Archive for the 'Education' Category

Jeopardy question: What is 73?

Answer:  The number of minutes it takes to enter the details of one’s son’s basketball games for the 2015-16 season into one’s phone and onto one’s wall calendar.

In a somewhat unrelated matter, be it noted that this formerly homeschooling mom finds the superfluity of grammatical and typographical errors consistently appearing in printed matter disseminated from her son’s school to be entirely unacceptable.  Granted, correspondence from his English teacher has been written correctly, but that coming from faculty and staff with other responsibilities has left – although not in content – quite a bit  to be desired.  I am now reminding myself that character and subject-specific facility trumps good writing. . . doesn’t it?  And I know I had better proofread this post very carefully!!!


So far, so good!

After his third day of at least semi-normal high school, Andrew said with a huge grin, “I really, really, really love school!”  = )

I think the thing he really likes the most is just getting to be around other kids All. Day. Long.  For him, spending one full day with other kids is a cause for celebration, so getting to do it five days a week is simply above and beyond.  this evening (Friday) he said he wishes it were Monday so he could go back to school.  I’m pretty sure that’s not because of his deep and intimate love of academics!

Trinity Christian Academy is quite small; there are five other 10th graders, three boys and two girls.  But so far, he likes most of his teachers and nearly all the high school kids, and he thinks his classes won’t be too hard.  All students take the same courses, and as a sophomore, his are:

8:15 AM:  Whole school (K-12) assembly

1st hour:  World History

2nd hour:  Spanish – all 3 Spanish levels (grades 7-12) meet together; he’s in Spanish 1

3rd hour:  Biology

4th hour:  Geometry


5th hour:  Music – all high schoolers together

6th hour:  English

7th hour:  Bible – four days a week, all high school males; Wednesdays, whole school chapel

8th hour:  P.E. – two days a week, all high school males (as an athlete, he does basketball for P. E.)

8th hour:  Personal Finance – three days a week, all high school males

Each “hour” is actually 45 minutes long, and following the 8:15 assembly for prayer, pledges, and announcements, classes run from 8:30 to 3:21.  His school day will expand in a few weeks when the basketball team begins daily after-school practices till 4:00 or 5:00.

Big yellow bus

Or little green car.

Today was Andrew’s first day of school.  In fact it was the very first time I have ever sent ANY kid to school, except for college.  Handsome guy, eh?

Andrew's first day of school - 10th grade at TCA, August 19. 2015

Andrew’s first day of school – 10th grade at TCA, August 19. 2015

He’s been living for this day for many years, but ever since the open house two nights ago, he’s been kind of nervous.  Throughout the summer, I’ve tried to give him a few tops and pointers.  Things like, “When you go to school, you probably won’t be able to sit in a recliner and coffee while doing your mapping assignment,” and, “Racing through a test and picking the first multiple choice answer that seems right without reading the all the options carefully may adversely affect your grade point,” and, “In school you can’t suddenly leave a room without permission.”  Stuff like that.  But he never wanted to hear any of it.

Last night he was concerned that all the other kids who have been in school for years will know what to do and where to go and how to act, and he won’t, and it will be obvious that he is inexperienced.  This, of course, is true, but he’s concerned about how he will appear.  I can understand that.

His alarm did go off on time (6:00) but I let him off his two-mile run because it was pouring down rain, so he got to sleep till 6:20.  He showered, dressed, ate (and I wish you could see our sparking clean, totally re-organized fridge and freezer), practiced piano, and tolerated the one pic above and one hug before he headed out the door at 7:50.  He had strict instructions NOT to speed, not to pick up any one for any reason, and to text me when he was in the school parking lot.  He has to be in the gym at 8:15, and he texted me (“at school”) at 8:12.

I did not cry when he left, or any time thereafter.  I told him that departures of a few hours usually don’t generate tears; departures of several months do.  I will see this guy again at 4:00, and I warned him that he would be required to tell me at least a little bit about his day. . . seeing as how it’s kind of “my” first day of school, too.


Finding my thoughts for the day mushrooming. . .

