Math Class Fun

IMG_3560We are currently working on plotting points on a coordinate plane in a math class I teach to middle school aged homeschoolers at WEB. I waded into this subject expecting many to have a been-there-done-that attitude, but surprisingly, most all needed a refresher on this. To make it more fun, I created a coordinate graph mystery picture and took them outside to try to draw it in the parking lot. They did fairly well. The resulting picture wasn’t exactly what I had on my paper, but toward the end of class they were beginning to catch on. You can see the WEB turned out clearly but the flowers underneath were a little weak.

This coming week, I issued a challenge for the class. Everyone is to create their own mystery picture and I will judge the best three to be drawn in the parking lot, weather permitting. These kids really love a competition. Here are the parameters:

1. Each coordinate plane should go from -10 to 10 on both the x-axis and y-axis. This will result in a square 20 X 20.

2. Draw out a picture  using at least 20 coordinate pairs with straight lines connecting them. My picture had about 100, so 20 should be easy to do.

3. Each point on the picture is labeled by its x coordinate first and then the y grouped in parenthesis and separated by a comma:  (x,y)

4. Create a column of coordinate pairs for all the points on a continuous line. When you reach the end of the line and need to take your pencil up, Write STOP.

5. Here is an example of one so you can see how it was done: Fox’s Face on Math Crush

6. I will choose three for us to do outside, weather permitting.

7. In order for your picture to be chosen, the coordinates need to be correct!.

8. We will divide into teams to see which team can do the best job at reproducing the picture they are given.

This is something anyone can do with their child this spring. There are many mystery pictures available online to pick from or you can create your own like I did. Have fun! Let me know how it goes!


Science Fair


Third place in chemistry.

“What is our goal for this year?”

I’m getting nervous, so I ask this question to settle my own excitement as much as to remind the kids not to let the spirit of competition ruin their experience.

“To just enter and see what it is all about.”

“I would say we met that goal. Anything else that happens today is a bonus!”

I am so proud of these kids from my homeschool chemistry class. We didn’t stumble upon the Middle Tennessee Science and Engineering Fair (MTSEF) until it was almost too late to do anything about it. Almost.

I scope out the competition and feel confident that in spite of the rush to get everything done, their projects are at least as good as the majority of the other entries. However, there are always those few that stand out.

I notice my group collecting around a professionally printed poster with Vanderbilt University’s logo prominently displayed in the corner. The project is on cancer research and the list of scientists at the top tells me this student was working as an assistant in their research labs.

My students look intimidated.

“Look at this one, mom. Ours are nothing like this.” She can’t help herself. She is competitive to the core.

“Ah, this is a poster for a research project they are doing at Vanderbilt. I’m sure it is the same one the professors use when they present their research at poster sessions. But it still needs to have everything yours does. Where is the abstract?” A requirement for the fair.

“Is that it? It isn’t clear.” She looks critically at the poster.

“And how many people worked on this project?”

“A lot.” Seeing the string of names across the top.

“What do you think the professors had the high schoolers doing in their lab? Do you think they designed their own experiments? Or wrote this information themselves? Probably not. They were assistants. They probably did lots of little things like run samples and wash a lot of glassware. I hope they can answer all the questions the judges ask.”

They look a little relieved.

“Still,” I add, to be fair, “it is a great experience these kids have had to work in a top notch laboratory. I’m sure they learned a lot. But any of you here could do this type of work too.”

I left them standing by their posters ready for the judges and went outside to talk with the other exiled parents and grandparents as we waited. These are the types of things I really wanted for my kids when we began homeschooling seven years ago. It is so much work to get everything done and turned in on time, but the reassurance that they can stand shoulder to shoulder with their peers and compete makes it worth it.

I jotted down notes for next year: Have their papers out for the judges to see. Larger sample sizes. Provide a section on the science used to prove the kids understand it. Add more graphics and data analysis. I wondered if they would even want to do this again. It had been a lot of work and they might feel dispirited after being questioned by judges. They finally came out, looking exhausted but upbeat. It looks like the science fair adventure was a success.

We didn’t do badly! Of the three projects we entered this year, two placed first in their categories and one placed third. The kids learned a lot and came back with lots of ideas on how to improve their projects for next year. Yes, I think we definitely met our goals!


Featured on Hip Homeschool Blog Hop


IMG_1778Last year I stumbled upon a new adventure in my homeschooling odyssey. I was asked to come and work at a homeschooling tutorial teaching chemistry to middle schoolers. I was thrilled by the opportunity even though I worried that my scattered ways might not translate well to teaching others.

WEB is tutorial set in East Nashville for middle school aged homeschoolers. It is academically rigorous and is meant to act as a bridge between homeschooling and high school for those who wish to reenter formal education. While it is held at a Methodist Church and is friendly to religion, the science curriculum is secular. This was extremely important to me. I had decided that I would never sign another “Statement of Faith” again. For me, faith is too personal to completely match up to anyone else and too important to sign anything less than what I am. It was precisely this that had prevented me from looking into teaching at other local tutorials.

While I was buzzing with excitement, my children were presented with the somewhat unwelcome challenge of entering their first tutorial program.

My oldest daughter was in eighth grade and excited about meeting new kids and challenges, but worried about adding too much to our schedule and not having time for her real school work.

My son was in sixth grade and absolutely adamant about not wanting to take classes where he had to write for other teachers. The ideas of tests and being forced to speak in front of others terrified him. We compromised by only enrolling him in an earth science class and not the literature class as I had hoped.

My youngest was too young to be enrolled but was welcome to sit in the science classes and  listen. It’s a good thing she is the type of child who sits still well and loves to learn.

The year progressed and we each confronted our fears and concerns. I worked hard to stay organized and on schedule. My older daughter did let her other school work slide sometimes, but no more seriously than before. My son overcame his test anxiety and even consented to being enrolled in the literature class this year. My youngest made new friends as well as learned to do some of her work independently while I taught.  Yet the most important thing we all learned was that I love to teach and need to do this for myself as well as them.