Friday, September 30, 2011

Return to Quilting!

Yes folks, it's apparently time for another of my come-and-go enthusiasms to return to me - quilting!

From "The World of Amish Quilts", by Rachel Pellman.
I remember quilting with my Mom when I was a girl - probably not "helping" as much as I thought I was, but we used to make applique baby quilts together, and it was fun.  When I was in Waterloo at school I discovered Amish quilts and was blown away by the bold colours and deceptively simple patterns, so unlike anything I'd seen before, and the intricate stitching.  (I highly recommend Rachel Pellman's "The World of Amish Quilts".  I used to visit the UW library just to leaf through that book for a few minutes between classes.  The picture here is taken from the Amazon "look inside" feature).  I started quilting again, including a traditional Amish star baby quilt for the birth of a cousin, and a massive Carpenter's Wheel that I was quite proud of.

Sometime along the way it fell by the wayside - the second-hand sewing machine my Mom had given me years earlier stopped working well, and knitting became a fierce enthusiasm for a long time (not that you'd know it from the single post I've made here about it, and that was an ugly project to boot, although I still maintain it wasn't my fault).

This all started again on the island two weeks ago, when my Mom took me to a meeting of the Island Quilter's Guild.  I met the talented Jackie White, and she asked me if I was going to start quilting again.  I replied evasively and told myself I should finish some knitting UFOs first (those are UnFinished Objects if you're not familiar with the term), but then my devious Mom sent me the link to Jackie's blog.  I read some of it (okay, all of it, and in one day too) and noticed she noticed an Etsy store called The Intrepid Thread several times.  I had to follow the link, of course, and check out the "sale" category because that's what I do, and we all know what happens next, right?

I always have a hard time deciding how many fabrics to buy, and how much, unless I sit down and design the quilt first.  BUT, she had some bewitching packages of 1/2 yards all from the same collection, and the one at the right called to me.  I loved all the purple with the pop of pink, which I wouldn't have thought to throw in, but looks absolutely perfect.  I wanted to order an extra 1/2 yard of one of the fabrics to make sure I had a good border for it, and in emailing the merchant to find out about shipping for multiple items, she mentioned that she can fit up to 8 yards in a flat-rate envelope.  WELL!   Clearly anything less than 7.5 yards meant I was wasting shipping money.  I put more of this collection - which is endearingly called 1001 Peeps, by the way - in my basket and was off to the races.

It's not here yet, but I uploaded shots of all the fabrics into MS Paint and I've been virtually quilting.  I think I have a plan, but I don't want to post the image just yet... it's like writing a novel, you know... if you talk about it too much, then you use up the excitement and never get it actually written!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Three Old Homes I Love

I see a lot of old houses that I like, and some I like a lot, but these are the ones I love.
Our 1914 brick house in Toronto.
Our 1913 concrete farmhouse, very much a work-in-progress, or perhaps even a work-to-be-started.
This one I don't own, but it's my husband's family's home, a lovely old 1880-ish foursquare in Toronto. It has been in the family since the mid-1920s.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Pizza Party", by Grace Maccarone (author), Emily Arnold McCully (artist)

Availability:  32 copies at the Toronto Public Library.

Reading Level:  Ages 3-4, JK.

Two-word sentences combine to make an engaging story about making pizza.  My son loved this book.  Characters are carefully drawn to include all races.  The library has a couple of other books in this series, which is called "Scholastic  Reader: Level 1".

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Go Away, Big Green Monster", by Ed Emberley

Availability:  213 copies at the Toronto Public Library.

Reading Level:  Ages 3-4, JK.

This fun die-cut book slowly reveals the face of a big green monster, which the reader can then shut the book on.  Intended to reassure children who fear monsters in their room, but a fun one for beginning readers as well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Stop, Train, Stop!" by Rev. W Awdry

Availability: 3 copies at the Toronto Public Library (unfortunately 33 holds); available for $.01 + $6.49 shipping on

Reading level:  Ages 3-4, JK.

