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Old Dogs, New Math – book review and give away

26 Nov

Old Dogs, New Math: homework help for puzzled parents

Many thanks to The Experiment Publishing for sending me this book to review and offering to give a book away to one lucky reader!

Now onto the juicy bits…

I was a bit worried at first, but very curious. Math is NOT my strong point. And, following the principles of unschooling, I pretty much let my kids try to figure out a lot of stuff on their own after pointing them in the right direction. Plus, my husband is a whiz at math. So I manage to avoid a lot of painful questions by directing them to their father. But there are times when they ask me questions and I try to answer. They don’t know that I am struggling, but it is awkward and frustrating for me.

I was pleased to discover that this book was VERY easy to read. I mean, it was like reading a joke book or a choose-your-own-adventure book. Really easy. I was surprised. They made my difficulties seem rather brainless with simple explanations and examples. There are even little puzzles and games.

And what’s really fun for educational geeks like me… they explain how things used to be taught, how they are taught now, why teaching methods have changed, and why those changes make it difficult for parents to help their kids.

They also have test questions with real life kid answers and point out facts that help you discover how the kid got the answer (Nothing trickier for the parent than trying to figure out how and why the answer the kid came up with the wrong answer!)

My teenager even started reading it. He didn’t get very far because I kept hiding the book from him. (Oops) But he keeps bugging me for it. So that’s a pretty good sign too.

It is broken down into nice little sections:

Preparation – this is mostly for the parents covering such painful topics as “how do I overcome my own fear of math?” to “why do they do it differently these days?” as well as everyday tools that can be used for math education and an approximate grade/age guideline for math education in schools.

Arithmetic–And How It Has Changed – this goes into basic mathematics. There are nice simple to understand explanations, examples, and pictures, and even games to play.

Beyond Arithmetic – now we start getting into fractions and decimals and a little bit of geometry.

Questions and Answers – this not only has the answers to the puzzles that they give you throughout the book, but it also covers questions your kids will encounter throughout their schooling along with the answers (with or without a calculator). The best thing is they explain HOW to get the correct answer (and if there is more than one way to come to the correct answer they show that too).

And finally – of course there is a glossary and index and stuff.

Now, the big test. My daughter asks me the question “How old where you when I was 3?” So I pull out this handy little book and launch into an explanation of number lines and stuff. Not sure how much it helped her, but I sure felt a lot more confident.

Sure Math and fun didn’t seem to go together for me either. But let’s face it, math is a reality of school life. And we all want to help our kids to succeed. How can we help them if we don’t know how to play? This book makes that math nightmare less scary and much more fun.

And now for the give away!

The Experiment has agreed to send out a book to one of my readers. So how do you get one?

1. Mention this contest in your blog/tweet/Facebook status/forum. (Please don’t spam forums and groups. Only post on a forum or group if it is allowed and you are a regular member.)
2. Leave a comment on this post with a valid email address and a link to your posting. Please use a valid email address so I can contact you if you win.
3. Comments must be received by Sunday December 12, 2010 at midnight CST. Anyone who comments more than 3 times forfeits their chances. The winner will be selected by random drawing and announced on Thursday December 16, 2010.

New Math – Fun with Cards

14 Oct

I’m reading Old Dogs, New Math by Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew. It inspired me to try out some ideas with the kids to encourage math learning. So, today we spent some time playing cards.

First we played “13”. A solitary card game my mother taught me when I was a wee young lass. You start out by making a pyramid with the cards. Seven rows, with the top and bottom rows face-up, starting with one card in the first row and ending with seven cards in the bottom row. All cards are face value numbers, with the Jack for 11, Queen for 12, and King for 13. The objective is to clear the cards by matching up pairs to equal 13.

Even the five year old was counting and subtracting, trying to figure out which cards he would need to equal 13. The eight year old quickly figured out the 6+7 ALWAYS equals 13. And they all had fun.

After lunch we played “21” (which is really just Black Jack without the gambling debt). I’m sure most of you know the rules, but just in case – you start out with two cards (for older kids, one face-down, and the second face-up). And you hit (for more cards) or hold to try to get as close to 21 without going over, or “bust”. As you can see, the five-year old was all about the counting.