Andrew is learning about fungi in biology, and his current module is primarily about mushrooms.  I am “lecturing” each lesson to him to help him with comprehension and retention, and I now know more about mushrooms, their reproduction, and their classification than I ever cared to know.  Their reproduction is too complicated for me to explain without referring to the book – but this is OK because I will not be the one taking the test!  However, for your educational enrichment, I will here list their higher level taxonomic classification, most of which I can remember (and spell!) from memory.  Of course, you may note with disdain that I have so far only remembered this stuff for two hours.  While I think my comprehension so far is pretty good, today is only Thursday, and Monday (the next day we do biology) will tell the truth about my retention.

Kingdom:  Fungi – organisms that are heterotrophic (depend on other organisms for their food), do extracellular digestion, reproduce with spores, and have chitin in their cell walls

Phylum:  Amastigomycota – fungi that produce non-motile (not self propelled) spores

Class:  Basidiomycetes – non-motile spore-producing fungi that produce such spores in microscopic cells called basidia; these are located on the “gills” on the underside of a mushroom’s cap.


First time for everything

On the evening of May 11, 2015, I did something that I have never ever done in my entire life.  I registered a child for school.

Yes, you read that correctly.  After 25 years of homeschooling, we are taking the plunge and enrolling Andrew in a local Christian school.  Come August, he will be a sophomore at Trinity Christian Academy in Hollister, Missouri.  It’s a small K-12, accredited school with an enrollment of less than 100.

On an afternoon in late April, we three had met with the school administrator for about a hour one afternoon and asked a LOT of questions.  Her answers generally sat well with us.  She then gave us a tour of the school, taking us around to meet the various teachers Andrew would have.  Even though we were interrupting their classes, they seemed glad to meet Andrew as a potential new student, but I have to say the thing that impressed me the most overall – and it REALLY impressed me – was the attitude of the students.  In each classroom, after we were introduced, each of the students stood and introduced themselves, and they were all so. . . how can I say this?. . . non-cliquish!  How terribly refreshing!  Teens in groups can tend to ignore outsiders, but these kids acted like they were genuinely interested in getting to know Andrew.  Wow!  They were warm and cheerful and pleased to meet him.  I was very pleasantly surprised.

Then last Monday evening, we attended the school’s annual open house and end-of-the-year program, and once again, the kids seemed to welcome Andrew as a friend.  We filled out preliminary forms, paid initial fees, and drove back home with our first-ever enrolled-in-school student.  This is a really big step (kind of like a really big shew) and our decision was not made lightly, but we believe this will be a good change for Andrew.

I’m still trying to get my brain around everything that this new season of life will mean, both logistically and emotionally, but thankfully I still have a few months to adjust to the changes.  = )

O, Pythagorus!

I am working through geometry for the fifth and final time.  This has been a tough course for Andrew, and having tried everything without too much success, today I decided to work very intensely with him.  I explained the lesson to him and then sat right beside him and talked him through each problem.  We checked each answer as he did it, and the immediate feedback seemed to help.  We did two lessons this way today, and his score on the second one was MUCH higher than they’ve been in the past, so it looks like for the short term, I will once again be intimately acquainted parallelograms, trapezoids, right triangles, and their relative sides, angles,m and areas.

You would think that after have done high school geometry five times (Patty, Katie, Jessica, and Josiah), I would have it down fairly well, but tonight I was completely stumped.  I had to ask Scott to figure out and explain to me why, in the case of a certain proof, Andrew’s and my answer of (a-b)^2 really was equivalent to the answer book’s answer of (b-a)^2  (and therefore correct) AND how on earth the book ever derived (b-a)^2 in the first place.  Scott did explain it, but for the record, Mr. Jacobs, you really should have listed both answers as correct options on lesson 9.5, problem 38; especially since the answers to problems 39 and 40 both depended on the answer to that one!  I do want to be gracious, but honestly, these kinds of frustrations just seem to be too much for my 50+ year-old brain to handle well at 9:00 PM after a long and busy day.

While it has truly been deeply gratifying to have been able to homeschool kids for lo, these past 24+ years, I will confess that checking math answers and doing related corrections is one aspect of the process I will not miss whenever I finally hang up my “homeschool mom” hat.

