Harry Potter Week: Teaching With Harry Potter: An Overview

That's me in Harry Potter LARP Archomancie by the French association Clepsydre

Some time ago, I suddenly realised what would be my dream job: I’d like to be Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. After Voldemort’s fall, if possible. Or before his rise. I intend to keep the charge more than one year.

Alas, it seems that few schools (if any) are looking for such a teacher, so I’m afraid I’ll have to content myself with my current job of literature teacher.

Another, more attainable dream, would be to edit a collection of Teaching with Harry Potter schoolbooks in France.

The world created by J.K. Rowling can be used to teach almost every subject to almost any age. British and American websites already offer many resources for various ages and subjects.
You may check online educational resources for teachers (and homeschooling parents) on Fabulous Classroom, Midge Frazel’s Page and Web English Teacher, among many others.

English / Literature / Creative writing
That’s the more obvious.
As the books grow longer and more complex, you can propose them to growing children, and use them to study any aspect of narratives, descriptions, argumentation, and so on. You can also study genres (b.e. how the first chapters of the books, in the Dursley’s world, enhance the magic of the other parts ion a very Todorovian definition of fantastic.)
You can imagine a trial and ask the children to play prosecution and defense: Sirius Black’s trial while reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, Draco Malfoy’s at the end of The Deathly Hallows
You can study JKR’s criticism of our actual world (the newspapers, the government interfering in the educational system, and so on).
Even if I’m essentially a Gryffindor personality, I once wrote (for fun) an essay about House Slytherin’s positive qualities and achievements. It’s in French, but I can translate it if someone’s interested.

And of course, you can make your kids write fiction.
I really think fan fiction is an excellent writing exercise. It’s perfect to help our young writers-to-be to understand that writing cannot be conceived without reading.
And that’s not by chance that Harry Potter is one of the largest source of fan fiction. The books offer all the range of fan fiction possibilities : inventing a past, developing events or characters from JKR’s hints, pairing almost anyone with anyone, deepening characters’ emotions, or even creating the Wizarding World outside Britain from its very rare appearances in the books.

Ancient languages
You probably all know that the first two books were translated into Latin under the titles Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis and Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum.
There’s even an Ancient Greek edition of Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone.
If your kids aren’t advanced enough to read these, you can begin with working on the spell names and their Latin origins.
You can find on TES Connect a game exploring the Latin roots of the magic spells in the Harry Potter books. Pupils have to find the Latin words from which the spells were created, and use the meanings of these words to work out what each spell would do.
If you’re brave enough, you can design your own activities from the list of Harry Potter‘s spells.
Of course, you can also teach mythology using Harry Potter‘s bestiary, but everyone knows about that, don’t they?
If you aren’t a mythology geek, you can learn more about these references by reading David Colbert’s The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter.


I haven’t read The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works by Roger Highfield, and the book received contrasted reviews, for some readers found it too complex for the average student and regretted that Harry Potter‘s references seem to be a mere pretext. Anyway, I’m sure every science geek among you could make good use of it.

Otherwise, the easiest ways to associate scientific lessons with the Potterverse are Astronomy and Potions. I dream of a Potions version of Chemistry Kits for kids!

One of the great things with math is that you can design exercises and problems from every universe!
Have a look at the (very easy) questions on Math Stories to help you write your own activities. Use the Hogwarts Express and the Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia to work on speed and distances. Use the wizarding word currencies and their change values (One Galleon is equal to 17 Sickles or 493 Knuts). Work on Quidditch balls and brooms’ trajectories with older kids. And so on.

Of course, Harry Potter‘s history is an alternate one.
But to successfully conceive any alternate history, you have to do research on the actual one.
You may try, by example, to write Harry’s essay in The Prisoner of Azkaban: “Witch Burning in the Fourteenth Century Was Completely Pointless — discuss”. Your kids would have to read about many historical questions about witch-burning in the Middle Ages, Inquisition, and so on. Why not Jules Michelet’s founding essay La Sorciere: The Witch of the Middle Ages? Why not Umberto Eco’s wonderful novel The Name of the Rose?  I see there’s even a book about Teaching Medieval Studies Through Umberto Eco’s the Name of the Rose. That sounds wonderful!
You can use the timeline provided by the Harry Potter Lexicon to conceive researches and activities on various historical periods, from Ancient Egypt to World War II. I always wondered if the actual situation of the Ministry of Magic (underground) was a consequence of the Blitz.

