Mathematician of the Month – Napier

Logarithm 1Well, what is this ‘log-in-a-rhythm’ up to? And what does this have to do with our celebrated Scottish mathematician of the month – John Napier? A lot, actually. It is this Mr. John Napier who is credited with making an incredible contribution to the field of mathematics, in the form of the invention of the mathematical concept of ‘logarithm’.

John Napier

A logarithm can be defined thus: It is a quantity representing the power to which a fixed number (the base) must be raised to produce a given number.

Didn’t get it? Well, in simpler terms, it is a method by which relatively complicated mathematical calculations involving multiplication and division can be replaced by the simpler mathematical processes of addition and subtraction to arrive at the required result. This process of simplification of large calculations paved the way ahead for many scientists of yesteryears (and is even helping them now!), leading to significant advancements in the fields of science and technology.

As with a majority of the other eminent scientists and mathematicians, Mr. Napier also led a crazy smart life of sorts. He was seen as a virtual recluse – roaming around in his nightclothes according to his whims and fancies, muttering all the while to himself. For some reason unknown to the world, he always carried around a black spider in a small box kept in his pocket.

Legend has it that once upon a time Napier suspected that one of his servants had started stealing from the estate. In order to nab the culprit, he devised a clever plan – a black rooster (that, on a brainwave from Napier, was brushed with black soot), which allegedly was blessed with the power of divination, was kept inside a shed. Each of the servants was asked to go inside and touch the rooster in question, which would eventually come up with the name of the thief. The servants did so; and as expected, one of the fellows that went in came out clean-handed and was rightly proclaimed the thief!

It is said that Napier considered the subject of mathematics more like a hobby; he enjoyed it immensely (It fails me how anyone can enjoy maths and my kids take after me – I have to put in a huge amount of effort just to get them to do their math worksheets… Phew!). . The first time he set foot in a school was at the age of 13 years. But soon he dropped out and not much of his life is known till at the age of 21 years, he bought his own castle in Scotland (aaah, if only wishes were horses, beggars – like me – would ride!). Today, it is a part of the prestigious Edinburgh Napier University.

Theorems in spherical trigonometry (maths that deals with the relations of the sides and angles of triangles), Napier’s bones (a multiplication tool using a set of numbered rods) and extensive books on logarithms are just some of his contributions to astronomy and dynamics, in addition to other areas of physics. Hats off, Mr. Napier!

DIY Reading Games for the Classroom as well as Home

Kids are never tired! They are always looking for new opportunities, new tricks, and new mischief! Why don’t you channelize the bundles of energy with these reading games that are fun, exciting, and challenging too?

Phonics Flip Book

Image 1

When children start learning their letters, the sounds that they make, and they themselves start blending the sounds, it’s time you made a phonics flip book for them. Follow the easy steps below to come up with this nifty tool.

Supplies:

  • Spiral bound index card book
  • A pair of scissors/paper knife
  • Tape
  • Marker/s

It’s ideal to divide the flip chart into three sections for three letter words but you can go ahead by splitting it into four sections to help early readers with their consonant blends.

Cut out the number of sections you want with a sharp paper knife and label each index card with a letter from a-z. You can also add a section for vowels in the center or for common consonant blends like fr, sc, sl, etc. if you’re making the flip book for a little older children.

The objective of a phonics flip chart is not to spell out words impeccably but be able to sound them out perfectly. So if you r child makes a word from the flip book such as ‘SL-I-N’, don’t discourage them, instead appreciate their effort to sound out the imperfect word! Consider blinking the lights when your child sounds out a real word!

Tape the perforations to ensure the flip book lives for long!

Leftover Plastic Easter Egg Cups

Image 2

What do you do with leftover Easter egg plastic cups? Here is a novel way of putting them into good use.

Supplies:

  • Plastic Easter eggs (one for each word family)
  • Permanent marker
  • Baking pan
  • Sand

Before you begin prepping for the game, have the kids count the number of Easter egg cups you’ve got in hand; it’s never boring to sneak in a little counting lesson, you see!

Write a word family on the pointy side of the egg cup like, am, in, ed, at, etc. On the other side, write letters, spaced out from one another, that will make both a perfect and an imperfect word when connected with the word family.

Now comes the fun part! Spread a thin layer of sand on the baking pan; the layer should be thin enough to allow finger-writing on it.

Hand over an egg cup to the child and have her make a word from it. If she makes a perfect word, she gets to write that word on the pan of sand! Isn’t that exciting!

Science Games to Teach Environmental Awareness

When you think science games, it is often physics games that come to mind. After all, any game that is built with a physics engine serves as a great physics game. They’re fun to play, and they help students understand concepts such as acceleration and conservation of energy. Angry Birds and Portal are great examples of fun games that are used to teach physics to students.

