Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bite your tongue

Amanda has been doing the Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra course. It's about the opposite of, "do 100 problems almost the same using this technique.  Now do 100 more problems on the next technique."  They stress problem solving, applying techniques in creative ways, and learning through struggling with the topic.  To begin each chapter they give 5-6 problems that illustrate the topics in the chapter.  First the student struggles with the problems and maybe (or maybe not) discovers the methods used in the chapter to solve the problems and why they work.  Then the student reads the chapter to connect what she's learned through struggling with the mathematical theorems.

Some of the problems are really hard.  Sometimes Amanda sits staring at a problem not doing anything.  I've encouraged her to write something and she seems to be picking that up.  But it's not always obvious what to do so sometimes I help her to start.

The problem is that sometimes she's just on the cusp of solving a problem and my help actually detracts from her own solution, confusing the situation.  Sometimes my method isn't her method and gets in the way.  Sometimes she's just not ready.  So I need to do something different.

What I've worked out is that I can literally bite my tongue as she does the problem.  I can nod and say, "mmm-hmmm" when she's right, or signal that she's made a mistake.  But I don't give her any directions.  And she (often) solves the problem.

It's hard for her and hard for me.  Someone once said that the butterfly needs to struggle while getting out of the cocoon: if you help it, its wings don't fill and it will die.  But (in the case of children) struggle sometimes seems like a bad thing.  I have to remember that the struggle is part of the process, just as much as the answer. Maybe even my struggle to remain silent is part of the process.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

EMH mark 3

Eleanor is still gunning for me to dress up as a Star Trek character for Halloween.  I usually go as the scariest person I can think of---a MATH TEACHER!  Today she came up with a compromise.

She says I should dress up as the EMH Mark 3: the Emergency Mathematical Hologram.  "Please state the nature of the Mathematical emergency..."

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Advantages of Star Trek

The kids have been getting into Star Trek lately.  I've written about their costumes.  They also have been spouting lines--- Seven of Nine is a favorite: "Efficiency is relative," for example.

Luke write a paper about Kill Devil Hills and the Wright Brothers, and he included the Enterprise in his history of flight.  Not sure that's right, but he's just in fourth grade, so who cares?

The best part is that he seems to have adopted me as his captain.  He's absolutely tickled that you can call female captains "sir," so sometimes when I ask him to do something he'll stand at attention and say, "Sir!  Yes Sir!" The funny thing is that he actually goes and does it.  If he weren't treating me as a captain, he'd likely argue or complain or put it off.  But when I'm a captain, he obeys. 

Now if only I could be more like Janeway...

Saturday, October 15, 2016


When I was younger (read: before I had kids) I always thought of leaving as a point in time.  Think of the graph of a line crossing the x-axis at x=2.  When x is less than 2, f(x) is negative.  When x<2 graph="" is="" negative="" the="" when="" x=""> is greater than 2 f(x) is positive, and the graph is only equal to zero at one point, x=2.  Similarly, I thought that leaving was one time, say 12:00.  Earlier than 12, you haven't left, and after 12, you've already left.  

This worked pretty well for many years, but then I had kids and the strategy developed problems.  I learned to try to be early to places (if you're not early, then you're late).  I learned to leave time for traffic depending on the time of day.  But even leaving time to be early and for traffic,  I still ended up being late, even when I left at precisely the time I expected.

Then I realized that the problem was that it took between 5 and 10 minutes to leave, maybe more if I were leaving for the whole day and had a lot to remember.  Even when I was just by myself, sometimes it took 5 minutes to leave (which was one reason I was late a lot before I had kids).  It takes a lot of time to get 3 small people moving and to help them remember the things they need.

So leaving is more like a piece-wise defined function. The time before leaving and the time after leaving are the same, but there is a 10-15 minute stretch while we are in the process of leaving.  It makes me late less often (not never).  It also makes the process of leaving less stressful: if I know it's going to take 10 minutes from the time we start going out the door to the time we are driving away, I can let it take that time and not yell at the kids for being slower than I expect.

Yet another way math helps understand the world.
Original graph, then new graph.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Costume quandry...