Chasing the cheese

Andrew is studying Apologia Biology (Jay Wile’s), and he had an ortho appointment in Springfield on Monday.

We have also been slightly adjusting his academic schedule and checklist system, and somehow in the switchover this past weekend, we both assumed he was caught up on his biology lessons, but it turns out that he had four experiments that hadn’t been completed.  So. . . he was looking over them on Sunday – preparing to do them this week, you know – and he saw that some of the necessary items weren’t things we keep on hand.  Specifically, one packet of active dry yeast (yes, we have a bread machine; no, I haven’t been using it because the bread goes bad WAY before the three of us can eat it; yes, we probably still have some bulk bread machine yeast in the fridge; no, I don’t know if it’s still good or how much would equal one packet; so, yes, we’d need to buy that), a few fresh mushrooms, and some camembert or roquefort cheese.

I know where to buy yeast and mushrooms, but camembert or roquefort?!?  Too rich for my blood, for sure, and highly unlikely to be found at Wal-Mart.  But, as I mentioned, we had to go to Springfield on Monday, so all I’d have to do was ask the ortho receptionist for directions to a higher class grocery that carried such items, we’d pick up all three there, go south to McKenna’s for peaches and cantaloupe, and head home.

That was the plan.

We didn’t follow the plan.

For one thing, I forgot to ask the receptionist.  But not to worry.  I was sure there was a Price Cutter on Battlefield, and I was pretty sure it was just west of National.  (The ortho is one block southeast of Battlefield and National.)  So I told my chauffeur to turn west on Battlefield and we’d look for Price Cutter.  We did look.  We looked for a mile or so.  We passed Food 4 Less on the right, but I didn’t think they’d have it.  And we proved that there’s no Price Cutter on Battlefield.

But Andrew spied a Hy-Vee on our left and asked me what I thought.  I didn’t know what I thought, but it was a big grocery, so it had potential, and we pulled in.  Hy-Vee is HUGE.  It seemed as big as a Wal-Mart supercenter, and it was ALL FOOD.  Fairly highly priced food, but it was big and full and clean and nice.  And, off to the right was the deli, and in big groceries, delis tend to have island cases out front that contain really expensive things like cheeses.  Sure enough, this deli was obviously placed there for us by God himself, because it had its own “specialty cheese” DEPARTMENT!  What a score!

We scanned all the little triangular packages and boxes and lovely displays of every kind of cheese known to man and then some, but alas, we could not find any camembert or roquefort.  I then asked the friendly deli lady and she said, “Oh!  you’ll find that on aisle 16 or 17.  We have both of those over there.”  I thanked her, and noted that aisles 16 and 17 were maximally distant from the deli, so being close to produce, we picked up three nice mushrooms (this store had not one, not two, but three types of loose bulk mushrooms), found our way to baking ingredients and nabbed a packet of yeast, and headed to aisle 16.

It was one of TWO packaged cheese aisles.  Impressive.  And again, you could have cheddar, gouda, limberger, parmesan in many forms, bleu, brie, feta, goat cheese of all kinds, many others that I have never heard of (and this was NOT even the specialty cheese department!!!), but no roquefort and no camembert.

I meandered over to aisle 17 where the packaged cheese continued.  Again we scanned ourselves bug-eyed.  Again we failed to locate our elusive quarry.  I looked around for an employee and found a fine young man several aisles over dealing with boxes of cream cheese (yes, that was on yet another aisle; probably about 19).  He was polite and personable and when I told him my desire, he came back to aisle 16 and looked where we had been looking.  He asked if it usually came in a tub or in a block, and I had to confess that I had no earthly idea, that I had never bought it before, and that, indeed, I was not even going to eat it; it was to be used for a science experiment.

He kept looking unsuccessfully for several minutes until another employee came by who did the same, and then a lady customer, who had overheard our conversations, said she knew where camembert was!  Wonderful!  She took us all (two employees, Andrew and me) back to aisle 17 and showed us a place on a shelf that said camembert and had a round box above the label.  She victoriously lifted down the box and we all saw that sure enough, right there in front of God and everyone was. . . a round of brie.  Aw, shucks.  Clearly, some inattentive stocker – or customer? – had shelved the poor brie incorrectly.

