Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Frugal Sew Crafty feature on HomeSchoolBlogger

Those of you who read the HSB blog may already know about their weekly Sew Crafty feature. So far there are quilting instructions (with photos!) and three other projects that can be made with recycled fabric items. Since all the good downtown fabric stores here closed several years ago (even FabricLand moved to the other end of town), buying new fabric for a project means asking Mr. Fixit to make a special trip to the mill outlet store. And besides, have you priced new fabric lately? Buying fabric for a tote bag (that I would probably sew somewhat badly) is more expensive than buying a slightly used yard-sale tote bag (that someone did a better job on). (Besides being hard to get since I don't drive the squirrel-mobile.)

But old curtains and too-big skirts--those, I can find. And the photographs with the instructions make the projects seem more do-able. I hope Randi will keep adding more ideas to her page, because this is something both grownup and younger squirrels (and other beings) can draw inspiration from!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A funny from Crayons

Crayons came to me all excited, holding one of our fairy tale books. She'd just discovered that this particular book had a story she recognized. "Look! Handsome and Gretel!"

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Let's go bowling

These pretty girls are Christina and Delancey. They're best friends.

They do fun things together, like try on silly hairstyles!

One day, they were just walking along when...

Whoops! They stumbled into a cosmic bowling lane! Those girls must have been really not paying attention...

But as they walked out, Delancy had a great idea.
"Christina! Let's go bowling with all our friends!"
"That's a great idea!"

So they made a couple calls.

And all the girls came: Chelsea, Delancey, Christina, Barbie, and Susan.

And bowled under blacklights!

What a groovin' time.


P.S. Would you like paperdolls like mine? Here's Christina, Chelsea, and Delancey. I made Susan, and Barbie is an old punch-out paperdoll. I looked for pictures of her on Google, but she wasn't there. Pretty sure she was a Golden Book though!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Math stuff

Maria at The Homeschool Math Blog pointed out this post: Number Bonds = Better Understanding, by Denise in IL at A Home for Homeschoolers. [Update: Denise's blog has moved; that post is now here.]

This is the way we teach math too! Kids find it easier to see relationships between numbers when you show that a whole can be separated into two or more parts--and you can demonstrate that with a group of things (like a pile of blocks, as Denise's post describes), or a whole thing split into pieces (there we might get into fractions). The post and comments refer to Singapore Math, but we do much the same thing with Miquon Math and Cuisenaire Rods (picture here). [OK, that's changed too. Try this one instead--scroll down a bit to see the photo.] If an orange rod is understood to be ten units long (assuming a white rod is the basic unit), then you can make a "train" just as long as the orange rod by grouping two yellow rods (each 5 cm long), or a light green plus a black (3, 7), or a white plus a blue (1, 9) and so on. You reverse that by showing a white plus a blue and asking what rod will be just as long as that "train"--that's addition. Then you get even more complicated by showing the orange rod with a white rod underneath it, and ask for the missing piece that completes the "train." That's the beginning of subtraction. (Update: If you still can't get the idea of this, you can play with some virtual Cuisenaire Rods here--click on "Start the Integer Bars Applet." This site ( calls the rods Integer Bars, and the only real disadvantage to them is that they can slide on top of each other in a way that real 3-D rods can't; so you might accidentally overlap your two yellow rods and think that they were equal in length to a blue rod instead of an orange one. The real thing is definitely better, but these at least can give you the sense of how the rods work.) [2012 UPDATE:  the virtual rods are long gone--sorry!]

When Ponytails was in first grade, we got a lot of math ideas from the Miquon First Grade Diary (not a diary you write in--it is a day-by-day description of a first grade math class back in the '60's). Lore Rasmussen (the author) described some hollow wooden tubes she had, each 10 cm long, into which you could insert Cuisenaire rods--any number of them that would fit into the tube. The idea was to play a guessing game. If I put a white and a blue rod into the tube, and cover up the blue end so that you can see only the white end--and I tell you that there are only two rods in the tube--then you can guess that the other rod must be blue. The game can get more complicated when three rods are used--if you can see the colours of the two ends, what is the hidden rod in the middle?

And where do you buy these tubes? I have no idea, but I made my own out of 3 x 5 inch file cards. I cut several cards to a 10 cm length (how do you like that for mixing measurements?), folded each one several times around an orange rod, and taped them shut. Instant rod tubes. When they wear out, you can make new ones in a couple of minutes.

We played other games too that develop the idea of whole/parts, particularly relating to the number 10. One game The Apprentice played in kindergarten came (I think) from Peggy Kaye's book Games for Learning. You need a bowl or other container, and five paperclips (for a young child). The bowl goes a short distance away, and you take turns chucking the five paperclips into the bowl. When you're done with your five, you say something like, "Oh, I got one on the floor and four in the bowl. I get four points." Then the child throws her five, and you say, "Oops, you got just two in the bowl and three on the floor." The point of the game is not to get to be a great paperclip chucker, but to get acquainted with all the "parts" of the number five.

Another whole/parts activity I've done with all the Squirrelings is to take several crayons, or blocks, or any small objects, hide them behind my back, and bring some of them back out--how many are still behind my back? Then they have a turn to hide the objects. Sometimes we just put a few objects on the floor--hide your eyes and somebody takes some away--you have to figure out how many are gone.

The Squirrelings have occasionally run into math blocks in other areas, but understanding addition and subtraction has never been a problem!