This is a great read-aloud book for various stages; first for you to read, then to transition to him reading certain words or phrases (try letting him read what the characters say), for him to act out with his Thomas train set, and finally to read out loud to you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Online Math Games for Girls

Most online math games, although well-intentioned, do not work well for the average female learning style for the following reasons:
  • They emphasize competition and high scores over co-operation
  • They focus on individual skills rather than broad concepts
  • Because of their very nature, they have to focus on math questions with one right answer, rather than open-ended questions
  • They don't tend to address real-life situations
Although these sites are useful for limited amounts of practice with certain skills, they can't be used to put together a comprehensive math program for girls. With those caveats, here are some of our favourite sites:
  • Funbrain's math arcade has some fun games for K to 8 (American curriculum).
  • The BBC has maths games linked to their GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) revision (review) site. Our favourite is the Lost Army of Fu Shi.
  • The online game of SET doesn't link to any specific math curriculum, but it does involve problem-solving, logic, and pattern matching.
  • (remember it as "I Excel") is a new-ish, paid site that lets kids earn virtual stickers and has a theme for each grade from 1 to 8. They list Ontario curriculum as "coming soon", but currently it's American curriculum.

Six Great Links

When doing my original research, I could find no good links on how girls learn math. (Which is sad). I did, however, find great links on how girls learn in general, and math resources. Here are the best three of each.

How Girls Learn

  1.'s take on gender differences
  2. NASSPE article on learning style differences
  3. The first issue of "Advances in Gender and Education"

Math Education

  1. Family resources from the NCTM
  2. Minnesota Space Grant Consortium information on math and science for girls
  3. Ontario Ministry of Education Math tips

When Am I Going to Use This? (Math for Girls)

When Am I Going to Use This?
A 2007 study by Xin Ma of the University of Kentucky in Lexington says that "calculus was identified as a critical filter that screened females from science and engineering majors and into majors in liberal arts."
As a test, we looked at every program offered at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Waterloo. Almost a quarter of them list Grade 12 Mathematics of Data Management as a recommended pre-requisite... do some of these surprise you?
  • Accounting and Financial Management (requires Calculus and Advanced Functions)
  • Anthropology
  • Computing and Financial Management (requires Calculus and Advanced Functions)
  • Economics
  • Geography and Environmental Management
  • Psychology
  • Political Science
  • Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies
  • Social Development Studies
  • Sociology

It looks to us like stopping math courses after Grade 11 might not even qualify you for that major in liberal arts.
(Xin Ma's full study.)

What We're About (Math for Girls)

Girls learn differently than boys, and specifically they learn mathematics differently than boys. We can argue about whether they're born that way or socialized that way, but the fact is that there is a very worrying body of evidence from researchers. 1. Although girls' test scores are on a par with those of boys, their confidence starts to drop around grade six. 2. The confidence gap continues through to graduate work, where one study found that female students had more doubt than male students about completing their advanced degrees, even through their performance was equivalent. 3. By the time girls reach high school, many girls become disinterested in mathematics. However, math acts as a "critical filter" when students enter post-secondary school, and many girls are excluding themselves from a large portion of university majors. There are specific strategies that parents can use to help stop the downward slide, by introducing mathematical activities that are geared to the way girls learn. You don't have to be a math teacher, or even very confident in math yourself, to help a few girls do better in math class. Our activities are designed to appeal to the way girls learn, and they include a parent guide to help you through the process of learning alongside your daughters, nieces, and young female friends. All our activities harness the collaborative nature of the typical girl, so they are designed to be done by a handful of four girls ages 11 to 14 working together. Because girls perform better in activities covering a breadth of material, these are not "drill'n'kill" worksheets - they are real-life, open-ended problems that tie together various topics, but also encourage a depth of thinking rather than practice of a particular skill.