But this kind lady was not to be deterred.  She then informed me that she knew for a fact that the Brown Derby on Glenstone, between Seminole and Sunshine – but closer to Seminole, mind you – stocked a wide variety of specialty cheese, including camembert.  Hmmm. . . I thought on this fact for a moment, and sure enough, it registered in my mind that Brown Derby was a liquor store.  I thanked the lady, and we two took leave of the other three (the cream cheese stocking employee graciously apologizing for not having been able to help me), and I said to Andrew, “I am just not going to go shopping in a liquor store for cheese for a science experiment.  Besides, that store is way north, almost up to Dad’s work.  I have my limits.  You may have to skip this experiment.  Let’s just go home.”  Andrew was more than fine to skip an experiment, so we paid for our mushrooms and yeast and left.

The thing about Hy-Vee is that it’s basically at the corner of Battlefield and Kansas Expressway, so the best way to go home is to go south on Kansas to the James River Freeway then east to 65 south.  But with four lanes of traffic each way and strategically positioned stop lights, that’s easier said than done.  So we weaseled our way around to get out onto Battlefield, and while we waited for the light to change, we noticed that right in front of us, across the street, sat a large supermarket called Dillon’s.  Interesting.

Well, we were looking for a big grocery, and Dillon’s was right in front of us, so, what the hey, into Dillon’s we went.  It wasn’t quite as luxurious as Hy-Vee had been, but it was pretty nice and of a good size, and every single employee was wearing an extremely bright royal blue shirt that said in large white letters, “I’m here to help you!”  So I went up to one fellow and asked him where the deli was, and he looked at me like I had two horns growing out of my head and pointed to the back left corner.  To which we walked.  But on the way to the deli, we passed a freezer case containing juice concentrates.

Some readers may be familiar with the sad fact that in the Branson area, one can no longer buy Welch’s White Grape Peach juice concentrate.  This is a favorite in our family, and for the past couple months it has been non-existent at Wal-Mart, Harter House, and Country Mart.  Mournful, that is.  So on a lark, I paused and perused the Dillon’s frozen juice concentrate selection, and there sat ten cans of the stuff!!  I sent Andrew back to the front for a cart.  What a score!

We proceeded to the deli area, and, lo and behold, in front of the deli was a specialty cheese island, and bent over the island was a lady stocking specialty cheeses.  Now this was great!  We wouldn’t have to spend a lot MORE time doing our own paltry search.  She asked what we were looking for, and I told her.  And she shook her head sadly.  “I’m very sorry.  We don’t stock camembert or roquefort, but the store (Dillon’s) on East Sunshine has a much larger specialty cheese department, and they do.”  Sigh.

We thanked her, paid for our juice, and left.

I really wanted to go back home, but what the heck.  We had come this far in our quest for camembert or roquefort; we might as well hit Dillon’s on East Sunshine.  So we tooled back east on Battlefield, north on Glenstone to Sunshine, and east on Sunshine – right past Scott’s work – to Dillon’s.  And this Dillon’s did indeed have a larger specialty cheese selection, and as we rounded its third cheese island, Andrew triumphantly handed me a very small triangular wedge marked, “roquefort.”  We then hit the bakery  for two donuts to celebrate our success, took our roquefort to the front, AND LOOKED AT THE PRICE!!!  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  This tiny, lightweight chunk of cheese was imported from a French sheep, at a cost to us Ozarkians of – and no, I’m not exaggerating – $20.99/pound!!!!!

And we’re not even going to eat it. I sure hope it looks good under a microscope.

So put that in your education budget, and thank God for the freedom to homeschool!


Which way did he go?

In scanning over my handy-dandy “Patty’s Andrew Plan” educational spreadsheet on Friday, October 25, I noted that Andrew will be starting Jacobs Algebra on Monday, November 4.  This meant that I needed to go through at least the first chapter of the text and assign lessons, in order to be able to create his daily checklists for that week.

