Mathematician of the Month – Ramanujan

Image

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.

3 Reading Games for the Elementary Classroom

I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like to play, so it makes sense to use games as learning tools in the classroom. That’s what I did back in those years when I wanted my first graders to learn and polish their reading skills; I introduced some fun and interactive reading games that helped motivate them to become better readers. These games can be used along with online reading games for a balanced reading experience. Feel free to check them out!

9610012698_84910f7432_z-1SAD_Amidon 70” by US Department of Education, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Guess the Word

Skills taught – Word recognition and sequencing

How to Play

  • Identify a “secret” word from a random chapter or story.
  • Write that word on a piece of paper.
  • Give your students a hint of the word’s location in the book; for instance, you can say “The word is on page 79.”
  • Let the students take turns asking you yes-no questions to help them arrive at the correct answer. For instance they might ask “Is the word on the top half or the bottom half of the page?” Or, “Does it come before the word “careless”?
  • The student who zeroes in on the correct word wins the round.
  • Continue playing the game for as many rounds as you want to. Once the students have mastered the rules, they can play the game in small groups.

The Reading Wagon

A reading wagon is a good investment for your classroom. Acquire a wagon or use any pull vehicle and invite your students to decorate it. Then encourage them to fill it up with their favorite books. Even better, have everyone collect books that fit into a theme they are studying in class and place them all in the wagon. When it’s time to do independent reading, choose a student to pull the wagon around and deliver books to her fellow readers. Each time the wagon stops, students can choose a book and read it. The wagon can go around again when reading time is over and collect all the books.

Spell It

Skills – Spelling and vocabulary

How to Play

  • This variation on the classic Spelling Bee is loads of fun to play in the classroom. First, invite the students to form a circle.
  • Give them a word to spell. The first student says the first letter, the second student says the second letter and the round continues until the word has been spelled.
  • A student who provides the wrong letter must sit down.
  • When the word is completed, the next student says “Done!” and the student next to him must sit down.
  • The game continues until only one student is left standing.

Elementary students would hopefully enjoy playing these games and become better readers as a result. What do you think?

Mathematician of the Month – Archimedes

Image

Archimedes of Syracuse – a mathematician, a physicist, an engineer, an astronomer, an inventor, a scientist – there was absolutely nothing that this brilliant man couldn’t do! No wonder he is considered to be the greatest mathematician of classical times and one of the greatest till date.

Archimedes’ first tryst with fame came when the ruler of those times, King Hieron, built a ship which was too heavy to go into the sea (Why did he build ‘a ship’ anyways if it couldn’t sail? Archimedes must have had a good laugh at the majesty!). Our budding genius was the savior – he came up with a slick contraption made up of pulleys, levers and cog wheels, which allowed a single individual to launch the massive ship into the waters, all the while sitting back in a chair and relaxing with a cool drink in his hands! And hence the famous Archimedes quote: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth!”

What’s more, this prodigy also had a hand in fighting with the Romans. Legend has it that he helped the army build huge wacky catapults that hurled boulders through oncoming ships and mirrors that reflected the sunlight onto ships, which resulted in them erupting into flames, even before they got close to the land! The best story of all is that of a gigantic crane he constructed that had the capability to reach over the wall, lift entire ships up, shake them around till they rattled and then drop them back into the seas – upside down! Must have been a sight to behold!

To put it in a nutshell, here is a man who invented the water screw, made war machines, made a heat ray, created a miniature planetarium, worked with pulleys and levers, invented calculus (to the woes of many like me, no doubt), invented the odometer and is more famous for his inventions in life than just math alone!

His last words supposedly were: “Don’t disturb my circles!” as a Roman soldier walked across his drawings in the sand for his latest mathematical theorem. The soldier was so incensed, that he stabbed the mathematician. Thus came to an end the extraordinary life of the greatest ‘Eureka’ genius in Greek history.

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.

Image

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!

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!

Learning Activities with Water Beads

Water beads are such a versatile yet hardly explored tool for learning that you’ll not realize its benefits unless you start playing with them. Add a handful of water beads to the child’s activity time (well monitored to ensure kids don’t swallow the beads) the next time she brings out her toys and see the difference. Learning will reach a different level altogether with the effective play tool.

Learning Math with Water Beads

Have fun simply counting the tactile, colorful water beads with the kids. Line up a handful of water beads in a row and take out a couple from it. Ask kids to count how many remain. Add a few and ask them to recount. Play the symbol game where you write two digits on the left of an ‘equal’ sign and a resultant on the right. Ask the kids to guess the math symbol which will get the resultant and have them write the symbol with water beads. Though water beads don’t hold any topical significance in this activity, kids will be eager to play it out just to enjoy the tactility of the beads. If you are playing with a group younger than 6-7 year olds, here are a couple of more activity ideas.

