Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: October 2012

I’ll deal with that number later

Today we are looking at a 2nd/3rd grade subtraction problem.

Let’s get started!

Quick question:  What is 120 really Do you know?  Can your child explain it to you?

Can they make that 120 friendlier?

I think that 100 + 20 is a lot friendlier than 120. It will be easier to take 38 away from 100, than it would have been to take it away from 120.

Since I don’t really need that 20 right now, I’m going to stick it on my forehead.

I’m holding that 20 in my brain and I’m going to come back to it later.

Sweet!  Now I can just deal with taking 38 away from 100.  That’s way easier.

100-38 on an abacus is super easy.  Don’t have an abacus?  Try a blank hundreds chart.

I like the Abacus because with enough practice kids start to visualize what 100 really is and know answers intuitively.

Ooops!  Is there still a number on my forehead?  I better deal with that 20 now.  62 + 20 = 82  I’m using adding (which I’m really good at) to help me do subtraction.

That means that 120 – 38 = 82!

But wait!  Did I really need a paper and pencil or could I have just done that problem in my head?  Hmm…

Math Boot Camp for Moms, Day 4

Your Four Year Old Can Understand Square Numbers

Square numbers are super easy.

Do you think I’m nuts?  “Square numbers?  Don’t you have to know about multiplication and square roots and…Eeeek!”

Actually, all you need are crackers. 

I bet your four-year-old could tell you which number is square.

Is 5 square?  No!

Is 6 square?  Nope!

7 isn’t a square either.

Neither is 8.

But look! 9 makes a square. It’s a square number!

If we were to keep building (which would require a lot of crackers) then we would see something like this.

The next square number is going to be 16.

Children who are learning about multiplication can also learn the corresponding equations that go with each square number.

1 x 1 = 1, 2 x 2 = 4, 3 x 3 = 9, 4 x 4 = 16  et cetera

So do you believe me now?

Square numbers are super fun!

(Don’t you wish you learned math this way?)

Math Boot Camp for Moms, Day 3

Math at the Grocery Store

Today is all about “Food for Thought”.

Let’s do an experiment.

Pretend you are at the grocery store.

You have $9.50 in your wallet and you forgot your credit card. You want to buy a watermelon which costs $4.25 and a gallon of milk which costs $2.99. Will you have enough money?

There are lots of ways you might solve that problem in your head.

Maybe you looked at those prices and thought “2.99 is almost $3. So… $4 + $3 = $7. Then add in the quarter and you get $7.25. But take away the penny from the $2.00/$3.00 conversion, and my final total is $7.24.  So yes, I have enough money.”

But can you still go to Starbucks afterwards? How much money will you have left over?

Now you might be thinking “$9.50 – $7.24 = about $2.25. I can afford a cup of coffee, but not a mocha.”

What you just did was real life math.

I bet your accuracy was fantastic.

But now let’s do another experiment.

Pretend you are in middle school. You are crammed into one of those super uncomfortable chairs with the attached desks. The teacher is some old guy up front wearing a weird tie. There is a vague smell of tuna-melt wafting through the room from the cafeteria next door.

You are taking a really important test. NO MISTAKES ALLOWED! Here’s the problem:

950 – (425+299) = ?

a) 475

b) 226

c) 329

d) 225

Now what are you going to do?

If you are like most people my age or older, you might have reached for a paper and pencil. Probably you stacked those numbers up and started borrowing and carrying. It might even be possible that your accuracy went down.

It’s too bad you couldn’t unleash your inner math instinct.

One of my favorite books about math is called The Math Instinct: Why You’re a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs) by Keith Devlin. In the final chapters of the book, Dr. Devlin shares research about this phenomenon of grocery store math vs. school math.

In real life people form their own strategies for solving problems and tend to be pretty accurate in their calculations. In school though, those same people can be hit-and-miss as they attempt to crank out traditional algorithms.

Maybe you are better at math than you thought.

Give yourself permission to let go of the notion that there is one right way to solve a problem.

Give your children permission to explore and discover strategies that make sense to them.

