Mathematician of the Month – Ramanujan

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The fact that Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar has a feature film on his life called The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan speaks volumes about the greatness of this Indian-born mathematician. The downside to his great intellect? He was so far ahead of his time and his work was so unorthodox, that even the most celebrated scholars of his times couldn’t really understand him! It is only now, more than 80 years after he passed away that we are beginning to comprehend his work and apply it to computing and complicated physics.

Thanks to the English mathematician G H Hardy, Ramanujan came to England. But he was known for certain quirks. For instance, he refused point blank to wear shoes or socks. People started referring to him as a nutcase as he was in the habit of lying face down in a cot while working on mathematical problems, and that too on a slate with chalk rather than using pen and paper. The most infuriating habit of all – especially to his fellow mathematicians – was that Ramanujan would rub out all his complicated workings with his elbow once he solved a mathematical problem and just leave behind the solutions on his slate! As a result of which mathematicians, even today, are still in the process of figuring out how exactly this mastermind worked them all out so correctly.

The most popular story about Ramanujan comes from a visit G H Hardy made to him when he was on his deathbed. Hardy didn’t know what to say to cheer him up, so he commented on the boring number of his taxi – 1729. Our genius, even in that ill state, was instantly inspired and sat up: “1729 is a fascinating number! It is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways!”

In his short yet extremely fruitful life, this mathematical prodigy rediscovered previously known theorems, produced new theorems of his own accord, independently compiled nearly 4000 results of identities and equations and made remarkable contributions to the fields of mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions.

G H Hardy summed it up perfectly when he said: “Here was a man who could work out modular equations and theorems to orders unheard of, and whose mastery of continued fraction was beyond that of any mathematician in the world.” Undoubtedly, he was one of a kind, the only one in his league.

What You Need to Know Before Homeschooling Your Child

Homeschooling is a great option for parents who want more control over their kids’ education. It’s a well-known fact that homeschooled kids do better in standardized achievement tests and get a first-class education, even as they have loads of fun. So if you think you have the time, temperament and resources to homeschool your child, here are three surefire ways you can make your project a success.

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homeschooling during advent” by Elena, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Educate Yourself

Before you embark on your educational project, you need to investigate your options and get the details sorted. Understand why you want to homeschool your child and what you hope to accomplish by it. Explore the best routes and resources available to homeschoolers and choose your curriculum. Research your state’s homeschooling requirements and get detailed information about homeschooling laws. The end of a school year is a good time to start your research if you’re planning to start by autumn. You can subscribe to homeschooling newsletters and magazines, read books, visit the library, talk to other homeschooling parents and/or join a homeschooling group.

Get the Tools

You may not be able to have everything that a regular school will have, but you can easily assimilate and use the basics. You need to have a computer with a high-speed internet connection along with textbooks and supplies. Additionally, you can subscribe to online learning websites that offer educational worksheets, activities and other printables for free or for a small membership fee. If possible, set up a small home chemistry lab with essential equipment like a microscope, glass tubing, tongs and clamps, distillation equipment, digital balances, etc. You can also establish a library with second hand books or get a library membership. Remember that your home is your child’s school so you will have to set it up like one.

Sign Them up for Extracurricular Activities

The best part of homeschooling is the flexibility you have when it comes to establishing a schedule for your little scholar. Use this to pique and develop his interest in a wide range of activities – music, dance, sports, field trips, art lessons, seminars, Boy or Girl Scouts, etc. Kids learn the importance of teamwork and responsibility when they get involved in structured activities outside the home. They also get to interact with their peers, develop social skills, build confidence and learn new skills that will stand them in good stead. Once they identify their areas of interest, they can pursue it further and maybe even take it up as a vocation.

Homeschooling is one of the fastest growing forms of education in America today. If you’re planning to homeschool your child, make sure you get off on the right foot!

How to Come up with a Great Science Fair Project Idea and What to do with It

For wannabe scientists, science fairs are great opportunities to get some hands-on experience with the process of scientific research. Small fairs can be loads of fun for scientifically-inclined kids, while the bigger ones come with generous university scholarship funding or internships for winners. Here’s how you can come up with a great science fair project idea and make the most of it.

