Homeschooling Update

Post quarantine it’s been harder to keep the same schedule, and ironically or not, going to school led to a serious slowdown in the kids’ academic development.

Still, we keep on doing Anki (“The Honesty Game”) every day. Their decks include: (a) Multiplication table (1-12) (b) Division (1-12) (c) Powers and roots (simple ones: 2^2, 3^3). (d) general knowledge. (e) basic Hebrew reading (f) basic Spanish vocabulary. (g) planets (h) flags and other general knowledge items.

Math has been the most interesting area. It’s now clear that both kids are very good with math, but one has a natural aptitude that far exceeds mine. The struggle with him was how to (a) make math fun (b) avoid any sort of rote (he *hates* having to write down stuff, which I leverage by getting him to do long multiplication in his head) (c) give a sense of competition.

What worked best so far was puzzles, but the concern is that it is hard for me to come up with more and more cool puzzles. When I run dry, I open a practice test exam from the Israeli SAT, pick a math question, adapt it, and present it to him. See e.g.,:

I think I would brute-force this question on the exam. His approach was different. “I will take 100 and that will go in 5 boxes. I will then take 95, and this has 80 in it, which means another 4 boxes, and I will just need another box for the remaining 15.” I’m not sure how he made the last move, because he was never told about division with remainders. I think the physical nature of the question elicited this response.

One thing we’ve been feeling semi-guilty about was screen time. We give the kids pretty much unrestricted access to YouTube and they spend a lot of time watching stuff of their choosing. This had worked much better than I worried, and just by watching Minecraft videos, they learned vocabulary (ore, harvest, bedrock), basic science, and general culture. Even the bad stuff they learned there proved to be a good learning moment. My son told me, with a straight face, that scientists are not sure that the earth is round–following some random YouTuber. That proved a very effective way of talking about the reliability of sources, the confidence of charlatans, and the scientific method.

But the biggest surprise was when we discussed fractions. I gave a basic introduction to fractions a couple of months ago. I did it by taking a bar, dividing it into equal parts, and showing basic concepts like 1/2, 2/3, etc. By the end of the lesson, I asked: “What’s greater? 3/4 or 1/2?.” I got the answer I wanted in an unexpected way. “Clearly it is 3/4 because that’s 75% and 1/2 is only 50%.” I was puzzled and surprised. We just discussed basic fractions. We never talked about percents–where is this coming from?

Then it hit me. The kids are obsessed with the battery levels on their phones. They keep fighting over who should have access to the charger because “I only have 30% and he has 42%” (we have more than one charger, so not sure why). So they have internalized what 50% looks like and what 75% looks like…. Because my teaching used bars, the conversion was very natural to them.

Talking of which, I wanted to introduce the idea of a common denominator. I thought the best way to motivate it is by presenting a puzzle you can’t solve without one. So I asked my son: “A rich king gives 1/2 of his island to one son, 1/3 to the second son. How much is left to the third son?”. I wanted him to get stuck and ask for a hint. But instead, he just solved it. His approach? “1/2 is 50%, 1/3 is like 33%, so the last one will get 17%”.

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