Then imagine the possibilities…

If you can already do grocery store math in your head with kick-awesome accuracy, what do you think might have happened to your own math ability if you had been encouraged to follow that type of problem solving as a young child? Would you be doing algebra in your head? Would calculus be fun?

When a teacher forces a child to do something over and over again that doesn’t make any sense to them, how is that helping?

In my ideal world, “Drill and Kill” would be illegal.

The real art in teaching math to children comes from asking them questions about their own thinking and then listening. “How would you do this? What makes sense to you?”

It’s really hard to do that in the classroom, especially if you are responsible for 30 kids.

But the next time you are at the grocery store with your own son or daughter, try asking them if you have enough money to buy ice cream. Then listen to what they have to say…

Math Boot Camp for Moms, Day 2

Whoo hoo! Check me out on BlogHer!

I am soooo excited to be featured on BlogHer today!  Here’s the link:

My Beef With Sesame Street

My column this week in The Daily Herald

My Wii inspired column this week.

Guess what?  “I Brake for Moms” is moving to the Sunday edition of The Daily Herald starting this weekend!

Don’t use an algorithm when mental math would be faster

I’m your coach Jenny and I like to think about numbers.

No really, tell that to your kids. Clearly express to them that you are their coach and that you like math (whether that’s true or not).

Let’s start by warming up!

What’s wrong with this picture?

A third grader who draws all of those lines and junk on a simple problem like 1,000-344 = is telling you a lot. They are showing you that they are clinging to a traditional algorithm instead of using their brain.

We need to teach our kids to think.

There are LOTS of better ways to solve this problem. Today we are looking at one possible method.

I’m using number cards from my Right Start kit, but you could just use paper and pencil.

Notice that I’m laying out the problem in a horizontal fashion. This encourages children to let go of their algorithm life-raft and start using their brain instead.

Let’s start by thinking about the number 344. What do I need to do to 344 to make it a friendly number?

No wait! I’m going to make this even easier. I’m just going to think about the 44. What do I need to do to 44 to make it a friendly number?

I know. I could add 6 to it and get 50. 50 is a friendly number.

That means that 44 + 56 = 100. 100 is a really friendly number.

That makes me think that 344 + 56 must equal 400.

And you know what? I know that 600 + 400 = 1,000.

That means that 654 + 344 = 1,000. I’m using adding (which I’m really good at) to help me solve a big subtraction problem.

What do you know? I can do that problem in my head!!!

The real art in teaching math comes from asking questions.

How would you solve this problem? Do you have a way that you like better?  Feel free to leave a comment and tell us about your stratgey.  Or, you can just mock me for having numbers on my forehead.  Whatever…

Math Boot Camp will be back in session tomorrow!

Math Boot Camp for Moms, Day 1

Kathryn O. Galbraith, Picture Book Author

My daughter and I have read four books by Tacoma author Kathryn O. Galbraith, and each one is more diverse than the next.  I’m pretty impressed by Galbraith’s versatility as a writer.

Jenna’s favorite book by Galbraith is Boo Bunny, illustrated by Jeff Mack.  “You have to be very brave to read this book,” said my three year old.  It’s a great book for the preschool-first grade set, because of its simplicity (and mild scariness).

My favorite book by Galbraith is Laura Charlotte, illustrated by Floyd Cooper.  This book is much more complex, and tells the nostalgic story of a little girl inheriting the stuffed elephant that her great grandmother originally sewed for her mother.

Traveling Babies, illustrated by Jane Dippold is extremely unique.  It juxtaposes real life pictures of  mommies and babies in the wild with Dippold’s drawings of humans.  Very clever!

Finally, I’m sorry Ms. Galbraith, but Planting the Wild Garden, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin, was not a very big hit with Jenna.  I don’t know what to tell you, other than three year olds can be pretty facetious.  But I woud like to mention that I am a HUGE fan of  artist Wendy Anderson Halperin, and her book Love Is… is one of my favorite books.  I wish I could blow her illustrations up and turn them into wallpaper.

(This post is from my 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers.)

“The Atlas of Love” by Laurie Frankel

The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel is perhaps the deepest chick-lit book I have ever read.

