. For the age group I am teaching, I find that I have to paraphrase many of the pages and talk through each code example in much more detail than the book provides. I also have to take notes as we go and provide ways of reinforcing repetition and recall. For example, the book might just say: “Type var numbers” and I would say to them, “Write code that creates a variable called numbers.”

The early exercises are fairly simple but they are getting more and more challenging. Having a mentor (my husband) to guide us has kept us from giving up.

For example, when we needed to set up a JavaScript console, here is what happened:

screenshot of texts between two people about computer coding

The frustrations of coding

It turned out that it was there and his instructions were completely accurate, just missing one small but important step. You needed to click on a small blank window to the left. If you naturally would expect to have to do this, you are one with the computer! I am not. I need every little step spelled out.

Then, later, when we had to write our own code for one of the code challenge assignments (for which, as far as I can tell, there are no answers provided), we got completely stuck. We wrote some of it and just had no idea where to go with it to finish the challenge. When my husband got home from work, we showed it to him in frustration. He looked at it for a few minutes and then said, “Oh, you made a basic programming mistake of using = versus ==” He then went on to describe how we needed to restructure the program to add in another variable. When you see the answer, it makes complete sense but generating it yourself is excruciatingly hard.

screenshot of JavaScript computer code

The solution to one of our coding challenges. We definitely required help to get this done!

So, that is what we are doing and the book we are using! I need more time with the book before I know if I would recommend it to anyone else. We are definitely learning from it and it is well written and fairly amusing for a programming book, we just wish learning programming languages could be easier!

Are you or your kids learning to code? Do you have experience with any of the above programming resources? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on May 19, 2016 General Tagged with: ,
Mar 252016
 
This year's math curriculum .... a little worse for wear!

This year’s math curriculum …. a little worse for wear!

Despite all of the messy bits of March, including a monster cold that has overtaken all of us this week, we can claim victory on one to do list item . . . . WE FINISHED MATH!!!

For us, math is the most time consuming part of our homeschool schedule. The curriculum we are using has to be taught individually to each child. My eldest does 5th grade math, my second daughter completed 3rd grade math and my preschooler is making progress on his Pre-K/kindergarten math.

In general, the math curriculum is the one we struggle the most to finish each year. It is always a dash to the finish in June, with a lot of crunch time at the end. It is so stressful. Up until I got sick with flu and pneumonia in November, we had been doing so well to stay on track with the math. Then we didn’t do math for almost a month! When December rolled around, we doubled up and did twice the lessons each day so that we could finish the first half by Christmas and even proudly displayed our completed math books for Santa.

Celebrating Christmas and the halfway point in our math studies!

Celebrating Christmas and the halfway point in our math studies!

After Christmas, we had ski class to look forward to on Fridays so we knew we were going to miss math at least once a week. So, we kept going with the two lessons a day. There was often a lot of grumbling but here we are at the end of March ALL DONE!

Fifth grade math was the first year where math began to get hard for me as a teacher. There were several story problems I had to Google to find out how to solve them. Fortunately, many other parents had the same problem and there are many supremely mathematically skilled people on the Internet who are willing to give answers and excellent explanations! Singapore Math likes to throw in tricks from time to time and the problems I was getting stuck on were usually of the type where you thought you didn’t have enough information to solve the problem until you saw some hidden trick or pattern. People who are great at math have genius skills in seeing hidden patterns.

As a quick summary of what we learned this year.

3rd Grade Math = 681 pages plus 1 ½ notebooks worth of scratch paper

  • Multiplying up to the 10 times tables (I have noticed this is a huge difference between US and foreign math curricula. In the US we tend to go up to 12 because we often need to know 12 times when we measure in feet. In other countries, 12 is less important, because their measurement systems are based on multiples of 10, so going up to 10 is enough. They have tricks for multiplying above 10 that they use instead of memorizing the 11 and 12 times tables.)
  • Adding, Subtracting, Multiplying and Dividing Numbers in the Thousands
  • Long division
  • Measurements in US and International Units (inches, feet, yards, cm, m, kg, lb, oz, etc.)
  • Money – Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing
  • Fractions
  • Telling time to the minute
  • Geometry – identifying right angles, calculating area, perimeter and volume
  • Story problems may require as many as 4 steps
One organizing trick for homeschool math papers that only took me about 4 years to learn is that if you can do all of the assignments, teaching and scratch paper in one composition book, you have a lot fewer papers to keep track of.  So, it takes a little time to copy down the math problems into the notebook but in the end makes a clean, neat record that is easy to store.