As you see, that could be an endless list!

Feel free to share your own ideas and activities, or to ask me for a detailed activity in literature.

Math in Short: Visual Multiplication

Part of the reason I was never a brilliant math student had to do with the chasm of difference between how I was taught math and how I understood it. Art has always been ‘my thing’ so in spite of all my math teachers’ best efforts to learn by the book, I inevitably accessed the subject artistically. Specifically, through patterns.

In school, I was an incorrigible margin-doodler and I would always get mad whenever a teacher scolded me for not showing my work. The crazy cartoon geometry framing my homework showed how I worked the math problems! I never understood why my teachers got so annoyed with me for finding answers in my own way. It was an early and often-repeated lesson in how seeing the world differently is widely equated with cheating.

Now look at me. Parent of a school-aged child and worried sick about the cookie-cutter curriculum he’s up against… Sometimes it still seems that way, doesn’t it? Like it’s us versus classrooms? But kids and parents are better armed these days; we have the internet, and it is full of useful alternatives for students who need them. I even found an example of someone demonstrating multiplication the way I taught myself to understand it. Specifically, through patterns.

Vi Hart is my favorite mathematician and among my top five favorite YouTubers. Her videos are an effective combination of straightforward, smart and charming, and I recommend them highly to geeks of all kinds.

Renaissance Woman Hears the Sounds of the Universe

How the Universe Got Its Spots cover
Is the universe infinite or just really big?

Philosopher turned astro-physicist Janna Levin thinks a lot about the origins of the universe. She’s written a non-fiction book, How the Universe Got Its Spots, in which she contemplates whether or not the universe is finite or infinite, or if indeed our universe is one in a multiverse.

Janna Levin, mother of two young children, is a contemporary Renaissance woman. She can draw, she can write, and she can teach advanced mathematics that decode quantum physics, which she does at Barnard College of Columbia University.

In a recent TED talk Levin demonstrates, among other cosmic sounds, what we might hear when two black holes collide … moments before being crushed. Not to give her whole talk away, but according to her sophisticated mathematical models, black holes don’t have much in the way of a melody, but they do have a distinctive rhythmic beat.

Fibonacci: It’s Not Pasta

Count the petals! (Photo by Alexandra Siy)

Did you count thirteen petals on the Black-Eyed-Susan? It’s fun for kids to count petals on blooming flowers “springing” out of the ground. It’s also a lesson in higher math.

Last week I attended the NSTA Conference in San Francisco where I met Sarah C. Campbell, author of the picture book Growing Patterns. Sarah presented her book to an audience of teachers, librarians, and authors in an engaging  talk–which she began by saying Fibonacci is not a brand of of pasta, but the name of a 13th century Italian mathematician. She pointed out that the sequence of numbers named for Fibonacci were known to scholars in India long before his time.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…

The pattern is easy to spot, even for elementary school children. Just add the two preceding numbers in the sequence to get the next number. Growing Patterns shows how the Fibonacci sequence is revealed in nature. Colorful photographs of flowers, pineapples, and pinecones help readers discover the pattern.

Sarah has also developed the  Fibonacci Folding Book  Project, a hands-on multidisciplinary activity  that combines math, science, language arts, and art. Sarah’s website features a video tutorial and detailed instructions for downloading and printing instructions. This a fun and rewarding springtime project for students of all ages.

Pi at MIT: Bitter…or Sweet?