P.S. Here's a bonus for reading to the end: how do you say "Cuisenaire rods" in other languages?
French: les réglettes Cuisenaire
German: Cuisenairstäbe
Spanish: las regletas Cuisenaire
Portuguese: as barras Cuisenaire
Italian: I regoli Cuisenaire
Swedish: Cuisenaire-stavar
Polish: klockami Cuisenaire'a (Krakovianka, did I get that one right?)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rhubarb, Year Two

What I'm eating: Coffeemamma's Rhubarb Muffins, made out of the skinny little fresh rhubarb stalks from our garden. We put the plant in last year (actually more than one, but this is the survivor), but it produced nothing all last summer. This spring it started getting leaves very early, and I managed to get enough from it today to make a double batch of the muffins that we never got to try last year. (See Coffeemamma's comment on last year's post; the comments in the recipe are hers as well.) (Update: Coffeemamma has been taking a break from blogging, for various very good reasons, but she's posted a Blue Castle Update today.)

Sour Cream Rhubarb Muffins

Blend these together in a small bowl:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg

Stir these ingredients together:
1 1/3 cup flour (I have successfully substituted 1 cup unbleached, 1/3 cup whole wheat)
1 cup diced rhubarb
2/3 cup brown sugar (or raw cane sugar)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Stir in sour cream mixture until moistened (batter will be thick).
Drop large spoonful into 12 greased muffin cups or paper-lined muffin cups.

In small bowl, combine these ingredients:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. melted butter

Spoon this over batter (or lightly brush muffins with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon if you have a jar on hand). Bake muffins at 350 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes. (A note from the Treehouse: you might want to put a cookie sheet under your muffin pans just in case of drips--the sugar mixture bubbles a bit.)

I always double this recipe, and they are still gone the same day they are made ;-) Enjoy!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Big math, big ideas

Another culling from the Toronto Star Ideas section...The Curious Side of Big Math, by Siobhan Roberts, special to The Star from Atlanta (April 30/06).

One interesting thing about this story is the reason that Siobhan Roberts was in Atlanta to start with: G4G7, the seventh gathering of mathematicians in honour of Martin Gardner. (Get it?--Gathering 4 Gardner, number 7.) It's "all about invoking Gardner's abiding love for the play and fun in math." In other words, if you're a Lewis Carroll type of person, this is your place. It's a "four-day curiosity cabinet of....brainteasers." But there's a catch: you have to be invited. You have to be smart. And you have to be a mathematician.

That doesn't mean you have to be old. One of the invitees was Robert Barrington Leigh, a 19-year-old math student at the University of Toronto. This is a guy who's won a lot of math contests and is majoring in math...but think about this:
"[Barrington Leigh's mentor, Professor Andy Liu of the University of Alberta in Edmonton] said that Barrington Leigh was able to maintain his mathematical curiosity through his first two years at university....[but] his university syllabus of mathematical study doesn't allow him time [now] to do playful math. And finding himself [at the conference] among those who do have the time to indulge makes him a bit apprehensive, at first. 'I used to be more [into playful math] when I was younger,' said Barrington Leigh. 'It helps keep you sharp. But right now my work is more about remembering than being creative.' [Liu] noted that therein lies the value of G4G7, and the weakness in typical mathematics education. 'The worst thing the education system does is take away students' natural curiosity,' said Liu...."
Wow--even for math majors who get invited to G4G7.

Couldn't they just give somebody like that a degree and then let him go off and do "big math?"

And if that's the case for our best math students, how much more should we be concerned for those who aren't as highly motivated in math to begin with?

P.S. Oh yes--the other neat thing (if you didn't read the article) was this:
Gardner, now 91, lives in Norman, Okla. He did not attend his namesake conference; he has never liked travel (he spent the weekend at home, writing his umpteenth book, this one on the works of the "prince of paradox," G.K. Chesterton).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

We still like Frye

Grandpa Squirrel made his usual weekend Toronto Star/Globe and Mail drop Sunday night, but I haven't had a chance till now to blog about one of the Really Interesting articles in the papers.

Between April and June of last year, I posted several times (here, here, here) about the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye. The last time was here. Since then I've gotten a couple more of his books, become slightly more confused about his theology (was he ever really clear on it himself?) but even more interested in his ideas on literature.

Last Sunday's Toronto Star had this article by Philip Marchand, called "McLuhan, Frye and the falling towers." Marshall McLuhan, for Americans or others who don't know, was another professor of Frye's vintage, and as Marchand says, he's best known for the phrases he coined: "the global village" and "the medium is the message." As Marchand also points out, Frye and McLuhan were rivals and each "thought the other was on the wrong track."

And neither of them, according to Marchand, is exactly on key with today's academic thinking. Frye in particular is "a distinct minority taste in an age when literary studies are heavily influenced by radical politics and the philosophy of deconstruction--twin wrecking balls sworn to destroy any literary cathedral in sight."

Yep, I know. Frye doesn't have enough duende. He's not hip. And neither is McLuhan, although you would think, of the two, that somebody so interested in the media would have held up better.

However, we at the Treehouse are not too much into hip anyway, and we still like Frye. So, apparently, does B.W. Powe, a York University professor who has "written brilliantly about both Frye and McLuhan in his books A Climate Charged and The Solitary Outlaw....". Powe recently got one of his classes to stage a debate about how Frye and McLuhan would have viewed events such as 9/11. Actually the class is about Frye and McLuhan, which sounds very cool. (Powe was a pretty cool professor anyway. How do I know? I was in one of his senior writing classes in my last year at York.)

It's amazing that there is a Frye-McLuhan class offered these days. It's amazing that anybody takes it. It's amazing that this debate sounds (from the description in the article) like at least some of the students peered out of their millennium-sized boxes long enough to get a handle on what these pre-deconstructionist geezers (dead white guys and all that) were saying. I would have liked to have been there.