One organizing trick for homeschool math papers that only took me about 4 years to learn is that if you can do all of the assignments, teaching and scratch paper in one composition book, you have a lot fewer papers to keep track of. So, it takes a little time to copy down the math problems into the notebook but in the end makes a clean, neat record that is easy to store.

5th Grade Math – 621 pages! Plus 1 ½ notebooks worth of scratch paper

  • Multiplying and dividing by 2-digit numbers
  • Adding, subtracting, *multiplying and *dividing fractions
  • Order of operations – i.e. parentheses first, then multiplication and division left to right then addition and subtraction left to right
  • Perimeter, Area, Volume
  • Equivalent Ratios
  • Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals
  • *Converting fractions to percentages
  • *Geometry – finding unknown angles in complex diagrams using principles of isosceles and equilateral triangles, parallelograms, rhombuses and trapezoids
  • Calculating averages – finding average, median and mode
  • Interpreting pie charts and line graphs
  • *Beginning Algebraic expressions, graphing equations
  • Story problems may require numerous steps, sometimes as many as 7 calculations!

*indicates concepts not taught in our local school system for 5th grade

The scratch paper also serves as a medium of expression for boredom and frustration!

The scratch paper also serves as a medium of expression for boredom and frustration!

The geometry and algebra in the fifth grade stunned me. My husband and I didn’t learn any of this until about 7th grade or so. I checked around with other smart parents and they say the same. We are pushing down so much material to the younger grades. My kids so far are handling it well but I consider them “above average” (a la Lake Wobegon). I hope there aren’t too many children out there who think they are no good at math when really they might just do better on the older, more relaxed schedule.

When I compare the curriculum we are using to the concepts taught in our local school district, it seems we map fairly closely up until the end of 3rd grade. Beginning in the 4th grade, Singapore Math seems to push about 1 grade higher than the school district. Many of the concepts listed for 5th grade math we covered in 4th grade.

I read an article recently praising the Finnish mathematical system for being less pressured. Yet, when I cross-referenced the Finnish standards with what we learned they seemed to be right on track with us for 5th grade math. So, perhaps the Finns slow down sometime after 5th grade but up until then I wouldn’t call their math education programs “relaxed.”

So, what now that we are “finished” with math? We will keep reviewing some things until we take our standardized tests for the year but we are moving on to focus on a kids JavaScript computer programming book. I know nothing about JavaScript but I am learning as we go.

Does our math experience compare to yours? What do you remember about your own math education? Please share in the comments.

Done!  I will be glad to store these books away.  One less thing to have to keep track of.

Done! I will be glad to store these books away. One less thing to have to keep track of.

 Posted by on March 25, 2016 General Tagged with: ,
Mar 022016
 
We all love the sunshine so much we don't mind squinting.

We all love the sunshine so much we don’t mind squinting.

As everyone knows, yesterday was Super Tuesday in Virginia. We are one of the 12 states that have a huge impact on the selection of the presidential candidates.

This year in our homeschooling, we are studying U.S. History. When the presidential primaries began, we started a chart in our living room to track all the candidates and their progress. Our household has a variety of political opinions so we aren’t all rooting for the same candidates.

Results aren't official until they are recorded on our chart!

Results aren’t official until they are recorded on our chart!

I wrote up a short overview of the general ideas that guide the Republican and Democratic party. I read them to my girls. One of them got fired up about the idea of low taxes and announced herself a Republican. The other quietly said she was a Democrat. So, each girl is responsible for tracking the progress of her party. After each primary, they write down the percentages each candidate received and the number of delegates. When candidates drop out, we X them out in red crayon.

Our chart has each candidate’s picture, a picture of their spouse (and ex-spouses) and their children. You would think that this was a fairly mundane piece of information but there were some interesting stories generated pulling this together.