Two years ago our family recognized Pi Day for the very first time. At exactly 1:59 p.m on March 14th my son received the decision on his application for admission to the the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  His response when he logged on to read the letter: “I GOT IN!” It was a sweet moment to savor. My son is now a sophomore, and MIT has lived up to its reputation as an incredibly challenging school, as well as an exciting, innovative place. Best of luck today to all the kids who applied to MIT.

Celebrate Pi Day by Learning the Secret of the Circle

circle-300x257Hands-on projects are great learning tools for kids, especially when they involve the word ‘secret’. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Pi Day (March 14 or “3.14”) with kids than to help them unlock the circle’s secret and discover Pi!  This fun activity uses common office supplies and household materials and is easy even for younger kids.

Materials needed

  • A compass or two different sized round containers from which to trace around the bottom
  • A sharpened pencil
  • A ruler
  • A calculator
  • Long lengths of heavy string or yarn
  • Scissors to cut the string


Follow these steps to discover the secret of the circle.

Tip: Use a compass to draw two different sized circles. It’s best to draw them of drastically different sizes.

  1. Lay out the length of string around the outside edge of the first circle, cutting it to fit precisely once around the outer edge.
  2. Now measure the length of string using the ruler and record this measurement as the circumference of the large circle.
  3. Draw a line through the center of the large circle and extend it to the edges of the circle. This is the diameter.
  4. Measure the diameter of the large circle using your ruler and record this number as the diameter of the large circle.
  5. Now, calculate the ratio of C/d (circumference divided by the diameter). A calculator is best for younger students so that they understand the concept of Pi even if they haven’t yet learned division.
  6. Repeat these steps for the smaller circle.

The secret of the circle is that no matter what size circle you start with, dividing the circle’s circumference by its diameter (C/d) always yields Pi!  Note that this activity will likely not  yield precisely Pi because of the somewhat crude measuring techniques.  However, repeating this exercise for many different sized circles reveals the pattern that holds the circle’s deepest secret.

Further reading

Here is a bit more information on Pi.

Wikipedia’s Pi information.

I found this lesson in one of my favorite math teaching aids, ‘Math Wizardry for Kids‘.


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“Wind and Mr. Ug” Get Non-Euclidean

Gather up the kiddies because it’s storytime! Meet Wind, a lonely triangle living on a flat, yet mysterious world. Watch as curiosity compels her to unravel those mysteries and change her world forever… (Warning: Spoilers below the clip!)

“Wind and Mr. Ug ” is a shining example of education by stealth. It makes Möbius strips easy to understand and fun to play with, and I think it grants even very young children access to very grown-up concepts. You know, ‘hard’ stuff like Euclidean space and chirality, but also the practical applications of Möbius strips, like long-lasting conveyor belts and the ribbons on Olympic medals. I strongly recommend exploring the end of “Wind and Mr. Ug” in the real world with your kids. What happens if you cut a Möbius strip down the middle? What if you cut closer to the edge?

Vote for Your Favorite STEM Video Game

Sci-Heroes Saves the Day Cooney Prize STEM video game challenge
Sci-Heroes Save the Day entry in the STEM Video Game Challenge. Art © Tim Goldman

Inspired by the White House’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, the Joan Cooney Ganz Center issued this challenge: design a mobile app that engages kids while teaching them the STEM skills: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Developers were invited to enter prototypes to win the National STEM Video Game Challenge, with a prize of $50,000 towards the production of their final game.

There’s another prize that’s up to you: the People’s Choice Award, which brings the winning project $25,000. There are many great game prototypes entered, featuring a huge array of gameplay and skills. Among the entrants you’ll find Sci-Heroes Save the Day, a prototype I created with my friend, the awesome artist Tim Goldman.

Sci-Heroes Save the Day will be the first in a series of apps that teach science using science fiction. The science games will be embedded in a comic book story, and completing the game will be essential to furthering the story. The evil Dr. Spectacle is using her super-charged glasses to wreak havoc on the city? Maybe a smoke screen will stop her. To the lab! Here’s a video of the prototype, and you can try it for yourself on our website.