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Choose a Good Science Fair Project Idea

  • A “good” science fair project idea is one that interests and challenges you. Never mind if it’s something completely new and untried – you will grow as a scientist only by delving into unexplored territories and learning more along the way. You are most likely to find you enjoy an area you might never have picked otherwise.
  • While a complicated-looking project does not guarantee success, topics that are too easy – “What types of glue are the strongest?” – are unlikely to impress the judges unless you are going to study the molecular structure of each type of glue. However, in most cases, a student who knows his topic well will win over a student with poor presentation skills.
  • No matter what topic you choose, make sure you focus on a specific aspect that can be completed within a year. For instance, instead of working on ways to reduce global warming, focus on reducing or mitigating one cause of global warming and you’re more likely to make progress in it.

Spend Time on Background Research

Once you choose your topic, you’ll need to spend sufficient time researching the background and collecting data. This data is the backbone of your science fair project – it is the basis on which you will be building your project and the importance of collecting and understanding this information cannot be emphasized enough.  Background research helps you formulate a hypothesis, create a streamlined procedure; maybe even avoid some of the problems that might crop up during your project and definitely help you save time in the end.  The more time you spend understanding your topic, the more accurately will you be able to predict what might happen.  It will also make it easier to analyze your results and arrive at a detailed conclusion. This is the real purpose of background research.

Do not be disheartened if your data seems to difficult to decipher – some concepts need to be reread several times before you can make sense of them – the best way is to start with what you do understand and work your way upwards. Do not let unknown concepts frighten you into giving up on the science fair project idea; one of the most important reasons for doing a science project is to learn new things.

Presentation Matters

You can maximize your chances of winning by learning how to communicate your science fair project idea well.

  • Prepare a short spiel (2-5 minutes) summarizing your key findings and the theory behind the project – you will have to give this speech when you meet the judges, so keep it short and succinct.
  • Make a list of questions the judges are likely to ask you and rehearse the answers. Ask your parents, siblings or friends to pretend they are judges and practice explaining your project in simple layman terms to them.
  • If possible, create easy-to-understand graphs and diagrams on your display board and point to them during the discussion.
  • Be audible and confident while answering questions – DO NOT MUMBLE! If you do not know the answer, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
  • Always ask for feedback from judges and visitors to improve your project and come up with a better idea next time.

Hope this helped!

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

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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

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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!

Before they grow up – Activities to enjoy today!

6-81142-14-1415057748Let’s face it – the parenting journey is chaotic to say the least. There are days when you’re dead on your feet and have to drag yourself in a slow zombie-like stupor. There are days when you have yelling matches with the kids because they want it their own way. There are days that come after long sleepless nights. There are pee stains on the bed, there are food stains all over the couch, there are crayon marks on your favorite purse, there are bald spots from where you have unconsciously pulled your hair out.

6-81134-7-1413244646And then there are days when you laugh so hard you feel like your lungs will burst, there are days when you smile from ear to ear at the sound of their giggle and their tiny footsteps running around the house, days when you wish you were as good a storyteller as they are. When you’re cuddling your little one as they are breathing softly in your arms you realize that you would have it no other way. Let’s face it – parenting is an amazing journey!

I love this phase of my life when the kids are still home and haven’t fled the nest yet. When we mark their heights on the wall, it’s a reminder of how quickly they grow and how deeply our time together needs to be savored. Enjoying your child in the ‘right now’ becomes a priority. Here are some simple things you can do with your little ones that don’t make you feel like you’re missing out on them.

Play their favorite game with them –

I’ve done everything from trying to beat their temple run scores to watching them raise virtual pets and playing MMOs where the whole family has raised dragons together, grown farms, built great architectural wonders, thrown down a block of Jenga bricks and played so many board games, I’ve lost track. There are adventures to be had online and offline. Bonding becomes deeper when you make the effort to be interested in something they love.

Hold hands and go for a walk –

My kids have a timeline of hands where they draw the outline of their own hand every month on a scrapbook and then compare it against the size of my hand. Their thrill at knowing they’re growing up and will soon be as big as mommy is astounding. They then insist on holding my hand and going for a walk, occasionally stopping to see if their hand has gotten any bigger. These memories are now safely stored away in a pensieve! :D

Get lost in a book together –

Speaking of pensieves (and I have play acted Harry Potter to them many times), pick any one of these kids’ books and practice your acting skills. One of my favorite memories of my dad is of him enacting the whole of Oliver’s Twist much to our delight – I can still picture the way he’d take a shirt lying around, turn it into a hat and pretend to be Fagin!