We also color in a map of the United States showing which states are next in the primary contests. It is a great way to review geography, math and history at the same time.

Yesterday, I took all the children with me to vote so they could see how the actual process works.

We observed some interesting organizational things about Virginia’s primary:

1) There were no political campaign signs anywhere to be seen! Not a single candidate had a yard sign or any presence at the polls. The only person at the polls was one person petitioning for fairer redistricting laws.

This lone "Vote Here" sign is all there was to be seen of campaign activity on Tuesday.  It kind of fits Virginia's reputation for understatement.

This lone “Vote Here” sign is all there was to be seen of campaign activity on Tuesday. It kind of fits Virginia’s reputation for understatement.

2) Virginia used to vote on touch screen computers but we have gone backward to paper! I was surprised to be handed a paper ballot, told to blacken in a circle and feed it into a machine. The machine told me my ballot had been received but did not confirm that it recorded my vote correctly for my candidate. One of the election workers said that the change to paper was due to a recent Senate election where the vote was very close. When the election workers went to verify the results, because they were all done on computer, there was nothing to verify. With paper voting, “at least there is a record” she said. She said the paper method will be used for the presidential election in November. I am not sure if this is an improvement.

3) As far as campaigning by any the candidates, we saw very little of anything! Here is what finally reached us:

Marco Rubio’s campaign blew up the phones. We got two Robocalls from Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina on his behalf. (While South Carolina is one of our neighbors, it was odd he didn’t use a Virginia endorsement.) The phones were ringing nonstop (which is irritating) but nobody left any messages (even more irritating!). So, we might have been called by other campaigns but only Marco Rubio’s campaign actually left messages.

The grand total of Hilary Clinton’s campaign efforts consisted of one mass mailed piece from Planned Parenthood.

I was hoping more of the candidates would mail things as it gives us free pictures of them and they make great teaching materials.

I was hoping more of the candidates would mail things as it gives us free pictures of them and they make great teaching materials.

Bernie Sanders campaign sent me a text on my cell phone (addressed to my husband) and I also received a few emails on his behalf.

Bernie's text to me.  I don't know how his campaign got my cell phone number.

Bernie’s text to me. I don’t know how his campaign got my cell phone number.

Ted Cruz showed up in one YouTube video advertisement.

And that was it! For such an important contest, it was surprising that there was almost nothing. Nobody campaigned in the Fredericksburg area. My experience has been that candidates largely ignore Virginia and then want to turn to us at the last minute when they discover we are almost always a battleground state that can go either way.

Here is how Virginia voted yesterday. Since we are a battleground state with a good diversity of opinion, there is probably a good chance that Trump and Clinton will go head to head in November.

2016-03-01-virginia-republicanresults

2016-03-02-virginia-democratic-results

We are having great fun learning about the election. The learning environment is even spilling down to my preschooler. At the polls yesterday, one of the election workers gave him a sticker that says, “I voted!” He really liked that sticker and has been sticking it to a lot of different things. Today, he brought me his own self-assigned copywork:

2016-03-01-ivoted-IMG_20160302_123801

 Posted by on March 2, 2016 General Tagged with: ,
Feb 292016
 

2016-02-14-kids-heart-IMG_20160214_134908

February was the month I felt my legs being swept out from underneath me over and over again. Just as I thought I had regained my footing, something else came along to counteract my best intentions.

When I last left you, we were in the eye of Snowstorm Jonas which dumped about 14 inches of snow at our house. My daughter tried skiing in the front yard. Fortunately, we didn’t lose power but we spent an awful lot of time shoveling our long driveway. A friend who lives at the top of a hill hosted a snow playdate at her house complete with hot chocolate, s’mores and a snow cave! After this, my kids insisted that we buy sleds so we are prepared for any sledding opportunities that may come our way.

Digging out took almost two days!

Digging out took almost two days!

"Skiing" our front yard.

“Skiing” our front yard.

Just as we recovered from this, my husband left on a week-long business trip to the west coast which took away an important source of help as well as a lack of sleep from trying to stay in touch via midnight phone calls due to the time change.