I went up to the library to get the Jacobs Algebra book and teacher’s guide.  I looked for them right where they belong, on the top shelf outside the bathroom, just above the dictionary, literature, and testing stuff, farther above the encyclopedias, and way high and lifted up above the – ahem – National Geographics.

Unbelievably, Jacobs was not on the shelf.

All the other math texts were there, but Jacobs Algebra was not.

Where could he be?!?  Where could he have gone?  Where else could he possibly live between usage by children?  In a slight panic, I quickly perused ALL the shelves in the library.  No textbook and no teacher’s guide.  I don’t actually need the teacher’s guide to guide me because I’m not really a teacher.  I’m a mom who moonlights as a teacher on occasion, so I just fake the instructional part of academics.  But I surely needed the book, and it’s been enough years since Jo did Jacobs that I was pretty sure I needed the teacher’s guide for the rest of the answers.  I couldn’t remember (it has been about five years), but it seemed like maybe Jacobs was one of those books that only had the answers to the odds in the back, or something like that.

Well, maybe I had loaned it to someone and just didn’t remember when or to whom.  Not a problem; I’d look it up in the library list, see who has it, and tell them I need it back pronto.

Jacobs was not in the library list.

Now, this was more serious than we had thought.  Significantly more!  Perhaps I had made a user error.  I seem to have made a finer collection of those lately. . .  I had looked in titles alphabetically under “J” for Jacobs Algebra, but maybe it was actually listed under “A” for Algebra.

It was not.

Or. . . now, what the heck was the actual title of that book?  Hmmm. . .  Oh, yeah!  It was “Elementary Algebra.”  But it wasn’t under “E,” either.  Then I went to the search box and put in “Algebra” and it came up with Saxon Algebra 2, and we’re surely not going there right now – for a number of reasons that I’m quite sure the Big Three could eloquently enumerate.

Well, we surely own the book.  I know for a fact that this is true because I clearly remember Katie, Jessica, and Josiah all using it.  My next brilliant idea was to search for it by the author’s name, Jacobs.  I did so, and it came up with Jacobs Geometry.  Sigh.

Not being able to find the book on the shelf was one thing, but it having been REMOVED from the library list was another matter all together.  Now I was in a real pinch.  I had planned out all Andrew’s other math to come together and conclude, so we could start fresh on Jacobs Algebra (and ONLY Jacobs Algebra) at the beginning of November.  Andrew’s not innately a math-y kid, so waiting a while and doing no math would not be a good option for him.  (I’m not even sure that waiting 24 hours to do math is the best option for him, but we’ll let that factoid slide for now.)

This was truly an unsolvable mystery!  Even if Josiah had had the audacity to burn the book when he was done with it – which he surely wouldn’t have done, knowing that Andrew would eventually need it – would he have taken it out of the library list?!?

I decided that rather than wasting any more emotional energy, brain cycles, and time on trying to find it, I would just order another book and teacher’s guide and hope they’d somehow get here quickly.  I therefore went to amazon and learned that (shock and awe), it’s OUT OF PRINT!!!  This might be the unpardonable sin!  NOW what to do?!?!?

Now, mentally scrambling and trying not to think about why on earth the best Algebra 1.5 textbook ever written would be allowed to go out of print, I saw that there were a number of used copies available.  I picked one and ordered it (~$50).  Its expected delivery date was October 31 – November 5.  I also ordered a used teacher’s guide(~$20), and its expected delivery date was November 1 – 19.  I was a little miffed at having to spend $70 for books that I know full well have GOT to be in this house somewhere, but I was also very thankful that they were still available somewhere else.

That was Friday morning.  At 11:00 AM today (Monday, a mere three days later) there appeared in our mailbox a hefty package containing a somewhat worn but fully functional copy of Jacobs Algebra.  Knock me over with a feather!

I will now be able to plan out Andrew’s work for the upcoming week, and I’m trusting that the problems in the first chapter will be easy enough for me to check on my own until the teacher’s guide arrives.

Of course, that may arrive in tomorrow’s mail.

Déjà vu

I am pretty sure his name was Mr. Nicholson.