I hope to make this game a reality with lots of great activities, animation, and sound design, so help a GeekMom out with a vote, won’t you? And while you’re there, send some love to the other worthy entrants. Bringing any and all quality STEM games to market is a good thing.

What Do Smart Zombies Want? Apps For Better Brains!

Image by Tim

I’m not sure what kind of geeky conversations go on in your households, but a common lament in my house is the lack of quality zombie apps on the market. Rather than listening to this diatribe yet again, I suggested that my son write it all down. Here’s his take on the state of the zombie app market, along with his idea of the perfect zombie app.

Do you have a strange obsession with the undead? I certainly do, but when I look for apps that are zombie related, they’re always either violent or boring. A solution? An app that is

  • Educational. If you’re going to be on an app, may as well get more brains.
  • Entertaining. I despise boring apps, especially educational ones.
  • Non-Gory. Zombies don’t have to splatter blood even if they need a little brain hors d’oeuvre every once in a while.

So how could this be combined, while making it attractive to geeky kids?  Maybe something like this.

The app could ask this question: You’re trapped in a pet store. You have locked the zombies in the back room, but need that space. In order to get in without getting attacked, you need to do some quick thinking.

Each zombie used to have a pet. The number of pets each zombie had are: 3, 2, 0, 5, 10, 6, 4, 1, 9, and 10.

What is the mean number of pets formerly owned by the zombies? What is the modal number of pets owned by the zombies, and what is the median number of pets?

A: Mean: 5, Median: 4.5, Mode: 10

B: Mean: 8, Median: 6, Mode: 0

C: Mean: 0, Median: 6, Mode: 8

Say you answered A.

A: is correct. The average number of pets owned by zombies is 5. The middle number of pets owned by zombies is 4.5, and the most common number of pets is 10.

Then a game screen would come up. It would look like a whack-a-mole stand, except at the top it said Whack-un-dead.

Hands would start to rise from the ground, like the moles in whack-a-mole, and you could tap to hit them.

Say you answered B or C:

Hands would start to come from the corners of the screen and make the screen look like it was cracking. Then a scream. The question would come up again with the wrong answer you just guessed marked by an X that looks like it was made by finger nails.

Sounds pretty cool right? I’ve looked for apps in the past. One was called Math Zombie. I thought this would be perfect. I opened the app, and it turned out just to be a math game that had nothing at all to do with zombies. I then tried an app called Zombie Farm. It turned out to be fun, non-gory, but not educational. Then Zombie Pizza. I thought this would be good with fractions and things. It was, again, fun, non-gory, but taught absolutely nothing. I’ve searched just zombie in general in the app store, and the ones that come up are often violent. Some of these other games do have valuable skills to offer though, like hand eye coordination, faster reaction times, and strategy. But they don’t have just plain skills out in the open. Maybe someday this is will be a reality, but for now, good look finding an app  that’s not soaked in red, entertaining enough to raise the dead, and helps build your BBRRAAAIIIIINNNSSS!!!!!!!

—Missing-Limb Tim

So, GeekMom readers, can you help a Geekling out?  Does anyone have a worthwhile zombie app to recommend for a discriminating tween?

Does a Five-Weekend July Come Only Every 823 Years? (Spoiler Alert: No.)

Five Fridays, five Saturdays, five Sundays

Last October, you may have seen a “fact” from your email/Facebook/Twitter friends (you know the ones) that the month would have five weekends–five Fridays, five Saturdays, and five Sundays–and that that happens only once every 823 years. Now the “fact” is showing up again since the same thing will happen in July 2011.

But just think about it for a second–this will happen any time a month with 31 days starts on a Friday. The Gregorian calendar we use today runs a much shorter cycle than 823 years. The closest we can get to its cycle being measurable in centuries is the leap year cycle, which is 400 years. This is reflected in the frequency of leap years, which occur in a year that is divisible by four, unless it is divisible by 100 (no leap), unless it is also divisible by 400 (leap).