Have a Staring Contest –

Silly, simple, effective – don’t you just love making your kids laugh? Everytime I challenge them to a staring contest, they become serious. The urge to win drives them to play the game like it’s a matter of life and death. I use that as an opportunity to flare my nostrils, wiggle my ears, cross my eyes. As a bonus, go to the bathroom and practice making faces together in the mirror.

Dance, dance, dance –

Before school gets hectic, before they’re off doing their own thing with their friends, use as many opportunities as you can to dance. So what if you have two left feet? The kids love when we blast Macarena from the system and do our silly dance. I enjoy it more when they get to pick a song and they get to teach me their dance moves. The sillier the better!

STEM Apps for Kids

STEM education is seen as essential for kids as it gives them the foundation to explore a variety of careers. While these careers can be directly related to STEM, there are also those that require the skills one develops while learning these subjects. STEM subjects are Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These subjects train students in skills like problem solving and critical thinking. So it is not necessary that only students interested in becoming scientists and engineers should get acquainted with STEM. Even those who find these subjects dreary can rediscover the subjects in a whole new light with apps that deliver the concepts without taking the skills and fun out of them.

Dibble Dash: In penguin games like this one, kids can practice their math skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Math Bingo: Kids can test their math know-how with this game and play through three levels. Questions are related to addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Math AppsMathApps” by Kathy Cassidy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Science360: Older kids will benefit from the latest news, spectacular images and videos that are streamed on this app related to science and engineering.

Bridge Constructor: If building bridges is a passion, this app gives plenty of opportunities for that as it allows kids to choose materials and conduct stress tests.

Cat Physics: In this fun game, kids learn about underlying concepts of physicswhile the ball is passed from one cat to another, while simultaneously getting past obstacles.

New iphoneNew iPhone” by Johan Larsson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Aero: With this app, kids will learn about aerodynamics as they adjust the wings of an albatross to make it fly and simultaneously learn about flight techniques.

Monster Physics: Kids can have fun inventing. Another building app, this one lets you build planes and rockets, and once they are built, kids can operate them.

The Chemical Touch: In this exciting app, kids can learn about the periodic table and the chemical properties of elements.

Math GraffitiMath graffiti @ #SLA” by Chris Lehmann is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Spacecraft 3D: As the name suggests, the app helps kids understand space and learn about the earth and solar system.

Bobo Explores Light: Children can learn about scientific concepts like lasers, lightning and bioluminescence under the tutelage of a robot.

Curiosityjsc2013e065175” by NASA_JSC_Photo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When STEM is introduced to kids in an engaging way and they learn about the difference these concepts help make to the quality of life, they will become more receptive to learning and practicing these skills.

Science Games that Teach about the Five Senses

The five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing) help us discover, explore and understand the world around us. These senses also help us find food and identify and avoid dangers. For instance, the sense of hearing lets us communicate with others, identify sounds made by other species and avoid dangers in our environment. The sense of touch helps us find and identify objects. The senses of smell and taste enable us to find edible foods. When it’s time to show your child how their senses work, nothing does the job better than fun science games. There is a variety of online science games you can choose from or you could try these active games that your child will definitely enjoy.

Five SensesFive Senses” by Nicki Dugan Pogue, licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

Feel the Bag

Your fingers have nerve endings that are extremely sensitive – they can sense texture, shape, temperature, dryness, moisture, softness and hardness. Your fingertips help you learn a lot about your environment. Help your child understand how the sense of touch works with this easy science game.

You will need

  • Old purse / Cloth shopping bag / Pillow case
  • Assorted objects (pin, comb, fruit, notebook, toy, etc.)

How to play

  • Place all items in the bag and invite your child to feel it without opening it.
  • Encourage him to identify the contents and describe them by size, shape, texture and hardness.
  • Ask him how he can identify an object without seeing it.
  • Discuss how people who do not have the sense of sight can identify objects and even read books using the sense of touch.