I’m not even sure it is fair to classify it as “chick lit”, although my husband is definitely not the target audience. That didn’t stop him from laughing when I read an excerpt from page 102 to him that starts with the lines “The first thing that went wrong was Katie got sick. She is one of those people,” and goes on to hysterically describe every real or imagined ailment I have ever suffered from, with the exception of amoebas.  Frankel does comic realism very well.

The basic plot of the book is that grad student Jill gets pregnant, and her friends Janey and Katie move in with her to help raise baby Atlas. All three are English Ph.D. candidates at a fictional school in Seattle.

Excuse me if I nerd out on you, but I can’t help but wonder if this entire book has a deeper meaning.

Frankel mentions every famous Western author you can imagine with the exception of one; Ayn Rand is the elephant in the room. Rand’s Objectivist philosophy is hinted at, with the very naming of baby Atlas. Throw in the concept of four people sharing one kid, and you remind me of Ayn Rand, Frank O’Connor, Barbra Branden and Nathaniel Branden’s unusual arrangements concerning adult intimacy.

The character of Jill is about as selfish as you can get. Ayn Rand would have loved her. But Jill also proves the fatal flaw of Objectivism. How can you be a good parent without self-sacrifice? You can’t!

Katie on the other hand, is the spiritual soul of the novel. Katie stands for everything Ayn Rand would hate. A fifth generation LDS member, (and a Victorianist!), she believes in bigger things. Katie is willing to give her time and energy because it is in her very spirit to do so. Frankel gets a lot of laughs by poking fun at Katie’s earnestness, but it is done so lovingly.

The narrator of the whole book is Janey, who (like Rand), is Jewish. Janey is arguably the best parent in the book. She sacrifices herself for Atlas because she wants to. Which of course leads to the question, if you want to sacrifice yourself for a child, does the very act of sacrificing become selfish?

Dang nab it Ayn Rand! I hate you and yet you continue to mess with my mind. If only I could shrug you off.  I would rather read a book by Laurie Frankel any day of the week.

(This post is from my 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers.)

Good Night, Garden Gnome by Jamichael Henterly

Good Night, Garden Gnome is one of my all-time favorite picture books!

Good Night, Garden Gnome by Jamichael Henterly tells the story of a little girl who plays with her toys out in the garden, and then accidentally leaves her teddy bear in the yard overnight. The garden gnome comes to life, and *Spoiler Alert!* rescues the teddy.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking. A garden gnome coming to life could easily turn really creepy.

But don’t worry; this garden gnome is super friendly. My favorite part is when he keeps the slugs away from the lettuce.

(This post is from my 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers.)

Who In this Room, by Katherine Malmo

Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition by Katherine Malmo is the brilliantly written account of one young woman’s experience with inflammatory breast cancer. Half memoir, half collection of essays, Who in This Room jumps from the second person to the third person narrative in a way that helps the reader engage with the story and cope with the difficult subject manner.

Another literary device used is the juxtaposition between the worst medical nightmare you could imagine, with really random bits of ordinary living. So on one page the narrative hears that she has a 10% chance of survival, but on the next she is watching a makeover show on television and contemplating v neck sweaters. This really makes the reader feel like you too are trying to process what is happening and deal with it however you can.

I’m a really fast reader and can usually finish a book in one or two sittings, but who in this room presented a challenge to me because the reality of the story was hard to face. I had to read it in pieces, and then brace my heart for the next chapter. But spoiler alert! This book has a happy ending. You can follow Katherine Malmo on her blog, as she chronicles life as a Seattle mommy raising two beautiful children.

(This post is from my 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers.)

Farmyard Beat, by Lindsey Craig

Farmyard Beat by Washington author Lindsey Craig is full of rhythm, patterns and other things that make reading a picture book enjoyable. It kind of reminds me of a cross between Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple, and Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton.

My daughter Jenna asked to listen to this book over and over and over again.

I really enjoyed the cut paper collages that helped bring Farmyard Beat to life. Like a dunce, I read the book several times before I realized the illustrator was Marc Brown, creator of the Arthur series. You can either blame that mommy-brain moment on not enough sleep, lack of coffee, or the forty minute reading marathon my three year old demanded.