And while it might feel like every year is different, there are really only fourteen possible calendars. (To think, you’ve been buying a new one every year!) January 1 can be any of seven days of the week (which also determines the days of the rest of the dates). And it can either be or not be a leap year. Seven days times two possible numbers of days is only fourteen ways to have the dates and days matched up.

Next time you see this “fact” about the rare five-weekend month show up, refer your friends to this list so they’ll know when they cram extra parties in their favorite months:

  • January: 2016, 2021, 2027, 2038, 2044, 2049
  • March: 2013, 2019, 2024, 2030, 2041, 2047, 2052
  • May: 2015, 2020, 2026, 2037, 2043, 2048, 2054
  • July: 2011, 2016, 2022, 2033, 2039, 2044, 2050
  • August: 2014, 2025, 2031, 2036, 2042, 2053
  • October: 2021, 2027, 2032, 2038, 2049, 2055
  • December: 2017, 2023, 2028, 2034, 2045, 2051

You can also take this opportunity to teach your tweeting kids not to be the people who spread interesting but wrong tidbits. Critical thinking and real facts are more fun than fakes ones every time.

Partial Quotient Algorithm: An Alternative Method for Long Division

Image: Xanthoxyl via Wikimedia Commons

My youngest son is a whiz at math – as long as he can figure out problems in his head. But his uncanny ability to make sense of numbers is lost when he looks at a formulaic math problem. When he was learning long division he could frequently calculate the answer in his head, but given a written problem he’d melt into an uncomprehending heap of frustration.

While I don’t remember actually learning the process of long division, I’ve been doing it so long that it’s second nature to me. Nothing I did or said could help my son make sense of the process of long division though, so I began asking around. Miranda at Nurtured by Love came to my rescue when she suggested that I introduce my son to a method called partial quotient algorithm. While it may sound daunting, partial quotient algorithm (or partial quotient division) is a method for dividing numbers that’s much more accessible than the familiar but more abstract long division. It took me a few tries to make sense of this new method (old dog, new tricks and all) but my son was able to grasp it with very little trouble. Bingo! It just took coming at it from a different angle to make the written numbers make sense to him.

Curious? Take a look:

Geek Equals Math Plus Art

Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences. …Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world.” –Roger Bacon

Math is one of those quintessentially geeky things that are often taught so badly that even some of the geekiest among us find it inaccessible. Even boring. And for many people, the way we’re taught math when we’re young is how we relate to math when we’re grown. It’s a tragedy, but like many seemingly intractable problems, I suspect this one has an elegant solution.

Imagine my delight when I was stumbling around the internet and discovered that fellow artist, Vi Hart, had begun to shine a light on the subject of learning math through doodling. Yes, doodling! The fact is, math is all about patterns, and art is the natural direction to turn to help us visualize the sort of complex abstractions present in mathematics. Especially during a boring math class.

Get your art supplies ready, friends, it’s time to learn some math!

Exponential functions are mythical hydras:

Factoring is a sky full of stars:

Graph theory quickly devolves into snakes on a plane:

Infinity is a Saharan caravan:

Prime numbers can talk to aliens:

And, there is FINALLY a Christmas song I’ll actually sing! Or rather, there’s a ChristMATH song I’ll actually sing:

Now tell me, didn’t you just take a closer look at all your arts and crafts projects, as I did with mine, and discover that you’ve been a secret math whiz all along?

How Stephen King Taught Me Percentile Rank and the Normal Curve

Adapted from Wikimedia Commons

I was driving my ’58 Plymouth Fury on a long trip out of Boulder, Colorado to a strange town in Maine, when I stopped at a hotel along the way for a needed caffeine boost. A man in glasses and a way with words came over and asked, “So, what do you know about percentile rank and the normal curve?”  It was strange for a pick-up line, but…

Ok, ok, that’s not what happened. Frankly, I doubt that Stephen King could have taught me these fundamental concepts in a conversation as well as he taught them to me in one of his novels. Here’s what really happened.