However, science games are about a lot more than physics. There are great science games that teach nearly every science topic, from how the body fights cancer to how pollution forms in the environment. That’s right, you can teach your child to look after nature without even sending them outdoors. Here are three great science games to teach environmental awareness to kids.

Sim City Zoningsim city 4 Zoning and Roads” by haljackey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  1. SimCity EDU: Pollution Challenge

In this game, kids take on the role of a mayor along with all the city-planning and decision-making that comes with the position. The focus is on keeping pollution levels to a minimum while also ensuring that all other aspects of city life function smoothly. While SimCity may not be a science game, kids who play it come to realize how various factors contribute to the pollution level of a city. They understand how pollution-control measures can be put to effect in a practical way to reduce negative impact on the population. This game is a great way to take environmental issues out of textbooks and show kids how they affect everyday life. Playing this game is likely to make kids more conscious about how simple decisions can make a difference to the health of the environment.

  1. Citizen Science

This science game was conceptualized by Kurt Squire when he realized that there were lakes in downtown Madison that people couldn’t swim in. In Citizen Science, players try to find out why the local lake is so polluted by traveling through time and collecting evidence. They meet various characters responsible for the pollution of the lake and build strong arguments to convince them to change their behaviour. They use various scientific tools to conduct research about the pollution in the lake, and learn a great deal about lake ecosystems. They also understand the long-term effects of pollution on the environment. Eventually players must change the course of history and prevent the lake from becoming as polluted as it was before the quest.

  1. Web Earth Online

This is a great science game that lets kids understand what life is like for animals living in the wild. Players choose what animal they would like to play as, and then go about their life trying to survive in the natural environment. They must deal with natural climatic conditions as well as the threat posed by predators. Web Earth Online is a multiplayer game – players interact with each other as friends or foes depending on which species they belong to. Players are sensitized to the struggles faced by animals and are likely to be more thoughtful towards animals in real life after playing this game.

Mathematician of the Month – Babbage

6796089

To the humble PC that is displaying this text as I type it, Charles Babbage is its father. A British mathematician and engineer, Charles ‘Father of Computers’ Babbage was very picky about his Math. In fact, he even wrote to Lord Tennyson (apparently some sort of famous poet) and asked him to correct the lines of his poem ‘Every minute dies a man, Every minute one is born’ to ‘Every minute one and a sixth is born’. Of course, he was refused.

Having come into a lot of riches courtesy his dad, he spent all his money inventing rather exciting gadgets including the speedometer and the cowcatcher, which kept cows with wander lust off the railway track. Indubitably, his greatest invention was the calculator. The first one he ever invented was called the ‘Difference Engine’.

The British Government, sold on the idea of this Difference Engine, gave him £1 million so he could build it. After 11 years of trying and trying, Babbage gave it up for a better idea. Furious that their money was wasted, the government refused to give him any more. Not to be deterred, he continued on as before because, well, he was rich!

The Difference Engine version 2.0 was going to be bigger and better. It could do more than just add and subtract. It would be able to do multiplication, division and also printing. Babbage envisioned that the new machine would use similar technology to that of carpet making looms. Unfortunately, he died before the machine could be built.

In 1890, an American guy by the name of Herman used Babbage’s ideas to build a much simpler machine. If his name sounds familiar, it is because he went on to found International Business machines aka IBM. However, it wasn’t till 1944 that the machine of Babbage’s dream was built. The first calculate needed 10sqms to house it and it weighed 30 tons! The Science Museum in London built a model of the original Difference Engine in 1992. That one was only 2 meters high and over 3 meters long. Can you imagine what owing a computer those days would look like? Yikes!

Sound of Language

Teaching phonetics and the right pronunciation is important in English language classes because English is a non-phonetic language. Words are not written the way they sound. Pronunciation also differs based on whether the words are nouns, verbs or adjectives. Think ‘photographer’, ‘photography’ and ‘photographic’ where the stress on syllables varies. Learning to pronounce words correctly and understanding the different ways in which words are pronounced can help kids communicate better. While children practice phonemes in an early age, it need not stop at that.

You can teach your child pronunciation with English games and various other methods. Here are a couple of ways that will help children learn this aspect of the language.

Phonetic Symbols

Create a board with your child with different phonetic symbols that are commonly used in dictionaries. These symbols represent the various sounds. Knowing these symbols will make it easy for kids when they are learning vocabulary and will help them to simultaneously pick up the right way to pronounce these new words. You can also refer to the International Phonetic Association Symbols.

Dictionary Focusdictionary focus” by Chris Dlugosz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Television

This is an old classic when it comes to teaching the correct pronunciation. Kids can learn standard pronunciation followed by any country by following the local news channel. These are free from local dialect and will train children to pick up different sounds and intonation.

Movies

Movies are a great way to train children in listening to different accents and understanding them easily. To make it more interesting, ask children to try and emulate the accents so that they become more aware of how the way they shape words changes. They can also try delivering the same dialogue using different emotions to see how it affects the way words are sounded.