Lindsey Craig is also the author of the children’s play Cinderella’s Shakespeare, and the picture book Dancing Feet. Those are both on my list of things to read next!

(This post is from my 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers.)

Suzanne Selfors

The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada.

YA author Suzanne Selfors knows how to write about evil mothers!

In her book Saving Juliet, Mimi’s mother channels Joan Crawford, and Lady Capulet is evil enough to rival any Disney stepmother. In Coffeehouse Angel the main character’s mom is killed off before the story even begins. The Sweetest Spell has the worst mother of all, a wicked queen who is ashamed of her son’s love interests, and intent on enslaving her entire country. Oh yeah, and Emmeline’s mother was also killed off before the story even got going.


But back to my reviews, here ya go:

Saving Juliet

If you can handle a major suspension of disbelief, then you will be happily rewarded with this fun bit of fan fiction from Suzanne Selfors. Fan Fiction for Shakespeare? Yeah, just go with it!

In the middle of Mimi Wallingford’s flight of fancy through Verona, she meets all of the major players in Romeo and Juliet. Mimi also comes to terms with some real life issues that every teenager faces. What will she do with her life? Whom will she date? How will she get her mother to leave her alone?

I found this book to be fast paced and cleverly written. I am purchasing a copy for my 13 year old niece’s Christmas present, because I think she will enjoy it too.

Coffeehouse Angel

This fun, YA books has Pacific Northwest freshness on every page. Norwegian heritage? Check! Miserable weather? Lots of coffee? Slaves to organic? Check, check and check!

As previously mentioned the young heroine in Coffeehouse Angel is being raised by her grandmother in the wake of her parents’ death. When she shows kindness to a homeless guy sleeping in the alley next to her grandma’s coffee house, things start to get weird.

Without giving too much away, there is also a scene in this book involving a 40 pound rat. When I saw the Youtube clip recently about the gigantic earthworm discovered in somebody’s backyard, I wondered if there was a magic coffee bean involved.

The Sweetest Spell

The Sweetest Spell is a fantasy meets dystopian novel that reminded me a lot of the 1980s classic movie “The Princess Bride”. It tells the story of club footed Emmeline, who is an outcast in her town until it is discovered that she can churn cream into chocolate. In Emmeline’s world, beautiful is more beautiful, evil is more evil, and chocolate is more delicious than ever.

(This post is from my 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers.)

Ann Cameron, and Ravenswood Flashbacks

Bruce(7) and I both read Gloria Rising by Ann Cameron tonight, and loved it.

It tells the story of fourth grader Gloria and her friend Julian who must work hard to believe in themselves despite an emotionally crippling teacher named Mrs. Yardley.  Gloria Rising continues the storyline of characters from The Stories that Julian Tells.

Ann Cameron is also the author of The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, which is part of my Inspired by SLE reading list #2.

When I began my Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers I meant to review all of Ann Cameron’s Julian and Gloria books, but you’ll have to forgive me for letting Bruce do the rest of the reading for me.

The language and characters from Gloria Rising started inducing serious flashbacks from teaching in East Palo Alto. (An excerpt from The Stories Julian tells was part of the third grade Open Court reader, and I read it over and over again.)

I think my brain must try to protect my heart.

Normally I operate with a complete mental block of everything I witnessed in the Ravenswood School District. But if the door to my memory opens just a crack, then a lot of horrible stuff comes back. Hearing about Gloria and Julian again was just that type of trigger.

Tonight I’ve been thinking about eight year old Jose who was in my class for just two weeks and spoke no English. I watched CPS take him away in a police car when I found cigarette burns on his arms. I gave Jose a hug and never saw him again.

I’ve also been thinking about Lola, who slept on her kitchen floor and thought I was rich because my apartment had stairs. Lola was in the same class as Jaime, who suffered from untreated impetigo. That reminded me of the fifteen percent of my class that had peijos (lice) almost constantly. Maria’s mother told me she was going to be sent to Mexico, because peijos were too hard to get rid of.