I was taking a research methods class, going through a phase in which I transformed from Geek Type E (English Lit Major) to Geek Type S (Social Scientist). The statistics gave me trouble, given my earlier career as a math-avoidant bibliophile. I understood, on a basic level, the concept of the normal curve. I was willing to accept that many kinds of data follow a distribution pattern where there are a few data points at one end, a lot in the middle, and a few at the other end. We’ve all heard of the bell curve.

Percentiles and percentile ranks (definitions differ slightly) also made intuitive sense to me as an overachieving nerd who understood that my SAT score could also be expressed as what percentage of test-takers scored at or below my score.

What I couldn’t get was how these two concepts relate to one another, and the biggest stumbling block was that percentile rank is not an equal-interval score. That means that the difference between the 25th and 30th percentiles is not the same as the difference between the 55th and 60th percentiles, or the 90th and the 95th percentiles. 30-25 = 5. 60-55 = 5. 95-90 = 5. So why is it that when it comes to percentiles, 5 does not mean the same thing as 5?  The technical explanation is that percentile ranks are tied to the normal curve, so some are closer than others.

I still didn’t get it.

Enter the Master of Horror. In a serendipitous moment, I picked up a copy of King’s The Long Walk. In the novel, 100 boys living in a contemporary dystopia participate in an event called the Walk. They have to maintain a speed of 4 miles an hour, there are no stops or resting breaks, and failure to keep moving or abide by any of the strict rules of the contest results in immediate death. Soldiers stay with the walkers, ready to shoot at any moment. The contest ends when there is only one walker alive.

As the novel opens, a few boys are shot right away. They have mental or physical problems that immediately take them out of the contest. Most of the others keep on going, until there are big losses around the midpoint. When it gets down to the last five walkers… well, what they go through is unbearable. The tension of wondering who will make it, who can keep lifting his feet and putting them down, who can suppress the psychological terror of it all long enough to keep on going, is vintage King.

It’s also a near-perfect representation of percentile rank and why differences are not equal. I realized that if you plotted how long each boy walked before being shot, you would end up with a normal curve. Since there were 100 boys, each boy’s placement could be equated to percentile rank. Now I could see that 5 does not always equal 5. The difference between walkers who came in at, say, 55th and 60th places was inconsequential. It is easy to imagine them switching ranks because there was very little to distinguish them from one another. But the difference between coming in as the winner and coming in fifth was profound. The boys in the middle were all about the same, the boys who died at the beginning and end were both very different from the group as a whole and from one another. Aha!

Normal curve in The Long Walk

If it still doesn’t make sense to you Primary Geek Type Es, read the book and then come back to this post. You’ll see what I mean. Students take note, however. Reading horror novels as a method of studying for your statistics classes is generally not recommended. On the other hand, we could explore probability calculations for encountering scary creatures in dark, wooded areas, or incidence and prevalence rates for vampire infections in the general population…

