Keeping Your Lego Sword Close – Wordless Wednesday

The Architect, 8, came up with this nifty idea for a place to carry his Lego Sword: with a Lego piece attached by his belt.


This is quite the useful piece.
Sword slides right in and stays in place. 🙂

Coming next week: an in-depth review of our first quarter of school.


Caught in a Blizzard

When we really want something, we are not easily deterred. We try everything we can think of to go over, under, or around obstacles. And when we want something bad enough, sometimes we’d rather join a caravan of denial than face the painful truth. Perhaps that is why I decided to attend a relative’s wedding this past weekend rather than let the threat of a blizzard blocking our path stop me.

I’d read an online weather report about possible bad weather near the location of the wedding. But hey, it was 70 degrees that day where I live, so whatever they were predicting – it couldn’t be that bad. I mean most big snowstorms don’t happen this early in the year. And how many times has the weather man overblown his predictions?!

I’d been looking forward to this wedding.  I’d pictured in my mind the groom on his big day with his new bride walking down the aisle.  I’d planned on a night of catching up with rarely seen family members.  I’d rewritten our homeschool plans to allow for a lighter schedule for traveling.  I’d booked hotel rooms and plotted our itinerary.  But that’s where it ended … mother nature had her own plans.

We’d made it quite a few miles down the road. There had been a little rain, but nothing serious. The kids had done their lessons, and I was feeling relieved the closer we got to our destination.  Yet I couldn’t help but notice something unusual: there were not many cars on what is normally a lively interstate.  The cows in the fields huddled together.  As we got within our final 60 miles, I began to notice eerie white sheets of freezing rain appear like fog misting around us.  The leaves on the few lonely trees along the increasingly silent road were beginning to rustle.  Over the next hill a giant flashing sign read that no travel was advised ahead.

We got off at the next exit.  While we gassed up, I spoke with some locals who warned me that others had gone ahead on that road only to end up disoriented and in the ditch.

We stopped and got a room.

From our hotel window, we watched as the weather conditions continued to deteriorate.  The snow was now coming down heavier and the wind was picking up.  About an hour later, the road that we’d arrived on was now closed ‘until further notice.’

During the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of harsh winds hitting the walls, and not long after, our electricity abruptly went out.

The next morning when we went to our continental breakfast by candlelight, I realized that some of the men and women who operate the road plows were also stranded with us in one of the worst blizzards I can remember.  I could tell from the stern looks and the serious tones that we would not be leaving the hotel that day.  And worse: the wedding was not going to happen.

For the next several days we hung out in our hotel.  At one point, the kids thought it would be great fun to go out and run around in the snow.  They tried it…and were back within 60 seconds.  The winds were so fierce that it was painful to even walk across the street to a convenience store to buy our daily, picked through junk food. The snow drifts had reached over seven feet high in some places.  Locations west of us were reporting up to 48 inches of snow.  We were caught in a blizzard.

Card stacks designed by the Architect,8, in our hotel room.

In these types of situations, even though in the back of our minds we knew this could happen, we still feel a sense of loss. Our expectations (realistic or not) haven’t been met.  I felt so bad for the bride and groom, and I also grieved for our not being able to see them marry.

This is the time to focus on and be thankful for what we do have.  At least we did not keep going down the road and end up trapped in our car alone in a ditch.  We were stranded where we had shelter, food, and cell phones.  We had interesting conversations with others who also could not leave the area.

Eventually, the lights came back on.  We dug our cars out of snow caves. The wedding was rescheduled.

The view from our hotel window: digging out after the blizzard.

We gained perspective in that sometimes things like this happen.  Life does not always go how we want it to; we have to make the best of whatever situation we’re given.

The Making of a Mathlete

I am often on the lookout for ways to broaden the horizons of my children, so this past school year I offered my 7th grade daughter the chance to take part in math contests.  She accepted.  In the fall, she took the American Mathematics Competition 8 (AMC), and this spring she competed in MathCounts.  As a home educating family why and how did we get involved in math competitions, and what was the experience like?

Why sign up? 

The biggest reason I considered this path was that I thought it to be a unique opportunity for her.  She is at ease with math, and I hoped she’d find it interesting.  Also, math competitions give students the chance to develop problem solving skills in a positive environment with others who share similar interests.

How to prepare for the AMC8

The AMC 8 is a 25 question, 40 minute multiple choice exam for middle school students.  Although it was easy to register for this competition,  I did have to locate a proctor.  I was fortunate to find a private school math teacher who gave her the exam.  The AMC 8 website also has additional locations for the AMC 8 at Higher Education Sites.  There is also a similar site for the AMC10/12.  If you want your child to take one of the AMC tests but cannot find a proctor, one of the locators may be worth a try.

To prepare for the AMC 8, she studied past exam problems from the AOPS Wiki.  This worked well for her, but you may also purchase past exams and solutions directly from the AMC website (see the Registration page).

