Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fractal Christmas Card

We've been studying fractals with the Kaleidoscope Cooperative for Science and Math. As part of that study, we explored Sierpinski's Triangle, a fractal in which equilateral triangle shapes are removed according to a specific set of rules, forming a repeating pattern.

I wanted to extend the 2D version we made in class to a 3D project. Luckily, I found the Fractal Foundation and their instructions to create a triangle fractal cutout. By making repeated cuts in folded paper you can create a shape similar to a Sierpinski's triangle. And when you're done, it looks like a Christmas tree. Which makes it a most excellent holiday card!

The kids had a great time making these, but I wanted a little more refined version for my nerdier friends and family members. So I pulled out my craft supplies. For this project you need: colored cardstock, a ruler, a pencil, scissors, a glue stick, a star punch, an embossing folder and embosser, and assorted inks.

I started by cutting a piece of green cardstock to 8.5 x 5.5 inches. I folded this in half to create a 4.25 x 5.5 inch card. Using my ruler I marked the middle of the card and drew a line from the folded side to midway across.

Then I cut along the line, folded one section away from the folded edge and creased well. Then I unfolded the flap and inverted the tab, pushing the fold inwards.

Refolding the paper, and tucking the tab inside, I once again used my ruler to measure the halfway point on each of the side "steps." I drew a line halfway across the step. Then it was cut, fold, invert.

 I repeated the cycle once more. After this point the paper was too thick to fold and cut neatly. I you used copy or origami paper you might be able to get more detail.

Once all the tabs were done, I used the edge of my ruler to crease them really well. Then I un-inverted the folds to flatten the paper and ran the card through an embosser. I also trimmed the paper by 1/4" all around and inked the edges. When that was done, I carefully refolded the tabs to create the pattern and sprayed the front with gold ink.

I cut a piece of red cardstock to 8.5 x 5.5 inches, folded it into a 4.5 x 5.5 inch card and embossed that as well, inking the edges when it was done.

I applied glue to the back of the triangle tree and carefully attached it to the inside of the red card, pressing down well and being sure to center the green card. I punched a little star from yellow cardstock, folded it in half and used the glue to attach it to the top of the tree. I then decorated the front of the card with some scrap green cardstock and another yellow star.

All I need to do is add a cheery sentiment and this card is ready to add a bit of geek chic to someone's Christmas.

Math Fun with Dice

I hear it a lot. "I hate math." "Math is boring." "I'm no good at math." "I just don't get it." It really doesn't have to be that way. I swear!

One of the best things about math, especially at the elementary and middle school levels is that so much can be learned through game play. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, negative and positive integers, exponents, currency, probability and even basic algebra can all be practiced through game play.

For this post, I'm going to focus in on dice games, because they are inexpensive, extremely portable and offer tremendous variety. That last one is really important. Any game gets boring after a while, and for kids that hate math, keeping game play fresh is vital.

One of the most popular commercially available games is aptly called "Math Dice." Using three six-sided dice and two ten-sided scoring dice, students can play a variety of games. The most popular scenario is to roll the die and figure out how to add, subtract, multiply or divide to reach a "target" number. This type of game encourages the kind of problem solving and mental math skills the students need. It can be played independently, collectively or competitively, and has been used in classrooms and for math tournaments for years. At only $6/set, Math Dice is a great addition to any game shelf. There is also a Math Dice Jr. for younger children.

There are other less well-known math games available out there as well -- 4-Way Count Down, Even Steven's Odd, Double Shutter -- just to name a few! And don't forget other games that, while not being specifically made for teaching math, do contain elements that practice important skills. For example, Yahtzee requires a great deal of number play and addition, as do the fun variants on the theme, like Flash and Yamslam.

One of my personal favorites, that you may not have played before, is call Cosmic Wimpout. "In this game that consists of five dice and nothing else, play proceeds by rolling the five Cosmic Wimpout cubes and get points for each 5, 10, or Flash (triplet) that you roll. You can accumulate points towards the Winning Total by ending your turn or risking it all, because if you roll and don't score, you lose all the points for that turn and the next player goes." It's fast-paced, challenging, exciting and tons of fun. Kids will not know they're practicing math. I keep this tube of dice in my backpack at all times. It's just that good. Farkle tends to travel with me too.

Now, say you don't want to have to buy a bunch of games. Maybe you have some dice sitting around at home, lonely and unused. Perfect! You're ready to start playing some math games!

Start with a visit to Scholastic's 4 Great Math Games. There you'll learn favorites like Pig. A player rolls two dice and mentally adds them. This player can keep on rolling and adding to their total for as long as they want. However, if they roll a 1 before they choose to stop, they're total for the round is 0. If they roll two 1's, their entire total is reduced to 0. The first player to reach 100 points wins.

Teachers will appreciate the printable instructions and score sheets at Math Salamanders. My favorite is "Spot the Calculation." In this game, a student roles three dice and makes a calculation. The other player must guess what operations they used to get that answer.

Meanwhile, Activity Village has lots of classic math games like Mountain and Mouse, many of which are perfect for young students who are still learning to identify numbers. For example, in Mountain, you make or print a drawing of the hill with the numbers 1-6 going up the side to the top and then 6-1 down the other. Students start at the bottom of the hill with a marker. The first student rolls a die, hoping for a 1, because they must roll each number in order to move up or down the mountain. If they don't roll the needed number, they can't move. This is great for kids to learn to recognize their numbers and to practice counting with the dots on the dice.