I hated him.  He taught Algebra 1 to a bunch of us ninth graders at Lakewood Junior High in the mid-70s.  I despised everything about him.  He lectured rapid-fire, steadily sashaying left-to-right with his back to the class, scribbling equations across the CHALK board (yes, I am that old) with his right hand, while furiously erasing with his left what he had just written.  I couldn’t follow him, couldn’t understand him, and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t understand him.  I resented his glass eye, his clear preference for the few kids who did understand, and his ability to make me cry every night as I struggled with my homework.  I deeply resented having to ask my dad to help me nearly every night, and I especially resented our having to buy and cut and sand and assemble and glue those STUPID multi-colored, plexiglass models of three planes intersecting!

I was a straight-A student, but I was hopelessly lost in Mr. Nicholson’s class.  My GPA was my god, and the thought of failing drove me to drastic measures; Algebra 1 was the only course in which I ever cheated on a test.  I got caught and failed the test, but that’s another story.

I did all right in 10th grade Geometry and I actually did pretty well in Mrs. Gadbury’s Algebra 2 in 11th grade, so I know it’s not that I am completely lacking upper level math aptitude, but I admit that it has taken me several repetitions to become what I would term “tolerably comfortable” with algebra.  I am now in the midst of my fifth (and may it be my last, forever and amen!) pass through Algebra 1, and this time more than any other takes me back to the dreaded days of Mr. Nicholson’s class.

Each of our kids has had different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to math, particularly upper level math.  This has meant that I have been. ahem, privileged to review, select, purchase, utilize, and work from, with, and in, an insane number of curricula.  However, over time I did get smart .  Because I am The Mom (and being mom has its perks), I eventually decided that the One Best Way for our kids to master algebra is to first do the Key to Algebra series (basically Pre-Algebra and a very easy run at the first half of Algebra 1), followed by Jacobs Algebra (a creative, relatively enjoyable, thinking person’s approach to Algebra 1 plus the first half of Algebra 2), and topped off with the last half of Saxon Algebra 2 (hands-down THE most boring textbook ever written, but the completion of which gives a student a very good foundation for high math scores on college entrance exams).

The above worked pretty well for each of our girls.  I don’t mean for a minute that they liked it, but they did it – and did it quite well most of the time – and they had a good enough grasp of algebra to whiz through the SAT and/or ACT.

Then came Josiah.

Ah, Josiah. The child who would (and will) not be squeezed into ANY box of any size in any realm of life for any reason.  The child who refused to borrow when subtracting.  The child who ALWAYS had his own way of doing every problem, inevitably in such a way that I could not follow.  I finally called a truce with him:  “If you can consistently get the right answer the first time, I don’t care how you do it, but if you are getting wrong answers, you will be required to do it my way.”  (That, because I only knew one way to do each kind of problem!)

I do so remember the agony of his early math days.  We tried Rod and Staff, we tried Bob Jones, we tried MacMillan, we tried Key to Everything You Can Imagine, and when I had about pulled out all the hairs on my head that weren’t already migrating grey-ward, in a last ditch effort to help the guy understand and succeed in primary math, we tried Singapore. . . and FINALLY, something clicked.  The guy actually understood the way Singapore Math presented concepts.  “Mom!  This book thinks like I do.  It makes sense!”  Hallelujah, Sweet Jesus.  Years of my life had been spent trying to find math this kid could do, and Singapore was it.  We stuck with that curriculum for several years, finishing out primary math and heading toward algebra.

The deal with Singapore, though, is that it presents the concepts of algebra without using any of the “normal” American ways and means.  No variables.  Just a bunch of bars divided into blocks.  There’s a big emphasis on visualizing relationships.  Also, Singapore math is generally one to one and a-half years ahead of American math, so the stuff that a kid does in, say, Singapore 4B (4th grade, second semester), he would probably do in late 5th or early 6th grade in the States.

So I would find myself watching Josiah do his math (or helping him do his math or checking his completed math) and suddenly realize, “Hey!  He just solved an algebra problem and didn’t even know it!”  Pretty cool.