And we got to incorporate the number line into the whole fun as we tried to figure out what cards we would need to get close to 21 without going over. There was also the added bonus of aces being used for 1 or 11 added to the math fun.

Stay tuned for more on this interesting book. The teenager is reading it right now to see what all the fuss is about and I will be writing a review in the next few weeks. The publisher has also agreed to send a copy of this book to one of my lucky readers so stay tuned for more math fun. (Is that an oxymoron or can math really be that interesting?)

*Thanks to The Experiment Publishing for sending me a copy of Old Dogs, New Math to review.

John Holt – A man WAY before his time

31 Mar

Not so new views on children, childhood, schools, and education.

I’ve been reading a slew of books written by John Holt. What I found most interesting was the dates these books were published. Every book so far has been published before the 80’s. Yet everything he writes about has virtually remained unchanged. The system is still not working for most people. Children are still being forced to submit to the wiles and whims of a system that doesn’t understand them (or rather, doesn’t care to understand them because they know better.)

“At first I did not question the compulsory nature of schooling. But by 1968 or so I had come to feel strongly that the kinds of changes I wanted to see in schools, above all in the ways teachers related to students, could not happen as long as schools were compulsory.

From many such experiences I began to see, in the early ’70s, slowly and reluctantly, but ever more surely, that the movement for school reform was mostly a fad and an illusion. Very few people, inside the schools or out, were willing to support or even tolerate giving more freedom, choice, and self-direction to children. Of the very few who were, most were doing so not because they believed that children really wanted and could be trusted to find out about the world, but because they thought that giving children some of the appearances of freedom (allowing them to wear old clothes, run around, shout, write on the wall, etc.) was a clever way of getting them to do what the school had wanted all along–to learn those school subjects, get into a good college, etc. Freedom was not a serious way of living and working, but only a trick, a “motivational device.” When it did not quickly bring the wanted results, the educators gave it up without a thought and without regret.” ~John Holt, Teach Your Own

As I am reading these books, my first thought is amazement that I never heard of this man while I was going through my teacher training. Then I stop myself and almost laugh at the ridiculousness of this thought. Why in the world would any education certification program discuss the writings, experiences, and research of a man who spent a lifetime working in the education system to find out that it was all irreparably broken? If we had talked about these writings while I was in college studying to be a teacher I would have never gone on with the program. As it was, I experienced almost everything he discussed and left public school education without a backward glance.

The system is broken.

I’m in the middle of Teach Your Own right now. It is basically a primer and an encouragement for taking that first leap into unschooling/home schooling. Right there in the introduction he tells the story of a woman at the beginning stages of trying to plan an alternative school for her children and her community. I am not kidding… it was like reading my story in a book written 50 years before my time! The story was exactly the same.

“She and a friend had decided that they couldn’t stand what the local schools were doing to children, and that the only thing to do was start their own. For many months they had been looking for parents, for space, for money, and had made almost no progress at all.”

That’s the story of Pomegranate Gardens! UNBELIEVABLE! And he gave her the advice that, luckily, my husband and I figured out all on our own… don’t got through the mess of trying to meet regulations,  find willing parents and students, and money, and buildings. It’s just not going to happen. Just teach them at home.

In a way it is sad though. The world needs a school like Pomegranate Gardens. And you know what… when the world is ready for it, I’ll be here ready to welcome them. But most people are not willing to gamble their child’s future like this. Even though they know deep down that the school system is failing, that their children are suffering, that the whole thing is just so broken and wrong. It doesn’t matter. Maybe they think their children need to be ready for the harsh realities of life. Maybe they think children need to suck it up and learn to do pointless and menial work, because that’s what life is. Maybe, I don’t know. But it seems to me to be a vicious and never-ending cycle of despair.

A lack of meaningful work

No, I’m not talking about your job. But maybe I am. Maybe if you had had an opportunity as a child to find what was important to you, you would be living a totally different life. Who knows. How different would our world be if we were all doing work we loved and felt was important?