  • Have them put red beads in one spot and the yellow ones in another. Ask them to count both the groups individually as well as together.
  • Have kindergarteners make shapes and patterns with the beads. You can choose to make the first shape and ask them to follow you.
  • Ask them to count if they’ve got more blue water beads or white water beads? If they have mastered their math by now, ask them to count the difference in the number of beads of the two colors.

Learning Science with Water Beads

It’s time to explore the science behind water beads that swell up to look like the way they do. Start by handing over an unopened pack of water beads to the kids. Let them experience the fun of these tactile beads from the beginning. Have them play with these beads which have not been soaked in water yet. They’ll be coarse to touch, similar to M&M candies. Keep a notebook handy to document the experiences step by step. Read out the packet instructions to the kids and have them follow. The steps will mostly ask you to add a liter of water to a packet of beads. Find out if the kids are surprised at this stage at the proportion of water to the beads. Let the beads soak in the water and the kids marvel at the change of the beads’ appearance. To add more fun, divide the beads into three bowls and add a few drops of food color to the water in each to get colorful beads. Let kids squash, squeeze, squish, and smash the beads and understand why the beads swelled up. Encourage them to test out the properties of the swollen beads and compare these with the ones with which they started. Do they roll, bounce, go flat or back to their original shape? Explore the possibilities with the kids.

Learning English with Water Beads

Right at the beginning, we told you water beads are versatile. Well, here is an English activity too with the multipurpose water beads! Play this activity with the kids before the water beads go all dry and you have to throw them away. Fill up a bowl with squishy water beads and add a number of letters into the bowl. Instead of using tongs or another similar tool to pull out the alphabets, blindfold the kids and have them put their fists into the bowl and pull out any three random letters. Next, ask them to make a syllable or a word with them. If the letters cannot make up a word or a syllable, you can give them an imaginary vowel to complete the task. You’ll be surprised at how long this alphabet game can go on!

Explore the many learning possibilities of water beads with the kids as you play with them!

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.

Candy for a Cause – Science Fair Projects for the Sweet-Toothed

Science is a highly competitive field so if you’re aiming for the top, this is a good time to get your science fair project ideas in order and start planning. Avoid last-minute panic, impress the judges and grab top grades with these three delicious and easy candy-based science fair projects. Ready to start?

Expanding Balloons with Pop Rocks

pop rocks

Pop Rocks” by Carolina Alves Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As all candy lovers know, Pop Rocks RULE! And in case you were wondering, there’s an interesting science angle to these fizzing popping little dudes. Here’s how you can explore it.

You will need

  • Pop Rocks
  • Balloon
  • A 12 oz. bottle of soda
  • Funnel

What to do

  • Dump an entire package of Pop Rocks into a balloon. This is easier said than done, so place a small funnel in the mouth of the balloon to avoid spills.
  • Open the soda bottle and carefully stretch the balloon over its mouth. Make sure the candy doesn’t slip into the bottle before you’re ready.
  • Now, quickly dump the candy into the bottle and watch all the interesting things that happen when soda and candy meet for the very first time.
  • Did the balloon inflate without you doing a thing?

How did it happen?

Pop Rocks contain pressurized carbon dioxide gas that makes the famous popping sound when released from its candy shell prison. But the amount of carbon dioxide present in the candy isn’t enough to inflate a balloon on its own. However, soda also contains pressurized carbon dioxide gas that escapes from the fructose-rich corn syrup when you drop Pop Rocks into it. Because the balloon is tightly clamped over the bottle’s mouth, this gas has no place to go except straight up into the balloon.

Finding Acid in Sour Candy

“_MG_7421” by Chris Short licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

_MG_7421” by Chris Short licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sour foods contain acid and acidic foods produce carbon dioxide bubbles when they react with baking soda. Here’s something you can do to demonstrate that sour candy contains acid.

You will need

  • Sour or fruit candy (Nerds, LemonHeads, Pixy Stix, etc.)
  • Baking soda
  • Measuring cup
  • Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Water

What to do

  • Dissolve the candy in half a cup of water. Try crushing hard candies to make the process faster.
  • Add a spoonful of baking soda to this mixture and blend.
  • If you can see bubbles rising up from the mixture, the candy contains acid.

Lighting up with Lifesavers

“100 k wint-o-green” by Windell Oskay licensed under CC BY 2.0

100 k wint-o-green” by Windell Oskay licensed under CC BY 2.0

Here’s the how (and the why) of producing magical lights with Lifesavers.

You will need

  • A dark room
  • Mirror
  • Wintergreen Lifesavers

What to do

  • Turn off the lights and stand in the dark facing the mirror.
  • Chew on some wintergreen Lifesavers
  • Can you see those blue flashes of light?

How does it happen?

When you chew on the Lifesavers, you break down the chemical bonds between the molecules of the candy. In certain foods, this produces energy, sometimes light energy as in the case of wintergreen Lifesavers. It is the wintergreen oil present in the candy that is responsible for the blue light produced during chewing.

Sweet or sour, candy is one of the best chemistry teachers you’ll ever learn from!