Andrew has been even more math-challenged than his siblings, and because it was important to me for him to understand WHY math works and not just HOW to spit out answers to a certain type of problem, I put him in Singapore pretty early on.  It does force you to think.  He has done it, grudgingly, for a number of years.  However, Singapore doesn’t give much practice or review.  I guess it’s kind of like Mr. Nicholson in that regard.  If you get it the first time, great, but if not, it’s gone and you are lost.  To keep him from getting bored, and hopefully to give him some review and help him remember different concepts, I have had him working in several curricula at once.  That has worked fairly well until recently.

Last spring, when he applied for admission to the School of the Ozarks, I realized that he was pretty far behind his age-mates in math.  In our family, we have never concerned ourselves with how a kid compares to other kids overall or in any specific subject area, but with the thought that Andrew might sooner or later find himself in school, I decided that we needed to ramp up.  That’s why he typically has about an hour and-a-half of math assigned each day.  (In my defense, should he ever read this post, even though he may be distracted and stretch it out that far, I do NOT assign three hours of math a day!)

My basic theory on math has always been that there is a lot of wasted time and motion in what’s typically about 6th-8th grade in the States.  It seems to me (and I am admittedly a mom and not a professional teacher) that once you know and are fairly skillful with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, and percents, you have pretty well mastered primary math, and you should be ready to hit algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and – if you are so inclined  and/or your parent requires it – calculus.

For that reason, and also because I have sensed an urgency to get the upper-level math ball rolling, I started Andrew on Key to Algebra while he was also doing his 6A and 6B Singapore Math.  And because he benefits from more review than the Singapore textbook and workbook provide, he was also doing Singapore’s “Extra Practice” and its “Intensive Practice.”  On a given day, he usually has work assigned in two different curricula.  Yesterday was a few pages in Key to Algebra Book 10 and a few pages in Intensive Practice.

He got through the Key OK, but on the Intensive, he had a series of word problems dealing with travel, percents, and a particularly nasty farm situation.  He struggled mightily (and it should be noted that he was also afflicted with some kind of 24-hour stomach virus and felt especially puny) and got a 50%.  Not so very good.  In our family, if you get less than 90%, you have to go back and do corrections, and he just didn’t know how to tackle these corrections.  He was also under the gun because (yesterday being Tuesday), he had been asked to clean on Wednesday, and he has to get his schoolwork for a day done before he can clean that day.  That meant that on this sick Tuesday, he would have to complete all of Tuesday’s schoolwork (including math corrections) AND all of Wednesday’s schoolwork.  This was a heavy load, but Andrew really likes cleaning with Ms. Tara, so he was highly motivated.

After supper (which Andrew didn’t eat because he was sick and Scott didn’t eat because he had a work dinner in Springfield), I sat down with Andrew to tackle the Intensive Practice (IP) corrections.  He had 12 to do.  The first four were straightforward and he knocked them out.  Then came this little gem:

“Ben, Dan, and Sam shared some pieces of candy.  Sam took 40% of the pieces of candy and Ben took 3 pieces of candy more than Dan.  If Ben took 10% more than Dan, how many pieces of candy did the three boys share?”

I tried it with bars.  I tried it with variables.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I felt dumb.  I felt angry.  Andrew felt sick and sleepy.  I circled that problem and wrote “Dad” by it.  Scott would have to help when he got home.  He has the pure math degree; I certainly do not!

Of the seven remaining problems to be corrected, I – who am now 53, who went to college on a National Merit Scholarship (and another scholarship), who eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree, and who has managed to educate three children well enough for them to be accepted into all the colleges to which they applied, for crying out loud! – could solve only two.

At 8:00 PM, I presented Scott with five circled problems and shame-facedly asked him to help us.  The three of us sat at the dining room table with a marker board and markers, a bunch of Kleenex, the IP book, the IP answer sheet, and my math notebook (I do better on paper than on marker board) and W-O-R-K-E-D on these supposedly sixth-grade level problems.  Andrew stayed with us till 10 PM, then fell onto the couch sound asleep.  At that point, Scott and I were determined not to be bested by these problems, so we stayed at it.  And stayed at it.  And stayed at it.  We (actually he) did finally solve four of the five.  Here’s one we solved after much effort:

“60% of the trees in an orchard were apple trees.  90% of the remaining trees were orange trees and the rest were lemon trees.  There were 120 more apple trees than orange trees.  Later, some apple trees were destroyed by pests, but the other trees were unharmed.  The apple trees became 20% of the remaining trees in the orchard.  How many apple trees were destroyed?”

