Learning Journal: Tues., Nov 5 – Sat., Nov. 9


Researching Foxes

Because James was sick, and for other reasons, we didn’t accomplish most of what we’d planned. Here’s a run-down of learning moments I’ve observed or facilitated in the last five days.

Math: Personal Economics: Nothing motivates a person to use math like receiving money. Since I took on a third job, in addition to being a writing teacher and homeschooling maven, we’re beginning to bring in a little bit more income and the teens are taking on more household responsibilities, particularly in terms of general cleaning and “babysitting” Trisha. Trisha is taking on a bit more responsibility too.

I decided that instead of going back to the system of “allowances,” that in return for helping me earn extra income, each of them would get a percentage of my income from the extra job. I recently earned some back pay. I wrote the amount of my check on 3 separate cards and gave one to each of the kids, challenging them to calculate their shares: 2% for Sarah, 2% for James, and 1% for Trisha.

Everyone tackled the problem, and none of them asked for calculators. James readily solved the problem on his own. Sarah seemed to understand the concept, but she needed help to solve the problem due to computation errors and — I suspect — her difficulties with executive functioning/multi-step processing.

Trisha wanted to solve the problem on her own but didn’t know how, because percentages are basically new to her. I helped her figure it out by telling her that 1% is 1 cent on every dollar. I guided her to work out, step by step, what 1% of my paycheck would be: 1% of $1000 is $10, 1% of $500 is $5, and so forth. Then she added up these amounts and multiplied by 2 to calculate her 2% of the paycheck. The thing that impressed me most was that Trisha seemed to enjoy being given this challenge and didn’t get too frustrated. (Math: Fractions, Decimals & Percentages; Life Skills)

“Doing School” With Trisha: Our standard method of “doing school” is to gather a bunch of games, books and other activities that strike our fancy then learn and play together until one of us loses interest.

  • We played a game she likes in which I draw a picture, step by step, without telling her what I’m drawing. I refer to one of those step by step “How to Draw …” books. She imitates what I do, creating her own picture while she tries to guess what I’m drawing.  (Art)
  • She, Sarah, and I played lots of Jenga.
  • I helped her do some internet research on the various species of foxes, and we started making a lapbook. (Biology; Internet Technology)

Elementary Math With Dice & Dominoes: Trisha has reached a point where she wants to be challenged more in math, and she is interested in using curricula. So I’ve started playing more math games with her to figure out what “level” she’s reached for curriculum purposes.

While we were playing the games described below, we reviewed double-digit addition with regrouping, with which he has a little bit of experience. I am convinced that she understands place value well, and I have avoided teaching her algorithms — I prefer to watch how she tackles a problem on her own first.

At one point, she devised her own method of addition, shown below. Mental math techniques like this are sometimes taught in textbooks, in a visual, intuitive way, but I prefer to let kids invent their own mental math techniques. I am not very concerned about learning computation for its own sake. After all, we live in an era in which I can buy a calculator for the price of a cup of coffee. I am interested in the development of problem solving skills and number sense.


I also showed Trisha a variation of the traditional algorithm I was taught in school. I think this approach is more intuitive that “borrowing” and “carrying” from one column to another.


  • Trisha, Sarah, and I played PIG, a dice game commonly used to teach probability concepts. On her turn, a player rolls 1, 2, 3 or 4 dice. She can roll whichever number of dice she chooses as many times as she likes. She adds the numbers on her dice, and she earns that number of points. The catch is, with each roll, she risks rolling 1’s. If she rolls one 1, her turn stops, and she loses all the points she’s accumulated so far during that round. If she rolls two 1s, she loses all the points she’s earned throughout the game. The first player to reach 100 points wins. Trisha practiced two-digit addition by adding everyone’s scores. She insisted that Leah, our lab/pit bull mix, play a few rounds of PIG. 🙂 The dog actually won one round. (Math: Strategic Thinking; Addition of up to Four Single-Digit Numbers; Double-Digit Addition with Regrouping)


  • We also played a variation of dominoes, using a Double 12 Domino Set, to practice addition. It’s played like the standard version, except after laying down a tile, a player adds the number of pips on her domino to the number of pips on the domino she connected to and claims that number of points. For example, the play below is worth 24 points. Trisha practiced double-digit addition by keeping score.  (Math: Strategic Thinking; Addition of up to Four Single-Digit Numbers; Double-Digit Addition with Regrouping)


One of the things I love about learning through games like this, instead of worksheets — especially with a kid named Trisha who “thinks out loud” — is that you can watch *how* the student solves the problem. That’s often the most interesting part. I noticed that she approached a problem like this by doubling first then adding sequentially (two 5s is 10 … plus 11 is 21 … plus 3 is 24)

The Miracle Worker


Local Production of The Miracle Worker

The girls and I watched a local production of The Miracle Worker, which included a terrific performance by one of Trisha’s friends, who played the role of Helen. Later, we watched the movie together. (Theater; Film Studies; History)

Other: James did several assignments I gave him, including continuing with Arithmetic/Pre-Algebra on Khan Academy, working on Rosetta Stone German, and completing a composition assignment emphasizing descriptive writing. He spent a lot of time watching science videos on VSauce. (Pre-Algebra; German; English: Writing: Science)

He also played Battlefield IV, Minecraft, and G Mod. (Internet Technology; Strategic Thinking)

Sarah worked on a screenplay. (English: Writing & Film Studies)


Trisha and I have been watching Season 7.2 of Doctor Who. The teens, The Hubby, and I are watching Season 3 of The Walking Dead, and we’ve talked a bit about societal decay and moral deterioration during an apocalyptic situation. The whole family has been watching Once Upon a Time. I was surprised that Trisha wasn’t familiar with the story of Rumpelstiltskin — I need to add that to our reading list. 🙂


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