When we are talking about schooling though, we often hear about the troublemakers. Those kids (and they are growing in number) who cause problems and angst in the classrooms for teachers and students. But these are not stupid kids. These are kids who find school to be meaningless and irksome. In one of his books, Holt talks about a group of kids in an after school program. The lady running the programs talks about how these three boys are the hardest working, strongest, most diligent, most reliable children of the group as long as they are given work that they can view as important. If they feel they are being shunted out of the way with simple busy work, then they revert to the troublesome bothersome boys that everyone expects them to be.

Holt quotes Dean Paul Roberts of Denver at the first graduation of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (I’ve heard this quote attributed to JFK too, who knows, maybe JFK was quoting Roberts).

“To a group of students that included some very unhappy, mixed-up, and self-hating young people, he said: (1) accept yourself, (2) forget yourself, (3) find something to do and to care about that is more important to you than you are…. In telling the students to accept and then forget themselves Dean Roberts was saying something that they, preoccupied, obsessed as they were by how they looked to others, and usualy how bad they looked, had to take seriously. For he was one of the homeliest people any of us had ever seen…. Of course, to accept and forget oneself is not easy to do even when one tries, which is why the other part of his advice is so vital–to find something to do, to care about, to throw yourself into, that is more important than you are.” ~Escape from Childhood

I wanted to make a change – not be changed by the system.

If only schools really prepared us for this. Prepared us for a life full of meaning and satisfaction. This is not too much to ask for. Holt gave up on reforming the education system in the 70s. I became a teacher at the turn of the century hoping to change the world. Mentor teachers smiled condescendingly on me saying “I used to be idealistic too”. I lasted three years.

I watched “A Law Abiding Citizen” not too long ago which talks about the same thing, only with the justice system instead of the education system. Jamie Fox’s character is a lawyer and near the end of the movie he is talking about his career and his choices and says that he became a lawyer to change the system. But then as time went on he made one compromise, then another deal, and then another compromise, and before he knew what happened, instead of changing the system, the system had changed him.

But it’s never too late to stop that train. Make a change right now. I am home schooling my kids right now. It’s great. I don’t have to perpetuate the cycle anymore.

Making a Family Move Easier on the Kids – Elena’s Big Move – Book Review

16 Nov


I was a military brat growing up.  We moved around – a lot.  And it didn’t really matter how often we did it, every time I came home to find mom packing I would start to get upset.  I mean, GEEZ!  I’d just made a bunch of great friends.  I’d just found out where all the cool spots around town were.  I was just starting to feel like I belonged.

As an adult who grew up as a modern day nomad, it is easy to forget how scary that move can be for little kids.  I mean, I’m an old hat at moving now.  Sometimes I even relish the adventure and excitement that change can bring.  But I can still remember the squeezing panic in my gut when I was a kid and it was time to start all over again in a new place.

Sarah Olivieri writes a pretty story about a little girl’s move from Puerto Rico to Indiana.  This is not every kids typical move story, but the feelings are the same – missing our favorite hangouts, losing friends, starting a new school.  It can all be overwhelming.  The book is full of encouragement and sweetness, the illustrations are bright, cheery, and colorful.  It is a perfect book for a move with relatively few complications.  There are even some tips in the back section for kids, parents, and teachers to help ease the transition of moving.

The reality is that moving is tough.  And sometimes things can go wrong – favorite toys get lost or left behind, pen pals don’t write back, you meet a bully at your new school.  But, excitement and change can be a good thing too.  New places to visit, new opportunities, new people.  Our lives are constantly changing and Elena’s Big Move helps young kids focus on the positive side of moving.

*Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists sent me a copy of this book to review.

Product Description

Elena loves her home in Puerto Rico, but she just found out she will be moving to a strange, new place she’s never seen before-Indiana.  She’s worried that nothing will be the same again, so she takes pictures of her friends and favorite places and creates an album to remember them by.  When she finally moves, she finds that Indiana is very different than her old home, but she soon discovers that new places can be just as interesting as old ones.  With the help of her new friends, Elena starts another album to record memories from the many new places she will soon discover.