Just as he came home, we received the very sad news that our dear “Grammy” was unwell and then passed away. It was back out to the west coast for my husband, along with our daughter, while we toughed it out here. I set to work finally taking down our Christmas decorations (while I felt bad about being this far behind, I know of at least one other busy person who still had a tree up and I was still receiving Christmas cards in the mail from a few people. For some of us, Christmas is a long season.) My kids and I camped out in our sunroom to ease the hurt feelings of those who wanted to travel with big sister. We celebrated Valentine’s Day and did one of my favorite photo shoots of the year.

One night in January, I was cleaning up our Christmas boxes, cut some hearts out of one, covered a table in packing material and set out paints.

One night in January, I was cleaning up our Christmas boxes, cut some hearts out of one, covered a table in packing material and set out paints.

The next day, I found this!  The kids were hard at work painting.  My son liked to mix all the colors together to make "mud" valentines.

The next day, I found this! The kids were hard at work painting. My son liked to mix all the colors together to make “mud” valentines.

My daughter, displaying supreme organizational skills created this valentine's box with one section for cards, another door for candy and a flap on the back to open to get it all out!  I was impressed.

My daughter, displaying supreme organizational skills created this valentine’s box with one section for cards, another door for candy and a flap on the back to open to get it all out! I was impressed.

I loved the plea on my other daughter's box "Please give candy."  And another "mud" creation from my son.

I loved the plea on my other daughter’s box “Please give candy.” And another “mud” creation from my son.

We hung up all the creations on our mantel and I just loved looking at it.

We hung up all the creations on our mantel and I just loved looking at it.

Since we were in mourning for Grammy, I found black outfits for all of us to wear.  They ended up working out great for our photo shoot and symbolized both great heartache and great love.

Since we were in mourning for Grammy, I found black outfits for all of us to wear. They ended up working out great for our photo shoot and symbolized both great heartache and great love.

2016-02-14-heart-g-DSC_0744

2016-02-14-heart-b-DSC_0748

2016-02-14-valentines-anne-kidsDSC_0793

The next day, we received another 5 inches of snow in a surprise storm! My children were so excited to use their sleds. Our driveway does not have that much of a slope to it but I served as the “horse” pulling them down the driveway over and over. By the end, we had a pretty good ice track set up. Fortunately, there was no shoveling to be done as the next day it all melted away.

Add another 5 inches to our snow totals.

Add another 5 inches to our snow totals.

2016-02-15-snow-trees-DSC_0829

2016-02-15-welcomemat-snow-IMG_20160215_164825

There is not a single picture of the baby enjoying snow.  He cries every time we put him down.

There is not a single picture of the baby enjoying snow. He cries every time we put him down.

Not even the sled was enticing!

Not even the sled was enticing!

My husband and daughter arrived safely home . . . . but then all the children came down with the flu! It passed irritatingly from one child to the next in the most drawn out fashion. I got tired of cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night. Fortunately, I avoided most of the illness, having already been hit hard with the flu last fall. I ended up with a small chest cough and made sure to rest as much as possible so I didn’t end up with pneumonia again. It seemed to work but it did nothing for my productivity.

And then to top it all off, at the end of the month, we had a tornado alert! We hid out in the basement for an hour or so. The wind and rain were not so bad for us but our neighbors to the south were not so lucky.

From snow to tornadoes!

From snow to tornadoes!

In the midst of all this February turmoil, however, Grammy’s death gave me pause to think about life in general and I realized that while it is wonderful to be organized and maximize your time and do great things, in the end all that is really asked of us is that we wake up every morning, breathe in, breathe out and just exist. That is enough. That is valuable. We do service to those around us just by being here. Anything else we do is a bonus. We would do well to remember that about ourselves and about others as well.

So, that was February. I was going to end this essay by saying that things are now on the right track for March as the weather is so balmy and spring-like and the increased sunshine does wonders for my energy level. After taking my minivan in for an expensive servicing, I cleaned it out and detailed it this weekend (a hateful task as only a minivan owner can sympathize). It was wonderful to sit in my “new” car today. . . . until I turned on the AC to hear a terrible noise. So tomorrow, we are back in recovery mode.

March is supposedly “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” So far, the lion part is right.

How was your February?

 Posted by on February 29, 2016 General Tagged with: , , , , ,