Design a Telephone

Sound waves can travel through solids (walls), liquids (water) and gases (atmosphere.) Sound waves travel fastest through solids. This simple science game can help your child learn more about the sense of hearing.

You will need

  • 8 dry, clean plastic yogurt cups
  • Plastic wire
  • Copper wire
  • Yarn
  • Packing twine
  • Scissors

Instructions

  • Drill a small hole in the center of the bottom of each cup.
  • Cut four feet lengths out of the wires, twine and yarn.
  • Divide the kids into groups of two and hand out a yogurt cup to each pair.
  • Now let each pair choose a twine, yarn or one of the wires to create their telephones.
  • One end of the twine, yarn or wire must be inserted through the hole in the cup and knotted.
  • Once all the cups are connected, invite the kids to test which material is the best conductor of sound waves. They can do this by stretching the connectors and taking turns to listen/talk into their cups.

Make your own Storytelling Games!

storytelling

Storytelling, in its traditional sense, in an art that is being slowly forgotten. The great oral traditions of old have been replaced by movies and songs and even books. In the old days, travelling communities like the gypsies brought you news from towns you would never have visited – latest inventions, news about politics and the current state of affairs etc. Nowadays, everything is relayed the minute it is breaking and it is delivered to our fingertips. You don’t need an uncle visiting from Canada to know that there was x inches of snow this year. However, there is a forgotten charm to sitting around in a circle, sometimes around a fire, and narrating stories that have captivated your imagination.

In a bid to do so with my family, I’ve compiled a list of storytelling games that you could be your next pet DIY project.

Draw a Story –

If you have two or more people to entertain, start the activity by giving out art equipment and freedom to draw whatever they please. Once the activity is done, swap drawings and come up with a story for the image you have in hand. It’s a great way to keep your kids occupied for more than a few minutes and also a great way to exercise your imagination. An alternative version is to either collect previous artwork from your kids or draw more than one on cards and shuffle them up. The one rule would be that the story couldn’t be repeated more than once.

Once Upon a Time –

I found this idea at a beautiful blog called Blackboard and Brush and I don’t want to go on when Kim has done such a lovely job of it. Kim has described a lovely game that can be played during game night and can also be great lesson plan. In her words, “In this game I call ‘Once Upon a Time’, students become storytellers, not of someone else’s stories but of their own. Students will be presented with three sets of story sticks, the green sticks represent the place where their story will take place, the blue will be their main character(s) and the red (my personal favorite) will be the central problem of the plot or a problem their main character must endure or overcome” Don’t forget to click on the name of her blog for instructions.

Make it up –

You sometimes hear that the best songs, the best ideas – they come from last minute panic or from just winging it in an unforeseen situation. This is a game like it. I had my nieces and nephews apart from my own kids to take care of. I suddenly found myself in a situation where I had to babysit around 10 kids and wasn’t prepared to keep their attention. If you just leave them to play with whatever toy was lying around, you could almost guarantee there would be a fight. So I took an old laundry bag, stuffed it with toys and had the kids sit around in a circle. Like in scrabble, one kid would have to blind pick a toy and then make up a story that included that prop. The next kid who would pick up the next toy would continue the story and think of a way to include his or her toy in it. The game can go on for as long as you like.

Do you have similar games you have made up or ideas you have heard? Feel free to comment with your favorite games and camp hacks that bring out the inner storyteller in your child.

How to Plan Fun Holiday Activities for Kids

While the holidays are a welcome break from the school routine, it does leave kids with a lot of time. Activities for kids during holidays can serve a dual purpose – they can be fun and educational. These activities can also be made more interesting by introducing a holiday theme. Additionally, it helps kids stay in touch with their schoolwork during holidays so that they don’t have trouble getting back into it once they are back at school.

ButterfliesButterflies” by Cockburn Libraries is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I prefer using activities over worksheets as they give kids the sense of doing something and having fun. We usually plan our holidays ahead of time and I take the kids’ help in preparing a holiday plan. When we involve kids, they take more interest in the activities as they have helped select them. I try to have a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities, and squeeze in a short trip. The drive and place we head to offer opportunities for learning, whether the kids count the yellow cars en route, trek through a bioluminescent forest or collect shells on the beach.

