Baking up Some Enrichment

Baking up Some Enrichment

A friend stopped to see me the other day.  She has three really bright, actually gifted is a better term, girls.  We have had many a conversation about how to best provide them opportunities to grow and be challenged while having a slim budget. This is a common question and I was more than ready to offer some suggestions.

The girls’ mom had similar ideas of her own about how to enrich during the summer. I think my input was more of a being an available sounding board for ideas. I know they are avid readers, learning languages through online platforms such as Duolingo, and have a plethora of vegetables growing in their own suburban yard.  Their mom is adept at providing the girls a multitude of experiences. They visited earlier this summer to pick cherries and I know many baked goods and drinks called “shrubs” were made in their kitchen. When they stopped on Saturday, a trip to the Hmong community gardens was underway with a blueberry poke cake to be made that afternoon.

Cooking and baking are great ways to enrich your children. The preciseness of measurements and ability to perform conversions are prime examples of the enrichment. Plus, you get an a product to enjoy and the children can be proud of when they are finished. My friend’s middle child, soon to be in middle school, has taken to the show The Greatest British Baking Show on PBS.  She has been turned on (read excited here) by the show and has been baking this summer as a result.  My friend is smart to support this interest.

I have had several conversations with math teachers about the fact that our local students do not really understand fractions that well.   I have wondered for several years now whether the fact that our children, in general,  do not do a great deal of cooking, baking. or sewing anymore has to do with their incomplete understanding of fractions. Baking and learning to sew were staples of my childhood. I memorized my conversion tables and know how to perform basic operations on fractions to either halve, quarter, or triple a recipe. Useful skills.

If you are looking to challenge your children, allow them to start baking or sewing. Allowing them to have real life activities involving math will add to the richness of their experience. They probably will not even realize what they are learning along the way, but you will be teaching sustainable living, especially if the products used in the baked goods come from your own yard or the community garden. You are reinforcing math skills that will be useful later on. And, you are allowing your child to produce, share, and consume a product of which they can be proud.

Baking and sewing also offers room for growth. Not everything will turn out as desired, but should get better over time. Seams will be more even. Measurements will be more accurate. The difficulty of both can be increased over time, as the skill set increases. They can be activities that allows for failure, without too much investment of time or money.  Other than a dirty kitchen, or finding fabric scraps stuck to the carpeting, there are not a lot of downsides to baking and sewing with your children.  Give it a try, like my friend has, enjoy the results and let me know how it goes!

Summer Math Enrichment Suggestions

Summer Math Enrichment Suggestions

Wow! I do not know what happened to the last ten days! On May 15th, I posted some suggestions on how to help your child/teen/student ramp up their vocabulary during the summer months. At that time, a weekly post on specific enrichment activities you can do with your child was promised. It appears I missed posting one last week! I will try to be more regular! Stick with me, I am fairly new to the activity of blogging!

Math. Math is a subject I have come to really enjoy. This both surprises and pleases me.  I think if I had a different trigonometry teacher in high school, I might have gone on to take more math. It appeals to me because I have a very logical mind and I also like to problem solve. As an adult, I can see so many daily applications for math that I started to write math questions based on my garden club topics!  Soon, more of these will be available on the Teachers Pay Teachers website.

All three of my three boys were all accelerated in math, starting in elementary and middle school. This will be the subject of a future post because there are both positive and negative considerations when parents need to decide about acceleration in a specific subject area. I  have a great deal of experience in the actual and potential outcomes of acceleration that should be shared with others.

But, I digress. Summer. Over the last 15 years, I have always kept my boys engaged in math activities over the summer. For the most part, even though they moaned and groaned, they enjoyed it. I also think it solidified some of the learning they did during the prior school year and kept them fresh for the start of school in the fall.  I will admit, the extra work/challenge, of having your children do math over the summer is easier when they are younger. So start early! If it becomes part of a summer routine, you’ll have less of a fight later on, when they are older.

The activities or resources suggested are only those I actually used with my boys. There are many resources out there, be sure to look them over before you ask that your child do any of them. In my opinion, it is pointless to have them do an activity or lesson if there is not an answer page or demonstration of how the answer is obtained. Unless, of course, you are adept at math yourself, and want to perform the problems with them to check on their answers. Remember that process is as, or more, important than a right answer. Showing how answers are arrived at is almost universally demanded now in schools and the extra practice will solidify this expectation.  If you have a child that is keen as well as skilled at solving problems in their head, the extra time spent writing out solutions will be valuable once school resumes.

