MathNook

A blog about MathNook, math, math games, and more.
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STEM Teachers in a Box

July9

How many science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) teachers do you think enter the US workforce every year? A few hundred thousand? Surely, at least fifty thousand, right? Try again. Since 2004, both the present Democratic administration and its Republican predecessor have begged Congress to enact into law a plan to graduate a measly 10,000 new highly-qualified (more on that term in a future posting), jolted me out of my chair when I read it; the US actually falls short of even that modest goal. The persistence of the 10,000-a-year goal for STEM educators demonstrates how hard it will be to develop even this human resource.

On the other hand, games like Worlds of Warcraft reach millions of new users every year (in the case of WoW, four million in 2012, according to www.statista.com ), and Food Force, the food security simulator from the UN got played a million times in its first six months after launch. Who does the student listen to more, the poor algebra teacher (who might not have as much as a math minor in college), or the flashing, blaring, addictive video game (see last week’s post on “Addicted to Math?”). Many people are lining up on the side of the video game here, noting the smashing success of Khan Academy and the “flipped classroom” model – homework in class, lectures at home from Khan.

What about effectiveness? Surely, the personal touch does better than the Max Headroom approach. Well, maybe not. A far more complex game than we offer (yet!) at www.mathnook.com, DimensionM, recently received a peer-reviewed grade by a major UK journal. The gamers showed a lasting boost in algebra skills and yes, in interest. Interest in math! Even math teachers report that their worst day of the year is that dreaded “What do you like or dislike most about math?” day. That’s the day when students get to kill their math teachers, lumping them in the category of oral surgeons at the dental clinic. Just the very possibility that electronics might dissolve the emotional barrier against STEM learning has us tickled and giggling (for a counteropinion, albeit earlier than the Dimension M paper, click through to this paper which thinks math games are a mixed lot).

Another research paper raises a more pithy question: “How can learning design maintain a sense of the wonder and joy of learning, minimize math anxiety, and improve performance on standardized tests?” No, really. They wrote that last clause, not us. The point is that we have to find ways to teach that fit the brain’s natural way of learning, which means that “development of left-brain skills that depend on sequential action and thought (reading, writing and arithmetic) must be complemented by development of the holistic, creative processes by means of right-brained activities such as visual support, story-telling, and role playing.” This includes dealing with the emotional component of learning, too. There is a negative feedback loop between seeking behavior and fear, anger, and panic. Seeking behavior is reinforced by play and attention, creating a positive feedback loop with more seeking as the result.

READERS RESPOND: What are the STEM fields if not the epitome of seeking? If you find this question pithy enough, visit us and let us know.

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What are the Best Ways to Increase Intelligence?

May13

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While some individuals may be born with a naturally elevated intellectual capacity, intelligence is not necessarily solely an innate trait. Most smart minds develop overtime through proper care, exercise, and routine maintenance. Though schooling absolutely enhances cognition, going to school is not the only means by which one can strengthen mind function. Are you interested in heightening your intelligence? Here are a few of the best ways to increase mental capacity.

 

Meditation: Meditation calms the mind, while also, as research shows, changes the structure of the brain, increasing memory capacity, and improving focus and attention span. Meditative practices can vary person to person, but focusing on the breath is a great way for mediators to begin moving into their practice. Overtime, regular daily mediation can teach your mind how to work for efficiently, thereby increasing your mental speed and capacity for varied thought.

 

Get Healthy: Daily exercise and proper diet benefit both body and mind. The physical condition of the body directly affects cognition. If the body is in poor shape, the blood stream heavily populated with toxins from poor diet or low exercise levels, it becomes more difficult for oxygen to reach the brain, siphoning off vital fuel, thereby decreasing mental functioning. Incorporating a regular exercise regimen into your daily life, and maintaining a healthy and organic based diet can help your keep your body, your mind’s home and feeding ground, in its best possible condition for proper mental function and intellectual growth.

 

Sleep: Regular sleep is a vital variable in the equation for a well-running mind. Researchers actually surmise that during sleep, the unconscious mind files and organizes thoughts from the prior day, readying the mind for what lies in store for the future. Brains without regular sleep suffer from memory impairment, decreased motor skill function, and weakened focus. Lack of sleep can also increase anxiety levels. To give your brain its best shot at expanded intelligence, be sure to get at least eight hours of sleep nightly.