I’m thinking of M—- who desperately needed special education services for Dyslexia, and didn’t receive help for five years. I wrote a letter to the lawyers who were suing the district because of their failure to offer federally mandated special education services. I wrote the letter in Spanish, and had M—‘s mother sign it because she couldn’t read either.

I’m thinking of our school facility that lacked smoke detectors and fire alarms, even though the library had just burnt down. I’m thinking of my friend “Amy Pike” whose classroom was robbed within the first month of school.

Most of all, I’m thinking of all of the veteran teachers I knew who were the opposite of Mrs. Yardley.

In Gloria Rising, Mrs. Yardley is a teacher on the verge of retirement. All she cares about is flashcards, studying, and making her students pass the standardized tests. There is no room for fun in her fourth grade classroom.

As a literary device, Mrs. Yardley is awesome. But in reality, she is nonexistent (at least in my experience).

The teachers I knew in Ravenswood fell into three classes: brand spanking new like me and full of hope, a few mid-career teachers who still hadn’t bothered to get their teaching credentials but knew they wouldn’t be fired (the school district was desperate for warm bodies), and veteran teachers who had been there for 30 years and were sticking it out because they loved children.

All of the teachers at my school were told over and over again that we were crap.

We were told that our students were failing the STAR test because we were worthless. We were told that if we took the third grade Open Court textbook and religiously followed it, that English Language Learners who had just arrived from Mexico and were reading at the Kindergarten level would miraculously pass the third grade standardized tests.

That was pure garbage.

It didn’t matter that Open Court had quality material written by fine authors like Ann Cameron; it was the wrong level material for our population of students. And when you deny children art, music, PE, field trips, their native language, and all of the rest that makes school wonderful, then you deny them a love of learning.

The real Ms. Yardley and her coworkers were teaching children what they needed to be taught on the sly. When the Open Court police came in they were on page 156 of Collections for Young Scholars. When the doors were closed they were making homemade books, teaching blending, and basic letter formation.

Still, that doesn’t help a whole heck of a lot if you only have a child for two months, because they are constantly moving back and force from Mexico because of poverty reasons.  Or if you have to teach third graders for a whole year in the cafeteria without a real classroom because the school district is too broke to purchase a portable.

The real Mrs. Yardleys taught me that children deserve to be 8 years old.

They do not deserve to be chained to their desks for seven hours a day cranking out worksheets and test-prep materials just because they are poor. Children deserve to be taught in a way that makes learning enjoyable.

That’s why if I was going to make a kite and tie a wish on the tail like Julian and Gloria do in the Open Court textbook, I know just what wish I would make.

I would offer my hope that all of my former estudiantes remembered what I tried to teach them; that learning was fun and that education was their best hope for a successful future.

And that I loved them.  Forever

Thank you “H” for this picture.

Guess what? My house is a mess!

My “I Brake for Moms” column in the The Daily Herald today.

“Pickle” by Kim Baker

It only took the first paragraph of reading PICKLE: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Seattle author Kim Baker, before I was thinking:

“Sweet cheeses! This is the funniest book I’ve read in a long time!”

Louis Sachar’s Wayside School books get their jokes from farce. Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books have sustained scenes that in their entirety are hilarious (the “student of the month” bumper sticker from Cabin Fever comes to mind).

Pickle has funny scenes too, but what Kim Baker really has going for her are one liners that come out of nowhere and are worthy of getting out a highlighter pen.

Seriously. I got out the highlighter pen.

I wish I was teaching fourth grade again just so I could read Pickle aloud to a bunch of nine year olds.

“Dude. You were going to the bathroom. This isn’t number two time, it’s showtime,” (p163) I bet that particular scene would have an entire classroom rolling on the ground. I know I’ll never look at a squirrel tail the same way again.

My seven year old son Bruce loved this book too. In fact, he stayed up until eleven o’clock reading it from start to finish and was really crabby the next morning.

Thanks a lot Kim Baker!

Pickle is part of my blog’s 2012 Salute to Pacific Northwest Writers.  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review and opinion.