50 Ways To Express Your Geek Mom-ness

Wikimedia Commons image by Zygmunt Kubasiak
  1. Find obscure ways to curse without raising potty-mouthed kids.
  2. Indulge in interests not widely shared by the general population such as ukuleles, grammar, toilets, or hula hoops.
  3. Apply the Bechdel test to the movies your kids watch.
  4. Watch sex videos (of animal mating). Avoid the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude about teen sex. And make sex education an ongoing dialogue with your kids.
  5. Ensure the name you bestow on your new baby isn’t remotely popular or ever likely to be.
  6. Recognize that you’re a Renaissance soul.
  7. Muse about the way you reflect your identity through the screen names you choose, the glasses you wear, and the fashion trends you avoid.
  8. Geek out for guys like xkcd creator Randall Munroe and Lego sculptor Nathan Sawaya.
  9. Apply the scientific method at the grocery store.
  10. Recognize that female involvement boosts the collective IQ of a group.
  11. Determine your primate mothering style.
  12. Enthuse about your daughter’s geeklet cred. Embrace signs of your partner’s geek interests.
  13. Encourage your kids to take considered risks.
  14. Advance your kids’ scientific comprehension. Identify “alien” species in your neighborhood as well as learn about the science of Star Trek.
  15. Get your kids to predict the future.
  16. Make personalized baby blocks, plastic bag crafts, and unique cross stitch.
  17. Teach critical thinking over a holiday meal.
  18. Subversively advance geographical knowledge using a wall map.
  19. Write music from an alternative point-of-view.
  20. Assert your authority over technology with unplugged Fridays and In Real Life lessons. Or avoid broadcast TV entirely.
  21. Keep your kids apprised of online safety.
  22. Experiment with pennies, leaves, and candy.
  23. Hack some standard recipes. Make beet dip, okra chips, cranberry orange mustard, apple pizza, pesto deviled eggs, or chard popsicles.
  24. Encourage your child’s natural storytelling abilities.
  25. Identify your favorite DC heroines as well as media-inspired girl-power characters.
  26. Update the old “it’ll ruin your eyesight” excuse to get your kids outside.
  27. Know stinkbugs in order to fight stinkbugs and know bedbugs in order to fight bedbugs.
  28. Encourage your offspring to enjoy the pleasures of science-y teamwork with First Lego League, Odyssey of the Mind, and Destination Imagination.
  29. Teach kids knitting and clapping games to advance brainpower.
  30. Get comfortable with who you are and speak up to let others know it gets better.
  31. Find music videos re-mixed for fresh history and science lessons. Or just enjoy what you’ll learn by scrolling through YouTube with your kids.
  32. Make smart vacation plans and get smarter while you’re there.
  33. Play games like Warhammer Fantasy.
  34. Enjoy music, whether comedic or space-inspired.
  35. Improve education at home and school.
  36. Make critical distinctions about copyright usage.
  37. Embrace such strange foods that your kids are inspired to cook just so they can eat “normal” meals.
  38. Make informed choices about cloth diapers, baby sign language, organic produce, and junk food.
  39. Give your opinion about why Bella is a poor role model for girls and still encourage your daughter to enjoy Twilight for her own reasons.
  40. Be savvy about definitions of intelligence.
  41. Promote your kids’ reading skills using picture books and sci fi.
  42. Give geek romance advice.
  43. Explain topology by braiding challah, explore geometry using paper plates, and make bagel cutting into a math challenge.
  44. Read banned books.
  45. Make cake more fascinating. Try Magrathea cake, Keroppi cupcakes, Lego cake, and cake in a mug.
  46. Tour a brain.
  47. Recognize generational differences such as phone use, travel concerns, and even crafting.
  48. Give out-of-the-ordinary presents such as experience, local donations, buy-one-give-one gifts, and non-profit gifts.
  49. Accept Lego bricks as household necessities.
  50. Realize there’s no limiting the many ways you express your Geek Mom-ness.

Hot X: Algebra Exposed — Q&A With Danica McKellar

Danica McKellar is the author of a series of popular books focused on getting middle school-aged girls into math. This Q&A was supplied to GeekMom by Rebecca Zook.

What can parents do to support their daughters in math?
From a young age, point out how math is used in everyday life. So if you’re grocery shopping with your toddler, talk about the unit price for the meat you’re buying, and how you multiply that times the weight to get the total price. Add things up in the cart to estimate what you’ll be paying at the front. Or if you’re buying shoes, talk about what the 20% discount means. Show your daughters (and sons) that math is all around them. Get ‘em young if you can!

And whether you are a mother or father talking to your daughter or son, please heed this advice: If you didn’t like math in school or felt that you failed at it, please don’t share that with your kids. Math gets enough bad PR as it is for being “too hard” and your kids look up to you! Downplay your own negative feelings about math as much as you can; otherwise, you’re setting the bar low, and they’re likely to meet you there at some point in the near future.