About the Author

Sarah M. Olivieri was born in San José, Puerto Rico and has a B.A. in elementary education from Purdue University Calumet. She currently teaches second grade and is a youth leader for the First Christian Church. She lives in Indiana with her husband, José and their three children.

The Call to Brilliance

15 Mar

My husband and I take education very seriously. Both trained public school teachers we quit the profession because of some undefined discontent with the system and an inability to affect any change. Now in a somewhat rocky financial situation, friends, family, and total strangers keep prodding us to return to public school or even private school. And yet we continue to hold back. We know deep down that there is something inherently wrong with the whole set up, even though we, as yet, lack the experience to voice the problem in any coherent manner. We started home schooling our children. We would surge forward in a flurry of structure and scheduling and curriculum writing only to have to stop and take what seemed like a step backwards. Our experience and training told us that we needed to follow certain guidelines, that we needed to be told what to learn. But it wasn’t working and we could see it. More learning took place when we were out on family trips or hanging out at home just being together. I felt like a bad teacher and a bad mother. Here I was ruining my children’s hope for the future by screwing around with their education. We were slowly inching our way to the concept of “unschooling” but I worried that my oldest child (almost 13) needed more rigid lessons in order to succeed in the world. Part of me knew that those lessons would only poorly develop specific skills that may or may not be used in life; but the other part of me felt compelled to DO something, anything, just to show that we were doing school the “right” way.


Then I found The Call to Brilliance by Resa Steindel Brown. Hope, inspiration, confirmation all flooded into me. To see that someone else is living and has experienced what I have suspected to be possible is truly motivating and inspiring. My theories about education are accurate. My suspicions of the effectiveness of schooling and disappointment in schooling’s poor performance are not rare and isolated moments. It is a failing that is pervasive throughout our society. Ms. Brown shows from her experience not only what is possible, but how it should be.


The Call to Brilliance is not a how-to manual for setting up a school. Nor is it a pedagogical argument on established educational theories. It is a memoir of this mom and the journey she took with her children to becoming complete people – whole in spirit and knowledge. Through the book she goes back and forth from the past to the present talking about her journey and what she has seen her children do. I watched the children, and even the mom, grow. And I grew right along side them. I grew in strength and courage. I am on the right path. I am not alone on this journey. My children will be fine; they don’t need me to micromanage their education. I can trust that my children will find their true path in life if I just let them live their own way. All I need to do is provide encouragement and support when they need it.


“We have become conditioned to this system that we do not question it at all. We willingly submit our children without much reflection or hesitation. Whether they win or lose, we are desensitized. But we can choose a better way. We can choose to have all kids win in their own manner and in their own time frames. All we have to do is take back our power and do it.” (Resa Steindel Brown, The Call to Brilliance)

Upcoming Review: The Call to Brilliance

10 Mar

I just received The Call to Brilliance from Fredric Press. Big thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book. Keep watch here because I am starting to read it and will be writing an in-depth review.

The Call to Brilliance shows concerned parents and educators how to turn children’s challenges into strengths and their gifts into passions. It devastates the concepts of learning disabilities. It dissolves the artificial barriers of grade level. It unveils the pretense of standardized testing and reveals how our children really learn. but above all, it shows us how all children can succeed to brilliance.”

I am excited. The ideas stated above (taken from the back cover of the book) are exactly what I have been saying about education for years. So stay tuned…

Get The Call to Brilliance from

50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School by Charles J. Sykes

14 Feb

Just finished this book. What a whopper. It was a very quick read and very witty with a lot of insight. It can come across as harsh if you are a touchy-feely kind of person. But if you are like me, and very aware that reality indeed bites, this book is a welcome reminder that it is okay that life sucks sometimes. Get over it and get on with your life because that is what really matters. This book doesn’t slap you in the face; instead it just points out the realities of life in very plain language. I plan on having Pork Chop read it. He’s going to officially become a teenager this year. We are already getting some of that back talk and sullenness. Nothing wrong with trying to nip that bad habit in the bud.

Buy this book at