For Halloween this year, the kids have embraced Star Trek.  Amanda is going as a Vulcan (she's dressing as Spock from the reboot movies---no slinky girl-costumes for her!), Luke is going as a pile of Tribbles.  Eleanor wanted to go as Captain Janeway.

I love Captain Janeway.  Almost everything she does makes me happy.  So we could have taken a couple of long sleeved t-shirts and done some creative cutting to make a costume.  However, I thought, "I've always wanted to make a real uniform..."

This is the costume pattern we bought after a short Google search:  Etsy Pattern
The first line of the instructions says that if you are not an experienced costume maker, you should give up and find someone who is.  That may be. 

However, there are actually lots of other people online making costumes as well, and some of them post helpful pictures.  This one shows all the pieces and how they go together: pattern pieces

There are other useful comments over there, I will link some more if necessary.

(Interestingly, everyone who makes this costume (the Kerezman pattern, I think) complains that the directions are too vague.  Some people have written about making a tutorial, but I think that by the time they put together the costume they are done and move on to the next thing.)

I figured out the yoke, and the sleeves seem not too hard (until I have to attach them to the rest of the costume...).  The directions for pieces I and J (the back) seem difficult: I think there is a pleat in there but no mention of this is made in the directions.

This site has more pictures: costume pictures

So that's where I am.  I made a mock up of the yoke and the sleeve.  I'm about to cut out a mock up of the back and see what I can do.  We'll see.  It's just a Halloween costume.  And if I make this one, I think I'm going to get one of these patterns and make it up next:
Bad wolf tutorials  Or maybe this one: roddenberry costume Although they seem awfully short on female costumes...

One of the hazards of having a PhD in math is that I assume that everything else I try in life will be not as difficult, if I can just apply my brain to the problem.  Unfortunately, this is not always true.  For example, gardening is not subject to being conquered merely by thinking.  Nor is viola.  Nor is costume-making, I guess.  But it is definitely fun to be challenged, and learn something new, and maybe failing will be good for me. We always have the two t-shirt option, after all.


The intelligence of humminbirds

A few weeks ago we got our new deck furniture and started sitting outside more.  We noticed that a few hummingbirds were flying around.  I have owned a hummingbird feeder in the past: a beautiful pottery feeder given to me by my mother-in-law. We never installed it, because until now there was never a spot to hang the feeder which was both visible from the kitchen (where I spend most of my time) and accessible for changing the food.  The new deck changed that, and so Michael bought a feeder. 

Well, about an hour after Michael installed the feeder, there were a few birds zooming by to investigate.  Within the day, the birds were landing and feeding.  They were awesome.  We could sit in the kitchen nook and watch them through the windows, and even made plans to remove some screens so we could watch them more easily.

Unfortunately, a few days after we installed the feeder, the hummingbirds seemed to have disappeared.  Probably they migrated south (maybe to see my grandma).  I hope that we didn't accidentally poison them (chances are slim, but not zero...).  According to the internet, you can't discourage hummingbird migration by leaving the feeder up: hummingbirds migrate based on the temperature and the sun. 

This just goes to show that the hummingbirds really are smart.  They got out of town before the hurricane.  I hope they come back next year---if they do, we can count on them finding the feeder.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

White board

In order to keep track of my life, I put a 2x3 foot white board on the pantry door.  I put a simple schedule on it, the meal plan for the week, shopping lists for the various stores, and to do lists. 

I've started asking the kids to write things on the board. If we run out of something (chai, for example) and it's not on the list, I have little sympathy.  The only problem is that this leads to children editing the existing lists.

For example, I wrote "cough drops" on the list yesterday.  With a little editing, this becomes "cough oreos."  "Granola bars" becomes "granola bears."  Usually, though, the board is used for good.

This morning I came down to find that Luke had written on the to do list.  From what I could tell, it read "Microwave Luke's Clothes." Really.  Amanda and I had left before he wrote it.  I texted Michael and he had no idea.  When I got Luke in the car after school I asked him and he burst out laughing.  Apparently he had meant to write "wash Luke's clothes," but he was looking at the microwave.

Thinking about all the times I call one child by the others' names, or call lunch breakfast, or any of my other creative aphasias, I can only say that he comes by it honestly.