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!

Mathematician of the Month – Pythagoras

PythogorasMr. P was born in a Greek island called Samos and despite the great views; he was more interested in Philosophy and Mathematics. He was also an expert in Astronomy, Religion and Music and wanted nothing more than to share his brilliant ideas with the world. Unfortunately, most people didn’t understand what he was saying and didn’t humor his grand thoughts. Eventually he paid a young boy to listen to him and soon he had created enough interest to start a school and recruit 300 pupils.

He was the most entertaining teacher of the time. He would hide behind a curtain and wait for his class to settle down. He would then jump out and yell the problem at the class and then go back into hiding. After a few minutes, he would jump back out and announce the answer – much to the amusement and confusion of his students.

Pythagoras is known for two major theorems. One is about whole numbers and the other about right angled triangles. They say that he stole the theorem from someone else (even the Egyptians say they knew of the theory) but he was the first one to be able to prove it. To celebrate, he sacrificed 100 cows only to find out that his second theorem disproves the first one. He covered up his mistake but his student leaked the information and was murdered for it.

The secret brotherhood of the Pythogorean School was being viewed suspiciously by the people. It came across as a dodgy sect. When people learnt of the student’s murder, the public rioted and set fire to the school when the members and Mr. P were still locked inside. Despite the horrible way in which he had to go, Pythagoras’s theorem is still being taught at school 2500 odd years later!

Subtraction game ideas to teach the concepts of ‘difference’ and ‘take away’

Before I start, I’d like to apologize for my blog silence. I tried to schedule as many posts as I could but some of them got lost in the maze that is the internet. I was away on vacation with the family to England (Photos up soon I promise!). What I have learnt in the past few weeks is that clichés are clichés for a reason. You know when people say they need a vacation to recover from a vacation? Oh boy is it true! Meanwhile, I have been able to write this post on Math because homeschooling doesn’t have terms. It’s an ongoing process! :) Hope you are all well. I will catch up with all your blogs soon! 

Experiencing difficulty in learning subtraction is a very common problem early in schools because students fail to move beyond the not-so-foolproof counting strategies of subtraction taught at kindergarten level. A simple solution lies in explaining the concept of subtraction to kids as both ‘take away’ and ‘difference’, helping them to understand the concept clearly. ‘Difference’ can be explained as comparing two numbers while ‘taking away’ can be explained as ‘removing numbers from a larger series of numbers’. M&M candies, cookies, chocolate squares, buttons, cookies, Lego blocks, cheerios, and marshmallows have always been very efficient tools in teaching kids the ‘difference’ and ‘taking away’ concepts. However, when I am not time bound and the kids are eager to learn, I play a few subtraction games with them in order to help them master the concept.

Flip flop math explaining ‘difference’

I stumbled upon this cool subtraction game on Pinterest when I was researching for general math game ideas for my 2 1st graders at home. I improvised on the game suggested by The Teacher’s Cauldron and came up with my own! This is a subtraction game that will help them understand the idea of ‘difference’. You will need a fair collection of sea shells, card stock, plastic laces, glue, scissors, markers, and 2 large sheets of construction paper. Distribute the shells unevenly among the kids and make multiple teams of 2 children each. The idea is to compare the number of sea shells and make a flip flop craft out of their ‘analysis’. If two girls in a team got 6 and 1 shells respectively, they cut out two flip flop bases and write their names on them. Next, have them write the number of shells they got on the flip flop next to their name. Paste the flip flops on the large construction paper and write the ‘difference’ in the space between their flip flops. Follow the image and replace the names with the answers and the addition problems with the number of shells each girl/boy got. Make several such pairs of flip flops for each team. Help them make the straps with the plastic laces and their flip flop craft is ready to go on the soft board.

Burning game explaining ‘take away’

This is a magic math game for kids of 2nd grade. It’s a twist to regular boring games, but must only be tried with necessary precautions in place!

You will need a mix of 3 portions of lemon juice and 1 portion of water, cotton swabs, a candle, a matchbox, papers, and markers to play the subtraction game in the class. Write an addition problem, like in the image, on strips of construction paper.  The only thing that you need to do differently here is write the number that’s hidden under the orange paper with cotton swabs dipped in the lemon juice and water mix. Ask the kids to calculate the number by ‘taking away’ the first digit from the answer, ‘taking away’ 7 from 10 in this case.

Hold the paper over a lit candle for the missing number to gradually reveal itself! The kids will be thrilled to bits to see their prediction appear magically on the paper! Please make necessary precaution and follow safety rules in the class while lighting the candle and holding the paper over it.

Kindergarten Math Games in the Kitchen

Photo Courtesy – Terren in Virginia

Photo Courtesy – Terren in Virginia

Trying to introduce young children to math usually leads to tears, tantrums and frustration. Trust me, I know. To begin with, no active three-year old wants to sit still and push paper; not when he’s wide awake and ready to play. So worksheets are out of the question right away. Besides, you want to build a positive relationship between your child and the Math Monster and forcing him to mug up math concepts isn’t going to help. So how do you help your kindergartener build a solid foundation in math?

You’ll find the answer in your kitchen. You read it right. Think about how often you measure, count, compare and estimate when you are cooking. Your kitchen is a storehouse of kindergarten math games to teach your little one the basics of counting, measuring and numbers. Here are a few games to get you started.

Turn Cooking Time into Learning Time

Eating the Zoo

Skills – Addition, subtraction, counting and estimation

If your child loves animal crackers, here’s the perfect kindergarten math game for him. Pretend that a plate is the zoo. Can you put 6 animals in the zoo? Oh no …one has escaped! (Your child eats a cracker.) How many animals does the zoo contain now? (He answers, “Five.”) Continue the game by adding or taking away until he’s full or tired, whichever is first. Your child will master his numbers in no time at all!

Measuring Games

Skills – Measuring, estimation, comparison

Line up all your cups, spoons and other measuring equipment and have your child arrange them from biggest to smallest. You could also play a fun guessing game with a metric system scale – collect different kinds of food and ask your child to guess which one is the heaviest and confirm his answer by weighing it on the scale. Your child picks up foundational math skills with these simple kindergarten math games.

Count and sort

Skills – Counting, sorting

Your kindergartener is new to the world of numbers – why not sharpen his counting skills with this simple kindergarten math game? All you need to do is place individual cereals in increasing order (up to ten) and have your child repeat the numbers after you. Here’s another easy math game that teaches sorting skills. Collect fruits in different colors (apples, oranges, lemons, etc.) and label baskets with the colors you have. Ask your child to sort the fruits according to color. You can play the same game with fruits in different sizes.

Want to raise a child who’s not scared of math? Give him plenty of math moments in the kitchen with these easy and fun kindergarten math games!

If you’re looking for more ways to make math less intimidating for your children, be sure to read my guest post about it over at Earnest Parenting! Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment about the things you do to get your child not to fear math. I would love to hear from you.