And Didax Education offers a small selection of dice games for algebraic thinking that are great for middle schoolers. You can use their samples, or make your own similar games. It's easy! Try this: Onto index cards, either copy a few simple algebraic expression from a textbook or  make your own. Mix up the cards and place them face down on the table. A student, flips the top card and rolls a die. She then substitutes the number on the die into the expression for the variable and solves. Each player rolls their die and does the same, writing down their answer. Play continues until all the expression cards are used. Players then add their solutions together. The highest number wins.

For teaching negative and positive numbers, I like this simple game. First print or create a simple number line and find a small marker that fits on it. Then find two dice, each a different color. One color represents a positive number, the other negative. The student rolls both dice and selects one to start with. They mark that number on the number line. Then using the other, they count from that spot the amount on the other die, moving in the correct direction. The place they land is the sum of the two numbers. I usually have them write out the equation then. Once they get the hang of this, I add dice, making the equations longer or swap in 10 or 12 sided die to practice with larger sums. This game is especially useful for students that don't understand how positive and negative integers work.

So I hope you have some new ideas for fun dice games to play with your favorite math student.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Glowing Geology!

If you haven't made a trip out to the Franklin Mineral Museum to view it's amazing rock collections, you're missing out. The museum houses thousands of rock and mineral samples from all over the world. The local room has 4,000 samples just from the Franklin area. The area's rich zinc deposits have produced over 360 different mineral species. The museum also has a fossil collection, Native American artifacts, a Mine replica and more.

A highlight for me is the Florescent Room. Franklin is known as "the Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World," and is an excellent place to explore these amazing geologic wonders. Fluorescent minerals are able to absorb a small amount of light of specific wavelengths (such as UV) and then release it immediately as another wavelength. This temporary change in the wavelength causes a change in color, which we can see under the right conditions. It's great science, and everyone love to see the amazing glowing colors. Beautiful!

Twice a year, the museum allows hobbyists to participate in a night dig on the Buckwheat Dump, a 3.5 acre mine dump that continues to yield exciting finds. With sturdy boots, goggles, a UV light and rock pick, my daughters and I set out to find our own fluorescent samples. I highly recommend the experience! It was a real adventure.

In addition to the excitement of climbing over the piles of rocks hunting for samples, at night, every time you shine your light at the piles they glow with purples, greens, yellows, oranges and reds! How cool is that? It's a magical experience. Better yet, you can take the fun home, because the museum allows you to keep your samples, for a small fee.

We came home with a few pounds of minerals for our collection. Now we need to get them all identified, which will be a fun upcoming project. I can't wait for my copy of Collecting Flourescent Minerals to arrive! Once we've got them all sorted, I'll be sure to let you know what we discovered!

Potion fun!

For Halloween, I wanted to whip up some extra-special fun for my events. So I put together two simple "potion" activities.

Of course, I pulled out my favorite color changing experiment. I filled one fancy bottle with vinegar. To another I added a solution made by dissolving baking soda in warm water. This way you have two clear liquids that look very similar. Then I made a purple potion by boiling a head of red cabbage in water and cooling the liquid.

To do the magic trick, just pour a bit of each clear potion into a cup. Add a few drops of purple potion. The vinegar will turn pink, while the baking soda will turn blue. Then mix them together. The solution will fizz and turn purple!

For the second potion experiment, I decided to make slime. Again you need to make two matching solutions. For the first, add 1 teaspoon of Borax to 1 cup of water and stir well to dissolve. For the second, add 1/2 cup of clear glue to 1/2 cup of water and mix well. When I'm working with a group, I usually make a gallon of each solution, so I have plenty to work with.

When you add equal amounts of the Borax solution and the glue mixture together, it will gel quickly into a gloppy slime. You can add food coloring to the glue mixture before adding Borax, if you like, to make colored slime.

Any time you need a bit of magic, I hope you'll play with potions like these. Happy Halloween!

Preschool Dance Party

Recently I hosted a fun little dance party for the preschoolers in my Friday Funday program. Kids love to dance, so giving them the chance to live it up with their friends, complete with disco ball, is the perfect wake to spice up chilly or rainy days.

There are so many great songs out there for kids, with new artists adding albums every day. And since you can download music directly to your computer or phone, it's so easy and fast to create your own custom playlist.

I love to start with classics. Everyone loves "The Hokey Pokey," and the version by Dan Zanes & Friends on Family Dance is fantastic. I also love "If You're Happy and You Know It" by the Big Kidz Band on Indian Elephant Tea. The camp classic "Father Abraham" from Lisa Loeb's Camp Lisa is a great track too. You can also find many versions of "The Chicken Dance," "The Limbo" and "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" to enjoy.

Another fun participation dance to try is They Might Be Giant's “Clap Your Hands” from the album No. And Raffi's "Shake My Silles Out" is lots of fun to act out. And don't forget great rock and roll songs like Chubby Checker's "The Twist," "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang, "Y.M.C.A." by The Village People and "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles. Or download a pop hit like “I Like to Move It” from the Madagascar soundtrack and groove.

For some modern dance tracks check out Yo Gabba Gabba's Music is Awesome for fun songs like "Get the Sillies Out." Or try The Fresh Beat Band for danceable tracks like "Music (Gets Me Movin')."

Whatever music you put on, there are some great games you can play too. Kids always love Freeze Dance, where you randomly stop the music and they freeze. You can play Hot Potato too, passing a balloon, ball or other object. Or just get everyone into a circle and give each person the chance to share their moves and take the center. If you have musical instrument, be sure to take those out and let the kids jam along with the tunes.

I can't wait for my next preschool dance party. Until then, my kids and I will have to dance around our kitchen at home. (Making dinner is always more fun that way!)