What can parents do to help their kids when they’re struggling or frustrated with math?
Get them some help! Understandably, many parents are not familiar with the math their kids are doing – either because they weren’t “math-y” kids themselves, or the methods feel too different. So look for outside resources – of course I recommend my books for both students and parents wanting to brush up (see danicamckellar.com for pre-algebra and algebra books), but there are also good tutors to be found both online and through local tutoring centers (be prepared that you may have to kiss a few frogs before you find the right match for your kid…). The important thing is to get involved early, because math, more than any other subject, is cumulative and a small confusion today could lead to a major problem later – just like building a house on a rocky foundation. Not good!

Continue reading Hot X: Algebra Exposed — Q&A With Danica McKellar

Geek School: Smarter by Design

I’ve been a geek all my life, but I hated school. Until college, I learned more watching PBS and maxing out my youth library card every week than I ever did in a classroom. I’m worried that my son will have the same experience – he’s only four years old, but he already loves science at a fourth grade level.

And I’m a Geek Mom! Rather than sit back and try to make lemonade out of a lemon education system, I’m constantly on the hunt for smarter alternatives to the status quo. Where does one look for wise innovation? Humanitarian design, of course!

Project H Design believes that design can change the world, and I think they’re on to something. Using old tires, a sandbox and some chalk, they came up with an education tool that could make any classroom world-class. Their “Learning Landscape” was originally designed to make math education fun, but it’s dynamic enough to be applied as widely as language studies and civics, and it can be adapted to any grade level.

Take a look, and if you love it as much as kids do, put your local principals in touch with Project H Design. They’re currently seeking ten new ‘flagship’ schools where they can help fund and install Learning Landscapes.

Review: MathGirl Addition House iPhone App

There are many basic math apps out there, but most leave you wanting more. Doing math problem after math problem without levels to clear, goals to reach, or any extras to enjoy can get boring pretty quickly.

Enter MathGirlGames and their fantastic apps. The first in the series of their math games for girls was MathGirl Addition House, which I reviewed on GeekDad in August. It helps you learn to recognize number patterns quickly, and any child who knows how to count can play. The second, and newest, game in the series is called MathGirl Addition House. It takes the number pattern skills previously practiced and uses that as a basis for addition problems.

Addition House uses the same number patterns that you are used to seeing in Number Garden. You count the first number pattern shown and touch the applicable number. Then it gives you the second number and joins that number of flowers to the original pattern. You then touch the number of all of the flowers in the pattern together. The screen shows both the flowers—with each addend’s flowers being a different color—and the number sentence. Tap the final answer to complete the math problem. I like the animations of the flowers swooshing on to the screen. I find it easier to complete the addition problems while looking at the numbers than while looking at the flowers, but of course I’m not a new learner.

There are 15 levels to Addition House. They range from “Add to 5” all the way to “Speed Round to 99.” As with Number Garden, you have to unlock levels as you go, and can’t play a higher level until you have played the lower one at least once. If, while you’re playing a level, you need to pause, just tap the pause button.

For each problem you solve, you earn hearts. The faster you answer a question correctly, the more hearts you earn. Save up hearts to decorate your Addition House!

Once you’ve completed a level, you have the option to visit your Addition House. The more levels you play, the more items you unlock with which to decorate your house. Item prices vary, but they go up with the sophistication of the item. You can also sell back your items at half the purchase price. Some of the objects you can use to decorate include: house paint, doors, windows, roof colors, flowers, animals, a castle tower, and a mailbox. The house decorating, level unlocking, and heart earning keep kids playing the game.

If you have both Number Garden and Addition House, your world can be combined into one if you use the same profile name on each app. To do this, when viewing your Addition House, turn your iDevice to landscape mode, and scroll to the left. There you have the option to add your Number Garden. On subsequent plays, click “Update Your Garden” only if you’ve made changes to your garden in Number Garden. The view combining the garden and house is seamless. To get back to the controls, just turn the iDevice back to portrait mode.

Stay tuned, because a MathGirl Multiplication app is next!

MathGirl Addition House costs $1.99 in the iTunes store. It is a lot of fun for kids of a variety of ages, especially those that like to unlock levels and create and design their own world. While this is intended for girls, many boys will also enjoy it.

Note: I received a code with which to review this app.

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