Mime ArtistMime Artist” by Paul Hudson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tongue Twisters

Remember the scene from My Fair Lady where Professor Higgins works on improving Eliza Doolittle’s pronunciation with tongue twisters? Tongue twisters are an effective way to improve pronunciation and fluency. Kids enjoy tongue twisters and you can ask them to start slow by paying attention to the way each word is pronounced and once they get that right, they can increase the speed.

Here are a few tongue twisters that you can try –

“She sells seashells by the seashore.”

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

My Fair LadyMy Fair Lady poster, 1964” by Laura Loveday is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Betty Botter bought some butter but she said this butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter will surely make my batter b etter. So she bought a bit of butter better than her bitter butter and she put it in her batter and her batter was not bitter. So t’was better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.”

Apart from these, you can include exercises where kids have to read along with a recorded tape and try to match it as best as they can. You could silently say a word and looking at the shape of your mouth, kids have to figure out the word. These exercises will help your child become more comfortable with the sounds of the English language.

Easy Science Experiments for Primary School Students

Science experiments are the most fun when they are easy, require minimal adult assistance, and can be done without many supplies. Check out the following easy science experiments that may leave you stunned with their outcomes.

What makes a great penny cleaner?

Shiny PennyImage Source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/4566262271/

We’ve most often heard taco sauce makes a great cleaning agent for old pennies. Is that true? Let’s find out what makes the bets penny cleaner.

Process

  • Place three coins on three plates.
  • Cover each penny with each of these mixtures: tomato paste + vinegar, salt + vinegar, and tomato paste + salt. Let the mix sit on the coins for five minutes.
  • Rinse the pennies under running water and you can find out who’s the clear winner! Is it the mix of vinegar and salt?

How hard and sturdy are egg shells?

Egg ShellsImage Source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/phuthinhco/7787472496/

We’ve often observed egg shells cracking even when touched lightly. Conduct this easy science experiment to find out how fragile or hard egg shells really are.

Process

  • Spread a sheet of plastic before doing the experiment because it may turn messy; a couple of eggs are bound to crack!
  • Place two cartons of eggs next to each other. Make sure all the eggs are kept round side up (not the pointy side up) and there are no breaks or fractures in any of the eggshells. Replace the defective ones before you begin the experiment.
  • Remove your socks and shoes. Hold on to a friend and try to step up onto the first carton of eggs with a foot. The trick is to make your foot as flat as possible so that your weight is evenly distributed across the tops of the eggs.
  • When you’ve positioned your foot well, try to shift all your weight on the egg-leg and slowly bring on your other foot on the other carton of eggs. Don’t fret if you hear cracking sounds from the egg cartons. Instead concentrate on balancing on the cartons.
  • So aren’t egg shells stronger than we imagine?

What happens when vinegar and baking soda mix?

Apple Cider VinegarImage Source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/16360770737/

Vinegar and baking soda are two commonly used ingredients in the kitchen. What happens when the two are mixed? Let’s find out.

Process

  • Fill up a bottle till half with vinegar.
  • Fold two tablespoons of baking soda in a tissue paper and dump it into the bottle. They key is to put all the baking soda together into the vinegar at a time. You can explore the idea of using a funnel to pour the baking soda too into the vinegar.
  • Stand back and watch what happens! Do you notice an erupting volcano? Baking soda and vinegar, two very easily available ingredients, reacted to form the volcano.

Science Backed Reasons to Get Out and Stay Out

slide_6

I have waxed ad nauseum about all the reasons why PLAY is so essential to your children. I don’t just mean the power of playing games on your phone or playing with Lego. I mean the actual physical act of going outside and letting the wind run through your hair. I know a friend who went to teach English abroad and how she was so shocked to see how the emphasis of education is only on the pure sciences and play time was seen as a waste of time. While play time gives you great life skills, there are a few scientific benefits to it that will make anyone change their mind about going out and playing. Apart from better physical fitness and co-ordination, here is a list of just a few of these great benefits.

Enhanced Resistance to Disease –

This New York Times article has mentioned the evolutionary reasons for kids putting dirt in their mouths or just a natural attraction for soaking their feet in sand. The otherwise “gross” things in the outdoors help improve your immunity.

Better Vision –

This study from the Ohio State University College of Optometry says that 14 hours of natural light every week promotes better vision.

Less Stress –

There have been over a 100 research studies on the role of play in reducing stress and the connection between physical activity and positive psychological responses to them.

More Vitamin D –

While there are food supplements that help you with this, there isn’t enough of this nutrient that can be derived from edibles. 80-90% of our vitamin D source is the sun. No points for guessing what happens if you’re indoors all the time.

Improved Attention Spans –

There are studies done by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that has suggested that even kids with ADHD show reduced symptoms due to outdoor activities. Some studies have shown that your attention span can improve by at least 20% by spending just an hour in nature.