Learning How To Learn: Barbara Oakley at TEDx

Barbara Oakley is a top educational researcher and a professor of engineering. But she wasn’t always a math person. Originally interested primarily in languages and cultures, she made a career change at age 26 (reminds me of myself…I pivoted from French to mathematics when I started college). In this video she explains what she learned about her brains through that process.

The video is a great resource for parents or homeschool students. Learning how we learn makes us all better students.

Borax Crystal Snowflakes

I’ve heard of tried several crystal growing science experiments in the past but this one was my all time favorite for several reasons. First, it was cheap! I bought a box of Borax and some pipe cleaners at Walmart for $5 and now I have enough supplies for a co-op. Second, it was fast! The crystals started growing within an hour and the snowflake had formed in 4-6 hours. Yours might take longer, but you’ll definitely see the results that same day.

I did learn a lot from trying it out so here are detailed instructions with some notes and tips.



  1. Borax
  2. Pipe Cleaners
  3. A jar or container with a wide mouth
  4. popsicle stick or skewer for hanging the snowflake
  5. string
  6. scissors

Cut the pipe cleaner into 3 pieces and twist them to make a snowflake. You may want to trim it to make sure it is even. It is easier if you make your snowflake smaller so that it easily fits into the jar without touching the sides.






Bend down one pipe cleaner and attach a piece of string. Tie the string to a skewer or popsicle stick.

For the Borax solution mix 3 tablespoons Borax per 1 cup of hot water. I ended up using at least 3 cups in order to completely cover my pipe cleaner snowflake so you might be better off mixing 1/2 cup Borax with 3 cups boiling water. I needed the water to be boiling for it to dissolve the Borax. Also, be careful when measuring the Borax it spills easily as it is very light and powdering.

You can also add food coloring, although mine didn’t really show up in the final product.

Suspend the snowflake in the solution and wait.

5, 10, 15, 20! A Resource Roundup for Counting Practice

In first grade one of the big goals is to learn to count. Many kids will come out of kindergarten with a strong grasp of counting by ones, but learning to count by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s will prepare them for telling time and even multiplication. And remember kids need to practice counting starting from the middle too. Counting by 1’s starting from 22 is harder than starting from the beginning.

Below I’ve linked up some fun ways to practice counting.

Complete the pattern worksheets. This website has some great worksheets that range in difficulty. The one I picture below is one of the hardest because you have to determine if the numbers are increasing by one or ten before filling it in. There are also much easier patterns on the site as well so you can work your way up.

Connect the dots. This is genius! Have kids practice skip counting while discovering the secret picture.

Image result for Counting by 5s connect the dots

If you search “skip counting connect the dots” on Pinterest you will be able to find just about anything (from Mozart to Christmas trees!). But if you want a specific site try this one. They have links to 50 or so puzzles with skip counting ones at the bottom.

The Caterpillar Ordering Game. This game allows you to decide if you want to count up or backwards and you can adjust the difficulty so that it is 5s, 10s, or something else. It is also kind of cute 🙂

Number puzzles. The idea and photo for this came from the blog that I’ve linked up to, but you can find example of this all over the internet. They are a great way to reinforce the ideas of skip counting while also letting kids do some problem solving. It helps them practice counting by 1s and 10s, but they have to be able to count backwards and forwards. Here’s what a completed puzzle looks like:

Basically, think of it as cutting a number crossword out of times table. The rows will be increasing by 1 and the columns increase by 10. Cut all the numbers a part and put them in a baggie. The student has to arrange them and solve the puzzle by figuring out the order.

Business Project for 1st thru 3rd Graders

I’ve been thinking a lot about math projects as a way for kids to wrap up a unit in math and try out some of their newly learned skills in a real life situation. I was looking for something for lower elementary that utilized addition and subtraction with 3 digit numbers. I trolled around Pinterest but couldn’t find what I was looking for. So….

I came up with my own.

The idea is for kids to have fun creating their own business. They have to figure out what they are selling and design their own logo.

They have to predict and list their costs and Uno cards are used to model their projected sales. Then they have to add it all up and find their profit.