Top Ten Tips: Helping Your Daughters with Math

Top Ten Tips: Helping Your Daughters with Math

1. View yourself as learning with them, rather than teaching them. Pose problems that you don’t know the answer to yourself, and work with them to try and solve them. Don’t be afraid to drop the problem if no answer appears – you may be surprised a week later when your daughter comes to you with a solution or an interesting angle to try.
2. Emphasize co-operation over competition. The average girl responds better to a social, collaborative environment rather than trying to do better than others. Encourage your girls to do math with friends, and to practice putting concepts into words.
3. Do encourage them, but make your encouragement specific, mathematical, and based on intellectual achievements rather than effort. Do say things like “you found a good strategy to use on that problem” or “that picture you drew really captured the problem well”. Don’t say “that’s okay, you tried hard”.
4. Pose real-life problems whenever possible. You may be the rare parent that enjoys drilling the times table, but your daughter likely doesn’t enjoy being on the receiving end. Instead, look for situations day to day where math could be used. If you only have enough bread for three sandwiches, but there are four of you for lunch, how can you cut the sandwiches to make it fair?
5. Turn the tables so you can model mathematical problem-solving. Ask your daughter to show you what she did in math class. Ask her to give you an example of an easy, hard, and medium question from class. Solve them if you can, talking out loud about how to approach them based on what you know or remember. Don’t worry about giving up – she may offer to help you, or you can praise her for being able to do them when you can’t. Ask her to explain what’s easy or hard about them – you may get valuable insight into what skills she has, and what she’s missing.
6. Help her to see the connections between various topics. Girls in particular need to see the bigger picture, but with as many as 53 individual curriculum expectations to be covered in a year, teachers and textbooks sometimes resort to teaching small, individual ideas that only take one or two classes. Help your daughter to use creative techniques such as mind maps to lay out the whole year so far, brainstorming the connections between everything that has been done. (This is also a great study tool!)
7. Pose open-ended problems with more than one solution. Outside of school it’s rare to encounter a math problem that only has one answer. In the sandwich example above, each person gets ¾ of a sandwich – but that’s not the interesting part of the problem. There are an infinite ways to cut the sandwiches so that each person gets ¾ – which way is “best” is up to you and your daughters, and you get to pick the criteria.
8. Use a calculator and any other forms of technology you have available. As the Ontario Ministry of Education says, “Operations can now be accomplished quickly and effectively using technology, so that students can now solve problems that were previously too time-consuming to attempt, and can focus on underlying concepts.” Rather than finding the volume of a drawing of a cylinder with all dimensions integer lengths to make the math easy, find the volume of all the cans in the pantry, using a calculator to do the calculations. Use spreadsheet programs for collecting data, doing calculations, and creating graphs. Being able to interpret a graph is more important a skill than being able to draw one.
9. Practice can build confidence when used well. Encourage your daughter to reflect on what skills she finds difficult and time-consuming, and find workbooks or web sites to practice that skill in isolation. Help her to decide how often and how many problems to do, but let the final say be hers.
10. Chances are if you mention estimating, your daughters will roll their eyes. It is a useful technique that has been over-used in current textbooks. Instead, encourage her to get started on a problem by thinking what range of values would make sense. If the problem involves the ages of a parent and children, for instance, she might say that the parent’s age should be something between 20 and 50, and the children should be between 1 and 20. She may also realize that the answers will be whole numbers.

"Math for Girls"

Yes folks, I'm the creative genius behind the website What's that? You've never heard of it? Oops.

All kidding aside, it was an unsuccessful venture, and one of the reasons I started this blog. It's meant to be one place to post about all of my enthusiasms, so having a bunch of other blogs that I theoretically maintain, but actually don't, makes me feel guilty and wastes money on domain renewals. (Not to mention remembering the logins for all those sites).

So, I'll be porting all the old content over from today, and they'll all have the label "MathforGirls". If you want to see it all in one spot, the link will set you up nicely.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

FBR: "Time Management from the Inside Out", Morgenstern, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of this book is where things get tough - it's called "What's Holding You Back?", and it's probably the reason I've waited (i.e., procrastinated) on writing about it. Morgenstern identifies three levels of obstacles that keep people from getting what they want - Technical Errors, External Realities, and Psychological Obstacles. I've detailed the ones that pertain to me after the cut.

Fortunately the psychological obstacles, which seem the hardest to solve, can be left to the end of the process, Morgenstern assures me!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

FBR: "Time Management from the Inside Out", Morgenstern, Chapter 1

I've been writing book reviews for a while, and there are times when a short review just doesn't capture everything I want from a book. Some books are so important that I need to make notes on them, but those notes then end up lost in the piles of paper that still defeat me occasionally. That's why I'm going to try what I'm thinking of as "Focus Book Reviews", which deal with only one chapter at a time. It's a chance for me to slow down my reading and make actual changes to my life, rather than whipping through the book in a few days, taking it back to the library, and never acting on the information.

The first book up is Julie Morgenstern's Time Management from the Inside Out. I've been a fan of her organizing books for years, so this was a natural for me. I read a library copy a few months ago, and recently received my own copy from a friendly donator on Now that school is going back in, it's a perfect time to get my time under control.

Before I dive into Chapter 1, here's the most motivating quote I found in the Introduction: "Being organized... is all about being ready. It's about feeling in command so that you are prepared to handle all of the opportunities, distractions, and surprises life throws your way." I would like to feel that way!

The first chapter talks about changing my perception of time. At first I thought her comparison of a cluttered schedule to a cluttered closet was rather a reach, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. She also promises to show methods that will let individuals design a schedule that's right for them, rather than necessarily showing how to be more productive; after all, learning to take time for myself is one of the things I need to do, even if it makes me less productive in the short term.