We were hit hard at Christmas with gastro, conjunctivitis, earaches and colds. We’ve just emerged from what seems like a month-long quarantine…to realize that it was really just a bit more than a week. Well.

Socially, we’ve been “living virtually” since the 24th: Skype, FaceTime, emails, Facebook, and—today—a Google Hangout. In a last-ditch effort to do something with our lives other than lay on the couch and complain, we’ve already “gone back to school”. Surprisingly, little complaint. That’s how bored we were.

Addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, map drawing, verb conjugation. Let the good times roll. This morning, though, Noah woke up with a different idea.

This is his first winter being responsible for the chicken chores. That includes, in the very least, changing the water every morning, no matter the weather. Sometimes the feeders need to be filled, and Noah always spends at least ten minutes just talking to the chickens and feeding them leftover oatmeal and the like. When it’s really cold, he brings Marcia to me so I can cover her comb and wattles with Vaseline. He collects the eggs and lets me know if any of the girls are in a bad mood.

This morning, the responsibility of the task weighed on him a bit more heavily.

“Mom,” he said, “is it ok if I work on a project this morning? I need cardboard…and something shiny…and tape…and tools…and paint.” I was nodding until the word paint. Then, I admit, I felt a little nauseous. Remembering what real nausea feels like, though, I was thankful for my health and reluctantly agreed to paint.

Noah got to work on a Fun Land for Chickens. Sensing their annoyance with this whole winter thing, he made several different climbing structures and a little hideout for them. After completing each piece, he donned his winter gear and took it outside to present to the chickens. Then he came back with a full report on their reaction before disappearing into the garage again to make the next piece.

pipe cleaner madness

Meanwhile, I was setting up the supplies we’d need for our first virtual Math Club—and I was absolutely giddy about it. Last time I went to Boston, I stayed with my good friend Leigh in Cambridge, and one of our conservations was about teaching kids math. Leigh put me in touch with her mom, Beth O’Sullivan, MIT graduate and founder of two important academic programs: Mathemagics and Science Club for Girls. Let’s just say she’s a busy woman. Right off the bat, she sent me a list of resources to try with my kids, and every one we’ve tried has been a winner. Because I really love to learn directly from the experts, though, I emailed her a few more times. Would she consider doing a virtual math club, so that my kids (and possibly a few other homeschoolers up here) could benefit from working with her? It was just a hunch, but knowing Leigh, I figured her mother has to be the best one out there.

It didn’t take much to convince her. Beth was curious about the online teaching of what is a very hands-on math program. She agreed to try it out, with just my kids, and we set two dates to connect via Google Hangout before she leaves for a writing retreat. This morning was the first one.

counting machinesBeth had the kids make “counting machines” with pipe cleaners and beads. They had to assign each colour a number (green = 2, white = 7, for example) and then write out the different sums they could make with the beads. She asked them to find certain sums in two different ways. They played around with these things for 45 minutes before moving on to another fun math game.

This game required only paper and pencil. Zahra drew three dots (“nodes”) in a triangular pattern on a piece of paper. Taking turns, we each had to draw a curved line from one node to another node, and then add a node somewhere along that line. Each node could only have three intersections and no lines could cross. The person making the last move would win. If there were only two players, the one who forced the other to make the last move would win. It was fun and super simple, and yet, as she told the kids, this was laying important groundwork in mathematical understanding. She knew someone who got the contract to build the sewer system for a city in Mexico and it was because of his understanding of a “game” such as this one. In fact, Beth peppered her class with fascinating, real-life examples of math in action—such as a story about mathematicians who were studying knots and drawings of knots. Their knowledge led to a deeper understanding of viruses, which are a lot like knots.

virtually math club

An hour simply flew by. She left the kids with a challenge concerning their counting machines and a mission to find or build something that can be used like a Tower of Hanoi.

There is a certain energy when you’re learning from someone who is passionate about what they do. It’s nearly impossible to be unmoved. It’s exactly the kind of energy we needed in our math work. Beth is bringing the “extra” that’s not in fact extra but actually necessary: manipulative math, whole math, math for use in the real world, math for a deeper understanding.

We ate an early lunch, Noah wrapped up his Fun Land for Chickens, and then the kids got to work on a video for their French pen pals. They gave them a tour of the house and the backyard, showed them what we eat for breakfast and talked about the chickens. We’ll get into the editing stage tomorrow.

The kids finished an audio book they’ve been listening to together while I got dinner on the table. Later, it was time to start a new read-aloud: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. I can say that the first four chapters have us hooked!

My new year’s resolution is to blog more than I did this fall. Not as much as I did last year, but I’m shooting for once a week. It’s such a good exercise for me to order the day’s events. Our first year of homeschooling seemed to have more direction than this year, and I’m sure that a large part of that is that I was constantly reviewing and analyzing our daily patterns through writing. I’m hoping to strike a good middle ground.