How to prepare for MathCounts

We registered online and submitted a  ‘Homeschool Participation Attestation’ form in early fall.  To be eligible, a student must be in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade.  The process was relatively simple, and we had no problems entering her to compete as an Individual.  Homeschool Teams are also eligible to participate.

Once registered, they mailed us a packet which included the MathCounts School Handbook.  This is one of the several resources my daughter studied (another being Art of Problem Solving textbooks).   The earlier you sign up, the more time you’ll have to prepare.

Since we educate at home, I chose to be her coach.  Parent as coach is something to carefully consider, because it is a time commitment.  We set Fridays as our competition prep day and used Sunday afternoons to go over any problems that needed more discussion.  Another option to consider, depending on the laws in your state, is that you may also be able to find a local public or private school team for your child to join.  There are advantages to each case.

What was the actual contest like?

The contest consisted of a Sprint, Target and Team Round.  These rounds extended to about two hours total including breaks.  The Sprint Round was 40 minutes (30 questions).  The Target Round was about 30 minutes (8 problems in four pairs at 6 minutes per pair) and the Team Round was 20 minutes (with 10 problems solved by a team).  After this mental workout, the students were treated to a pizza lunch while the scores were calculated.  Following lunch, the top scoring 16 students were asked to move to the front to compete in what is known as the Countdown Round.

As the only event open to the public, The Countdown Round was a fast-paced, oral competition in which the students were then called two at a time up to a table in front of the 130+ students, coaches, and spectators.  These two competing students were asked a question on the overhead screen and were given only a short amount of time (about 45 seconds) to answer.  No calculators were allowed.  Once she had figured her answer, she had to respond by first pushing a button and then waiting to be called upon.  The first student who answered three questions correctly remained in the front to continue on to the next round.

It was exciting to watch the Countdown Round.  I’d never witnessed anything like it before.  I was impressed with the bravery the students displayed – competing in front of a large group of onlookers…answering tough questions…under strict time restraints!

The top three Teams, Individuals, and Countdown Round competitors received a trophy.  In addition, students who make it to the national level may even win scholarships.

*Contest Results* 

The preparation paid off.  I’m happy to report that my daughter did win a MathCounts trophy.  It was inspiring to see her be rewarded for her efforts – with several of the students congratulating her.  This encouragement has convinced her to continue, and she will be back to training this summer and fall for the next contests. 

Though it was not an easy thing to prepare for, I’m glad she agreed to take part. The sacrifices were worth it; I think it was a positive experience for her.

If you have a child who enjoys a challenge and would like to be around others interested in Math and Problem Solving, these competitions may be for you.

Week 7 – Beyond the Lessons – Building Within

Week 7 – Have you ever noticed all the learning that goes on when the books are put away and the lessons are done for the day? Often it’s the time we have to ourselves – when we can construct what we choose – that we learn a great amount.

The Architect, 7, came running up to me this week – so excited to show me what he had built on his break!  He’d designed an igloo made of white Legos from his buckets and buckets of pieces.  Alongside this igloo stood a little man wearing a blue hat to stay warm.  Later he showed me a house and floor plan he’d imagined which included a unique roof, a ladder, a bed, a black-hatted man, and an ‘X’-shaped window.  Beside this was a car he made with the same little blue hat man from before sitting behind the wheel.  Think of all the ideas he used building these!

A house and car built by the Architect.

The Explorer, 4, loves when his big brothers are done with their work, since he then has instant play pals and learns so much from being around them.  He showed me some little men and a ‘flying bird fang ship’ he’d created.  Notice the mixed and matched heads and bodies on these men and women Lego people.  So much fun!

Winged bird ship behind the little men constructed by the Explorer.

The Investigator, 10, observes many things – little details that I often miss in my busy life.  He designed this three story house with removable levels that include internal structures such as stairs, a bed, and even a burning torch lamp for nighttime reading.  Imagine all the concepts he learned by constructing this!

A 3-story house made by The Investigator.
An above view of a layer from the 3-story house showing stairs, a TV, and a yellow chair.
With the roof removed – another level of the 3-story house showing a bed with a burning lantern beside it and a dividing wall.

The Artist, 12, builds her own unique structures. She built this mini Lego castle complete with an arched window and doorway.  She has also begun knitting and is currently crafting herself a scarf.  Think of all the counting she’s getting in while working with those many rows of thread!  😉

The Artist’s castle.
The Artist’s knit scarf in progress.

This week I chose to spotlight instead another important subset of our day.  Although we did do our usual school work as scheduled, it was the time the books were closed when other interesting structures were built.  Free time spent working on constructive activities can teach us so much, and we are more likely to internalize and remember the knowledge we gain – to build within – because we are choosing to do something we want to do.  Children notice details and are constantly gaining understanding – often when the books are closed.

Perhaps this is what Albert Einstein meant when he was said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge…”.