 

Brain Exercise: As all body parts need regular exercising and strengthening to maintain proper functioning levels, so too does the brain. Exercising your brain can be as simple as alternating your teeth brushing hand, or driving a different way to work. Doing math exercises or playing games like Sudoku are also great ways to keep your brain in shape for extended cognitive capacity and increased function.

 

Are you interested in exercising your brain? Math Nook offers fun and educational math computer games to work out your brain and increase intellectual capacity.

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Why Does Your Child Struggle with Math?

April29

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For some children, math class is the most daunting forty-five minutes of their day. Whether they are learning algebra, geometry, or calculus, some children really struggle in this particular educational subject due to a variety of reasons. From inadequate teaching methods to unfair overcompensations, here are some reasons why your child may be struggling with math.

Memorization: Do you remember memorizing information for a test? Do you also remember forgetting all those valuable facts right after that test? When math teachers teach through memorization, mathematic information often holds residency in the short-term memory temporarily, and then slowly exits, never making much of an indent in a child’s long-term memory.

Furthermore, encouraging kids to simply memorize their times tables or other algebraic equation results in rote learning, inapplicable to varied situations. As adults, we know that math affects our real lives in very different ways than how we learn its skills in school. Learning math by rote makes it nearly impossible to apply these skills beyond the set number of memorized equations. If teachers, instead, take the time to teach children how addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division work, why these tools work in these ways, and who to quickly perform these operations in a variety of different ways, children’s math skills not only improve, but they become more applicable later in life, exponentially increasing cognitive development.

Teaching to the Test: Standardized tests have negatively affected teachers’ ability to tailor lesson to their individual student needs. Instead, schooling systems measure teacher success by good standardized test scores, rewarded in continued school funding. However, the lessons on these tests are often just more memorization tricks rather than true exercises in understand critical thinking principles. This skewed system values school funding over children’s education needs, ultimately harming our children.

Tutoring: Instead of fixing the flaws in our educational system’s math classes, parents are compensating for these flaws by hiring their children tutors. While this can be helpful for those children whose families can afford tutoring, unfortunately not all families can. Thus, education becomes for those who can afford it, rather than for all. If parents instead put this money into improved schools rather than extra tutoring , more children could benefit.

Are you looking for fun ways to teach math to your child? Math Nook offers a wide variety of awesome math computer games and worksheets to teach our children the mathematics they need for later in life.

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How Do I Help My Children with Their Homework

October28

School is back in session and that means, for a lot of parents, headaches are already starting as children are coming home, dragging in their book-bags, and complaining of too much homework.  Everyone wants their children to succeed in school, but many are lost as to how to actually do this.  Here are some guidelines on how to help you guide your child through the homework process so that they can be a successful Parent Helping Child with Mathstudent.

  • First and foremost, you must get your child on a schedule.  The rule of thumb is that elementary school children can expect 20 to 40 minutes of homework a night while students in middle and high school can expect up to two hours.  So plan for this.  Buy a calendar and schedule in the homework around all of the other activities that your child might have like karate, ballet, baseball, and church.  If your child has a favorite TV show that comes on a certain time each day, put this in to their schedule.  Just like work, fun time needs to be regimented so that they don’t feel like they never have any opportunity to relax.  But once you have established the schedule, it is imperative that you stick to it.
  • A child also needs a place to study.  If you have a family room or den, set aside a desk or table just as a homework area.  This should be a quiet place to work, read, and study, that is also well-lit.  Remove distractions like television and also keep the area as low-traffic  as possible.  Younger siblings with no homework should not be playing in the area and causing distractions.
  • Keep the study area well-stocked with resources.  If your child needs pens, pencils, paper, crayons, scissors, glue and the like for their school work, then chances are you need to keep these on hand at home for their homework.  In addition, you should also keep reference materials, including an internet connected computer if possible, on hand for the child to use if needed.
  • Organization doesn’t just happen at home.  Many schools are now providing children with agendas to write down their homework assignments daily.  In fact, several school systems require parents to initial these agendas daily as a monitoring check of the homework.  If your child’s school doesn’t provide an agenda, buy them one.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate.  Just a small spiral notebook will suffice.  But make sure that they are writing down their assignments each and every day so that they are staying on top of their work.
  • Don’t listen if your child says that they don’t have any homework.  I know, we all remember how great it was to not have any homework and I’m not saying that a child should never have a night off.  But if your child doesn’t have any homework, this would be the perfect time to review with them.  Go over spelling or vocabulary words.  Break out the flashcards and just drill for five or ten minutes over addition or multiplication.  Or give them time to go online and play educational games at websites like Math Nook or Spelling City.
  • Look over your child’s homework.  Once finished, have your child pass everything off to you and look it over to see that it is done completely and correctly.  This will not only help with completion and accuracy, but it will also show your child that you are legitimately interested in his or her success.
  •  Set the tone in your household.  Whenever you can, turn off the television and sit down with a book.  Let your child see that you value education and knowledge.  Even if you hated a subject like math, don’t ever admit to that or call a subject “boring” because your children will pick up on that mentality.