ChannukahChanukkah Menorah” by atl10trader is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Museums and local cultural centers are a good source of information for child-centric activities. I also find that giving kids the space to do their own thing during the holidays is a good idea instead of filling the calendar with activities. My kids usually use this time to get out and play, bike around the neighborhood, read, or play on their favorite app.

Younger kids will enjoy coloring activities, simple crafts and games like sorting. I usually bring in elements from the holiday so that they can also learn something about the holiday. It could be a snowman in winter, a beach in summer, a menorah during Hanukkah or a shamrock for St. Patrick’s Day.

Treasure BoxTreasure box craft @ Spearwood Library” by Cockburn Libraries is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Even math and science activities can be presented to kids by adding a holiday spin to them. Ask kids to count the number of gelt during Hanukkah or grow clover as part of a science experiment. Making a paper snowflake during Christmas can be a demonstration in symmetry.

Food and holidays go hand-in-hand. I get my kids to help me make something special like a rainbow colored drink in summer or a little strawberry treat for Valentine’s Day. Kids also learn math skills like measuring and chemical reactions like fermentation when they don their chef’s apron  . I also find that it is easy to cover multiple skills like critical thinking and writing with a round of journaling every day.

Sand PaintingSand painting @ Spearwood Library” by Cockburn Libraries is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

To sum it up, here’s how you can plan fun, learning activities during holidays –

  • Plan ahead.
  • Let kids be part of the planning.
  • Incorporate elements of holidays into the
  • Use a mix of indoor and outdoor
  • Take a look at their curriculum and choose activities that are age-appropriate.
  • Look for opportunities to teach core subjects in creative or leisure activities like art, crafts, games, reading.

Grade-Specific Science Fair Project Ideas

My kids love to get their hands dirty when they learn, sometimes quite literally. This makes our home that much messier and livelier. With two kids in separate grades, discussions over what to work on can turn into a rough tumble of ideas.

Over the years, I have compiled a list of science fair project ideas that I have used and sorted them out grade-wise (kindergarten to third grade so far) so that we have an easier time finding the right project (or subject) based on my kids’ curriculum, interest and relevance.

1DSC01160” by Laurie Sullivan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Kindergarten – Projects can be nature-based. Science fair project ideas that kids can explore include the weather, plants and animals. Kids can grow plants to understand what a plant needs to grow. This could be in the form of growing a bean plant in cotton wool or grouping plants and studying their growth when they are exposed to sunlight and water, and when they are not. Other simple experiments include understanding the density of fluids (oil and water) and demonstrating displacement by dropping pebbles into a jar of water. Collecting different types of leaves and flowers to understand their structure, and sorting seeds from fruits and vegetables is something kids enjoy.

2Test site 3 & 4” by Dave is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

First Grade – Kids can move beyond curiosity and start learning to make and record observations. They can perform experiments with water to understand the states of matter (solid, gas and liquid). Other experiments can revolve around the five senses. Kids can interact with objects using only one of their senses and jot down observations. Other concepts that kids can learn include rain and cloud formations, the solar system, colors and surface tension.

Second Grade – When your kids get to the second grade, they can start experimenting with electricity and magnetism, animals and lifecycles, study anatomy, and learn more about the earth. Making a bird feeder to track bird species in the neighborhood is a popular project. Apart from continuing to collect data and making observations, kids can also start making models and presentations. Drawing the life cycles of insects and their anatomy, the most popular being a butterfly, is a good way to start. Observing mold to understand the effects of heat, humidity and other factors that cause mold is another easy to put together projects that second graders can work on.

3DSC00170” by Laurie Sullivan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Third Grade – By the time kids get to third grade, they should be able to observe, collect, conduct experiments, record observations and form hypothesis. Science fair project ideas that you can consider are motion and sound, electricity and magnetism, animal and plant life, the human body, and the earth and solar system. Children can study chemical reactions like rusting and making soaps. Third graders can try their hand at making sundials, volcanoes, model airplanes and even a simple electric circuit.

4Making Marbled Paper” by Topeka Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

These are just a few of the science fair project ideas I have tried with my kids. It helps to talk to their science teacher, figure out the subjects that they will be studying, the extent to which they can explore a subject and grasp a concept, and their own interest before zeroing in on an idea.