Posts tagged: educational books

Cool Math

By , May 12, 2010 5:34 pm


Do you have a reluctant math student? Unfortunately I have two of them.  My 7 and 9 year-old are stuck in that very tedious phase of math where everything seems to be all about drilling problems.  According to her recent parent-teacher conference, my 4 year-old on the other hand, currently spends much of her time in the “math environment” of her Montessori classroom.  As her proud Mom, I have of course already planned out her future career as an engineer!

The foundation of math can be pretty boring.  I remember that from my school days.  Fortunately I ended up loving math later, and even took it in college.

I keep thinking, if only there was some way to make it clear to them that math can actually be really cool later on, then perhaps they’d be willing to slog through this early stuff until the light bulb comes on for them as it did for me.

Fortunately I recently discovered the math stories by Theoni Pappas.  I bought Fractals, Googols, and Other Mathematical Tales (that’s some of the cool stuff!) and The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat (my kids love cats).

I have begun reading the fractals book out loud with my oldest daughter. We have read several chapters and she keeps wanting more!  Each short chapter has an easy and creative explanation of a different complex, mind-bending concept presented in story format.  Often there are related activities to do, or puzzles to solve.  At the end of the chapter is a highlighted box with more complete information about the concept, usually involving history or practical applications.

The Möbius strip was one of the real WOW chapters that we have read so far (see our photo above).

Will these books turn my children in to math-lovers?  Who knows, but they are fun!

Rocks (Weekly Unplugged Project) – Petroglyphs

By , March 30, 2008 7:29 pm

It has been a week full of rocks during Spring Break at our house in Albuquerque: a trip to Petroglyph National Monument, climbing over big rocks on a mountain hike, choosing pretty tumbled rocks to buy at the Natural History Museum gift shop, collecting rocks in the courtyard.

So, although I didn’t realize that we would be so into rocks this week when I chose the Unplugged Project theme last Sunday, it has been an excellent week for a rock project.

My son was too busy with his new Legos this week to care much about projects, but my oldest daughter wanted to make her own petroglyph. The children have both recently studied petroglyphs at school and I think that Petroglyph National Monument made a big impression on them.

We found what we thought would be a suitable flat rock (note: if you try this, make sure you choose as soft a rock as possible), and used a hammer to break a piece of it off to use as a chisel. We were trying to be authentic!

My daughter drew her design on the rock with a pencil. She was trying to reproduce one that we had seen at the Monument.

She then scraped the rock with the other rock to engrave the design.

Well, this proved to be slow going (the rock was not soft enough), so she got fed up and moved on to authentic Native American method number two: the Dremel Tool! My husband supervised this step and the petroglyph was quickly completed.

In case anyone is interested, here’s another fun rock idea that we once did: cracking open a geode!

Other petroglyph resources:

+ Draw your own rock art printable

+ Hawaiian petroglyphs to print and color

+ Info about petroglyphs:

+ Fun art project: Sandpaper Petroglyphs


If you joined us for the Unplugged Project this week, please leave a link in Mr. Linky, as well as a comment in case Mr. Linky fails at his job. If you didn’t join in, please consider taking part next week!


Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:


Hope to see you then!

A Seed is Sleepy (Aston, Long) – Book Recommendation

By , March 1, 2008 10:19 am

Spring is in the air which means that seeds of all kinds will soon be sprouting: flower seeds, tree seeds…weed seeds. (Big sigh.)

Now is a good time to teach your little ones a bit more about seeds. I can’t think of a more lovely book for this purpose, than A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long.

This book is packed with interesting facts about seeds. Each two page-spread presents a one sentence fact, followed by a short explanation. For example the first page says: “A seed is sleepy.” Followed by: “It lies there, tucked inside its flower, on its cone, or beneath the soil. Snug. Still.” The information is presented in a sweet, almost poetic way that makes it easily accessible and enjoyable for a variety of ages.

What really makes this book truly wonderful though, are Sylvia Long’s amazing illustrations reminiscent of old, botanical prints. Her colorful paintings are incredibly rich and detailed. Ms. Long has a real eye for seeing and reproducing the beauty and wonder of even the simplest natural objects.


We love this book so much, that next on my wish list is Ms. Aston and Ms. Long’s other collaboration: An Egg Is Quiet

Don’t Call Me Pig! – A Javelina Story (Conrad J. Storad, Illustrated by Beth Neely & Don Rantz)

By , October 3, 2007 8:34 pm

This funny book teaches children and adults alike about javelinas (pronounced: “HAVELEENA”) and yes, most people think that they are a variety of wild pig – nope, they are “peccaries.”

As a resident of Arizona, we actually encounter javelinas from time to time, and these encounters are all the more interesting now that we have learned so much from this wonderful book! My children adore this book and love shouting out the oft repeated refrain: “Don’t call me pig!”

In addition to the fun, rhyming text, the book features marvelous and funny illustrations of the javelinas. Both the text and the illustrations describe their physical characteristics and their life in a manner that is appealing even to young children.

For adults who want the straight facts, there are two pages at the end of the book that discuss javelinas in a more narrative manner. This book should appeal to any child who is curious about wildlife, or the southwestern United States. It would be a great book for teachers too. My kids learned a lot, and so did I!

Kids Bored? Whack a Geode!

By , June 7, 2007 6:55 pm

My 6 year-old daughter is obsessed with rocks. I find rocks in her pockets, in her little purses, in jars on her desk, in her nightstand drawer, and once, even in her bed! She even likes to look at and read books about rocks. I list her favorites below.

We got started on geodes when one of her school book fair books came with a small, uncracked geode. She brought it to school on her “Sharing Day” and cracked it in front of her class, a performance which was, apparently, a big hit with her classmates.

In case you have never encountered one, a geode is a very unimpressive looking rock on the outside, as you can see here:

Geodes form in porous rocks such as limestone or lava. If a hollow cavity exists in the rock, water containing dissolved minerals can seep in through the rock’s pores and crystallize on the inside walls of the cavity. If the crystals do not completely fill the cavity, then a geode is formed. The type of minerals in the water determine what type of crystals form inside the geode.

Geodes are a fun surprise of nature. You can’t know what you will find on the inside of a geode until you break it open!

During our trip to Phoenix we visited the Arizona Science Center. My daughter was very excited to find a large unopened geode in the gift shop. Here it is in its package:

The instructions said to keep it in its bag and bash it with a hammer. Here is my mini-geologist giving it a whack:

Well, it took a lot of banging and I was the one who had to deliver the final, fatal blow. I am not sure we centered our hammering too well (apparently it works MUCH better if you use a chisel first to score a line around the “equator” of the geode – see here for good instructions), but the crystalline interior is clearly visible:

Here is a close up of the surprise contents of our geode in the sunlight. Looks like lots of quartz and chalcedony:

You can find geodes in many science and museum stores, or order small and large geodes online at stores such as The Geode Gallery, The Desert USA Store or Mama’s Minerals.

My 6 year-old daughter’s favorite rock books:

Some good DK Publishing books for older children (9-12):

If you get REALLY into this geode-thing, here is a fascinating-sounding book all about geodes (written for adults, but mini-geologists might enjoy the photos):

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