If you do all of these things, there is no guarantee that your child will graduate as class valedictorian.  But you will see a marked increase in his or her grades and a significant improvement in attitude toward learning.  Remember, you are ultimately your child’s first teacher and you need to help them in this regard.

 

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Helping Girls Overcome the Math Stereotype

October24

Anyone who has watched education closely over the last decade is quite familiar with the term STEM.  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) are collectively the four branches which the government is currently putting special emphasis on because of our alarmingly low test scores in these areas.  Along with this special emphasis is also a lot of money, with federal budgets being increased specifically for these Girls and Mathdepartments.  However, one problem that many people are noting about these fields is that they are grossly underrepresented by women.  Traditionally, boys are pushed into math and science related jobs while girls are often pushed into the “softer, more emotional” humanities.  This cultural stereotype has even been reinforced by something as seemingly innocuous as our children’s toys, most famously with the “Math Is Hard” Barbie that eventually led to a recall and apology from Mattel.

So how do you encourage your daughter to succeed in this competitive, mathematical world when the deck seems to be stacked against her?  While we cannot change centuries of stereotypes and cultural conditioning, here are some tips for helping your child move forward in this field.

  • First off, mothers need to be positive role models for their daughters.  This goes for every area of life, obviously.  But with math, you may have to “fudge the facts” just a little.  If you hated math in school and were never very good at it, or if you always thought fractions were boring, don’t pass this on to your child.  Tell them that you struggled with it, but try to place this in a positive context.  You don’t want your child to hear you say that “math is boring” because then she will pick this up and start to feel that way too.
  • For younger children, give them hands-on opportunities to experience math.  Let them help you with balancing the family checkbook.  Have them help out in the kitchen and emphasize how measurements are an important part of math.  Let them give the money to the cashier at the store and then figure up the correct change they should receive back.  All of this will help create bonding opportunities for you with your child and also give valuable practical math lessons to them.
  • If your daughter is assigned a biography or research project, why not suggest that they look into famous women mathematicians?  Instead of the tried and true historical figures that dot every school research paper, encourage your daughter to find out more about Sofia Kovalevskaya, Hypatia of Alexandria, or Ingrid Daubechies.  Seeing that women have been able to accomplish a lot in the field of math throughout history will go a long way towards encouraging your daughter that she can be one of these pioneers some day.
  • Make sure to emphasize that math is fun.  Bookmark websites like Math Nook which makes mathematics into games which children of either gender will appreciate and find fun.  This will help do away with the “math is boring” stereotype that plagues so many children.
  • Take your daughter on your own field trip.  Call around to local engineering firms and universities to see if there are any female members of the staff who would be willing to meet with your daughter and allow her to shadow them for a day.  Many of these women are well aware of the anti-math stereotype among girls and will be happy to do what they can to help shatter this myth.
  • Usually, elementary age girls love math.  It isn’t until middle and high school that the anti-math mentality starts to set in.  To combat this, consider buying the math book series written by Danica McKellar, the actress best known for playing Winnie on The Wonder Years.  Winnie is all grown up with a degree in mathematics and she is the writer behind Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math and not Break a Nail.  This book, along with others in the series, is designed like popular magazines geared for teen girls and use things they can relate to like make-up, recipes, and relationships to explain complex ideas like fractions and decimals.
  • Ask your child’s math teacher for a list of the topics that she will be covering this year.  That way, you can help show an interest by knowing exactly what they will be discussing and learning about as the school term progresses.

Again, it is impossible for even the most caring parent to change centuries of stereotyping.  But by showing an interest, you can personally help your child break through the barrier and learn to love math.

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This is a blog about Math Nook, math games, math and other fun and educational subjects.
Math Nook is owned by Jan and Tommy Hall.

Jan is retired from education where she spent 30 years in various positions ranging from classroom teacher to math specialist. She now spends her time working on the website and raising MathPup.

Tommy works full time but spends his free time utilizing his math degree and love of games to create some of the math games found on the website.