The internet offers many math enrichment sites. This post would be incomplete without mentioning some of them.  A few popular ones we have used are the following:

  1. Khan Academy – Some people in the math world love this site, others just tolerate it. All three of my boys (now aged 15, 17, and 22) have turned to Sal Khan’s site for practice, clarification, or enrichment. What is nice is that you can pick the topic and there are literally hundreds of videos and practice problems through which to work.  The site will also track progress for you, if you are interested. FREE.
  2.  IXL – This is a site that has subject matter categorized by grade level and then, topic.  It is easy to navigate and has shows the answers.  Great for extra practice, review or enrichment.  You can only do 10 problems without paying a subscription fee, however.  Depending on what you want to get out of it, the subscription fee is not too bad. I think it was $9.95 a month for one child. There are options for more than one child and also to add language arts practice. We did subscribe to this site for a while. It also tracks practice time and sends email updates to parents.  It also was very easy to stop the subscription whenever you want. FREE/PAID.
  3. Kuta Software – This site offers worksheets with answer sheets. No examples of how the work is completed. Offers algebra through calculus.  We used this site often for extra practice problems when not enough of one type of problem was offered in the text-book for pre-calculus.  Also used for Algebra II review work. FREE.  There is a disadvantage of the work not being shown, as far as how to get the answer.
  4. AAA Math – used in elementary school for extra practice. FREE

Of course there are many others, but these sites are the ones we tended to use the most.

One forgets that math is like another language. Getting used to the language of mathematics through relaxed, enjoyable activities can be a way to enrich mathematic skills with out the drill and kill approach, which now has fallen out of vogue. We need critical thinkers. Many activities offer a chance to problem solve and critically think,  augmenting future mathematic skills. Using real life skill building can be a way to practice math skills without kids even realizing it.

  • cooking and baking – using fractions and conversions, measuring spoons and cups, accurately. Cutting recipes in half or doubling recipes can be good practice.
  • Make juice or lemonade and measure volume
  • sewing – using fractions and conversions for yardage, seam allowances, and amounts
  • gardening – measuring a site for size, perimeter and area, distance between plantings. Square foot gardening has great applications for math.

Thinking skills can be enriched by learning a new game such as:

  • Chess
  • Monopoly or Life, to practice using money
  • Othello – online or the board game
  • Blockus

Patterns, sequencing, and geometry can be practiced with:

  • Origami – There will be a future post on the benefits of learning to fold paper. This is a highly recommended activity to help students visualize angles, shapes, and have fun while doing it. Start at the site linked here for some recommended patterns.
  • Matching Memory Games – We had stacks of these games. Dinosaurs, Careers, & others, that were played constantly when our boys were preschool and early elementary age.
  • Pattern or object recognition – Search and find books, We owned a ton of these. Great for travel.  A few examples are Where’s Waldo?, I Spy Books, and others.
  • Logic Puzzles
  • Tile Puzzles like the famous 15 puzzle like this one we have
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Magna Tiles – We had a set of these that got some but not a lot of use. They are fun for creating structures and also serve the same purpose as tangrams. A set can be pricey.
  • Tangrams – These are shapes that fit together to build bigger shapes, allowing the child to “see” how something like a hexagon might be made of triangles.
  • Geogebra – This is a relatively new site that has some awesome interactive lessons for the older math student. For the right person, it is great fun just to play with the tools on the site. For me, it is not intuitive as I need it to be to actually know what I am doing, but it could be a help to a more visual learner.  Here is a link to one of the  tools exploring normal distributionBy clicking the boxes at the right, it shows the results of that operation on the graph. FREE.

There are many ways to provide math enrichment over the summer.  Whether you have a kid that loves math and wants to do it or a kid that dislikes math and avoids it, the extra practice over the summer will not be a waste. Try it and see!

Resources for the Gifted & Talented

Resources for the Gifted & Talented

It is not a popular topic in education today, arguably it probably was not ever given attention by the demands of the masses. But, gifted and talented education (GATE) or talented and gifted programs (TAG) address the learning needs of the students at the other end of the spectrum. The educational spectrum.  At one end of special education are the students with documented learning disabilities: autism spectrum disorders, cognitive impairments, physical disability, attention deficits, hyperactivity disorders, oppositional defiance disorder, and more. The media and even professionals engaged in the field of education choose to not focus public attention on the needs of the gifted student or those at the other end of the educational spectrum. Gifted and talented students have needs too. The needs are often unmet due to political climate, lack of funding, or just a mis-placed belief that this subset of students will be fine “without” intervention, and that the common core will “be enough”. Both statements are wrong.  TAG students need as much intervention to keep engaged and launch their learning from where they are (which might already be several grades above their current academic level) to where they need to or can be.

Why is this important to me? As a parent, educator, and student advocate I have worked with this group of students for over twenty years. Groups, such as Evergreen Garden Club, were started at our school to provide enrichment opportunities based on observations that  more needed to be aimed at supplying students additional experiences in life science, project based learning, citizen science, service learning, and environmental education.  Language arts groups were started as a need was noted in a first grade classroom for above benchmark readers. A writer’s circle was started to support and encourage third graders interested in becoming great writers, when they were already writing well. And finally, a Parent Advocacy Group was started to answer the need to increase local awareness about GATE and student needs such as increased differentiation in individual classes, middle school honors classes in subjects other than accelerated mathematics, and educate district staff, the community, and parents on the emotional, social, and behavioral characteristics of gifted students and what we can do to support them. It is a myth that the gifted student will be alright without intervention. They need support from staff, administration, parents, and the community just as any other sub-set of students need support. Why we continually let this group of students down is beyond my understanding.