But this seemingly simple beast of a problem defied all our attempts:

“For every 3 chickens on a farm, there were 4 ducks.  For every 9 chickens, there were 2 cows.  After 15 chickens were sold, 4/11 of the remaining livestock were chickens.  What was the total number of ducks and cows on the farm?”

Scott had endeavored to help Andrew through this problem using a lot of equations and substitutions and such, and I could not for the life of me follow his logic after the selling of the 15 chickens.  I’m not saying he was wrong; I’m sure he was right on, but I was as lost as I had ever been with Mr. Nicholson.  I finally gave up trying to follow what he was doing and turned (for the fifth time on this problem) to a new sheet of paper to try to tackle it again.  I was just not willing to give up the farm!

This time through, I started by drawing bars a lá Singapore, and something in my brain clicked with the 6:1 duck-to-cow ratio and the 7/11 of the remaining animals.  I knew that “7” thing meant I was on to something.  I kept drawing and figuring and reasoning and muttering, but at 11 PM – yes, Scott and I had put in SIX man-hours of corrections on SEVEN problems, and neither of us was even the student! – at 11 PM, I gave up and went to get ready for bed.  Being a woman, this is rarely a speedy or simple process.

Scott stayed downstairs to spin through the highlights of one of the playoff games.  I have had a hard time keeping up with these.  Boston is playing against Detroit, and St. Louis is playing against Los Angeles (I think).  I don’t know which game he was watching, but at 11:30 PM, as I was sitting on the side of the bed taking off my shoes, Scott strode purposefully into the bedroom with marker board and marker in hand.  I could tell he was focused on math and not the game(s).

Me:  Did you get it?!?!

Scott:  YES.

And he proceeded to show me that I was, indeed, right on, and he had drawn the bars and solved it from that, without using any equations at all!!!  What a Hero!

So, we were both able to go to sleep having proven that we are at least as smart as the average Singaporean sixth grader.

And the Red Sox are up two games to one, and the Cardinals are up three games to one.  May they both win and face each other in the World Series!

The essentials of (college) life

I got word today that My Favorite Llama has acquired sheets from Target.  Money must’ve changed hands on that transaction, as South American mammals are well-known for their fiscal integrity.

Josiah left home in late July to serve on a mission trip in Niger, west Africa.  From there, he returned directly to college with, as best I can determine, only his laptop and the 38-pound suitcase he took to Africa.  He was dropped off at college on Saturday, and classes started on Monday.  Margin is not generally a high priority for him.

As a bona fide mom, I do possess the ability to worry about my kids – although in my defense, I have, through much practice, become fairly adept at letting those temptations pass me by.  However, thinking of one’s son in a dorm room with (albeit by his own choice) no bedding and not much more than the clothes on his back does tend to bring out my latent motherly instincts, and in that vein, I submit these portions of my chat this evening with Katie:

Katie:  The Llama has acquired sheets. From Target! What a Llama.

me:  That’s superb!  But I would think he would have had to spend money to do that. . .
Katie:  It does seem that that would require green stuff.
 me:  I thought all his stuff was of another color.
 Katie:  Well, yes.
 me:  Well, I’m proud of the guy! I guess it’s like some kind of a camping trip where you pare everything down to the barest of essentials.  I suppose technically one can survive at college with one set of dress clothes, one set of relaxing clothes, 2 pairs each socks and underwear, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, laptop and charger, cell phone and charger, killer spin paddle, and a few quarters for laundry.  Technically speaking, I guess everything else (more clothes, pillow, sheets, blanket, towels, room decor, outerwear, razor and shaving cream, etc.) is just gravy.
Katie:  haha! so true.
me:  Oh, a Bible would probably be an essential, too, unless, of course, one has hidden it in one’s heart. . .
I am smiling.  Josiah may win the campus prize for minimalism and simplicity, but it sounds like he’s doing well.

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