These experiences do not even encompass those I have had as a parent of students who fall in to this category, complete with all the joys of prideful accomplishments as well as irritating frustrations involving the educational community and systems that are in place or lack of being put in place.  Those experiences will provide additional posts at a future time.

Today, I am sharing resources I have used over the invested years working with TAG students. Since I have been visible in my advocacy for these students, I am often asked by parents where they can turn for advice and/or enrichment and even possible advancement opportunities. The following list includes many sources of reading which will increase one’s understanding of the gifted and talented student, as well as prompt ideas for meeting the needs of this special group of students that can be so easily overlooked.

SENG –  Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted This is an organization with a website that offers a great deal of information on the emotional lives of gifted students. They offer a library of articles, conferences, and practical advice on how to help gifted students and their families deal with common issues like overexcitabilities, intensities, asynchronous developement, “feeling different”, and being accepted.

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page – Hoagies Gifted Education Page Another website with a wealth of information about giftedness. This organization has divided topics between parents, educators, and students. It has something for everyone. This was a page I visited often, early on in my advocacy for the gifted. In my opinion, it is a very good place to start to increase your understanding of these students.

Davidson Institute – Davidson Institute for Talent Development – The Davidson Institute offers conferences, scholarship and enrichment opportunities for students, as well as a database of information regarding GATE. Personally, I do not have much exposure to this group, but know some who have really enjoyed their conferences.

Northwestern UniversityCenter for Talent Development In our area of the country, the mid-west, Northwestern University, outside of Chicago, offers many opportunities for acceleration and enrichment from advanced coursework to civic leadership workshops in the summer. This institution provides NUMATS (Northwestern University Midwest Academic Talent Search) which allows regional youth to take standardized tests such as the ACT, earlier than normally scheduled. All three of my boys were eligible to take the ACT as early as 6th grade through NUMATS. There are advantages to testing early that will be the subject of subsequent postings. The major disadvantage to programs through Northwestern University is that they are expensive and some are only offered in the Chicago area.

Johns Hopkins University  – Center for Talented Youth. We also have personal experience with the Center for Talented Youth through Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Like Northwestern University, Hopkins offers many opportunities for online coursework for credit or enrichment.  Their admission guidelines are clearly stated and reachable for most gifted students. My youngest son took a summer course called Math Counts Prep two years ago and really enjoyed it. We liked it because it kept his math skills up during the summer and his professor was accessible and very supportive. It was a great experience. Again, the disadvantage is expense.

Blogs – Of late, I have taken to reading blogs and have found some really great ones on giftedness. Through reading blogs, families and students can know that they are not unusual or alone as they travel through the sometimes tumultuous waters of gifted education.

Here is a blog by the National Association for Gifted Children: Blog Page at the National Association for Gifted Children and one I just found this morning, but is supported by the Davidson Institute you read about above: The Gifted Exchange Blog

SENG also has recommended gifted blogs for teachers here: SENG Blog Recommendations for Teachers on the Gifted.

Authors & Speakers – There are many speakers and publications on the topic of GATE or topics related to the education of all students. Here are two I recommend:

Sir Ken Robinson – Sir Robinson offers enlightenment on why our current schooling system needs to change. His ideas clearly support helping TAG students to reach their potential through personalized learning. He is also a very engaging speaker and has numerous TED talks.  Here is one of his more famous talks on whether schools kill creativity. Do Schools Kill Creativity? A TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. This is an important concept because students can be gifted in the arts like music and drawing as well as more the traditional paths of mathematics or language. Often, they go hand in hand. Again, something with which I have personal, parental experience.

Carol Ann Tomlinson – Ms. Tomlinson is the author on many books about differentiated instruction. Her described work could be used by any classroom teacher looking to challenge students through providing instruction to meet student needs using a number of different methods. I just finished reading How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms (2001) and would highly recommend it to any teacher wishing to differentiate instruction. She is clear that differentiation meets the needs of all students, not just the gifted.

Local Universities – Often I am asked about local opportunities for gifted students. One such resource can be your local university. These institutions offer summer enrichment as well as opportunity to take college courses while still in high school.  We took advantage of classes at both University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Winona State University. Often, the universities provide need based assistance too, for families that cannot afford the course fees for summer enrichment classes.  If you are able to take a college class while still in high school, your resident district will often pay for the class. You need to check your local high school policies and programming for those opportunities.

Today, you have been provided with some resources for gifted and talented students. In the future, I will expand on this topic with additional information. It is a topic with which I have much experience. I hope you find the information useful, as we need to provide for the learning needs of all students, at both ends of the spectrum.