The free download is here.

Business Project for First thru Third Grade

Try it out and please leave feedback below. Coming soon…a similar project for 4th-6th.

Help for teaching long division

Here’s some tips, tricks, and games to make the process a little less painful. Now that the SAT has a non-calculator section I am more committed than ever to everyone knowing how to do long division by hand.

  1. Use grid paper. It seems so simple but this can make a big difference for the struggling learner or the disorganized mathematician (me!).

When you work it out everything is so organized.

2. Make a list of multiples before you start dividing. That first choice is always so difficult but now you can look at your list to find the biggest divisor. I got this idea at homeschoolmath.net. Here’s how they set it up.


3. A coloring page is always fun although this one is a bit easy. There are no remainders so it is good practice for just going through the steps but doesn’t really make you think that hard.


A clearer version of the coloring page is available here.



Take Away Games: 1st Grade Subtraction Practice

Addition can be so intuitive and then we introduce the concept of taking away. It is a harder concept and just drilling the facts over and over becomes dull real fast. So here is a little resource round up I did on subtraction games. Give them a try and let me know how it goes.

  1. Subtraction Shoots and Ladders from First Grade a la Carte. You have to know your facts to advance across the board and she groups them all by numbers. So you can work on mastering subtracting 5, then move to another number and so on. She has one group of facts that you can sample for free or you can buy the whole set for $8.

Slides and Ladders--Addition & Subtraction Facts to 20



2. Coloring pages can be a great way to add some fun to review. It also allows kids to check their own work more easily when they realize an answer doesn’t make sense on the picture. I found this owl which is a free printable. See the link below.

Owl Math Freebie Addition, subtraction, and ordering by size are all fun with this Owl Math Freebie! Simply print and go!:

Download the page here.

3. Make That Number…One Way or Another! My last resource is my favorite! I found the idea for this game on The Measured Mom but I made several changes. This game uses higher level thinking skills because their is more strategy and choice involved. Kids have to decide whether adding or subtracting the two numbers is a better option.


There are two levels. Level 1 only uses the numbers 0-5 and level 2 uses 0-9. Download the game boards below.



Try these out and let me know if you have any suggestions.


Fishing for Tens: A Math Game for Elementary Students

I’ve been really into math games lately, they’re a great way to allow kids to practice skills and facts without whipping out a worksheet. A quick search for “math games” will produce a lot of results…but with mixed levels of quality. A good game should incorporate math skills as a fundamental part of the game and should allow for reasoning.  So a game where they have to rapidly answer a math fact in order to shoot down an alien doesn’t cut it for me.

Here’s one I have been having a lot of fun with. The rules are very simple, it is based on Go Fish! However, instead of making pairs you have to make tens. Making tens is the back bone of so much mental math in elementary school.

  1. Start with a deck of Uno cards (I like these because the numbers are nice and big).
  2. Take out all the non-numerical cards and the zeros too (because you can’t make tens with a zero since there is no 10 card).img_19143. Everyone gets 7 cards to start with. The first player starts by putting down any pairs of cards in their hand that make ten. Then they ask another player for a card that they need in order to make ten. So if I have a 7 I’ll ask for a 3, etc. Pairs are laid down as they are created. If you ask someone for a card they do not have they tell you to “go fish” and you draw from the pile of remaining cards. If you draw the card you were looking for you get to go again.img_1915

4. After the first player has gone the second player lays down any pairs of ten they were dealt. They then begin asking other players for the cards they need.

5. If a player runs out of cards they may draw 7 more.

6. The game is over when everyone is out of cards and there are no more cards in the pile.


A great feature of this game is it can be played by children of two different levels. I recently played it with a 3rd grader and a kindergartner. The kindergarten student made matching pairs to practice her number recognition.


And it worked out just fine having the third grader making tens at the same time. After a few rounds students memorize the pairs that make tens without having to think about it!

Hip Homeschool Moms

Horse Math Problem: Solved!

This problem recently went viral.


My first reaction was “Hooray! Another math problem went viral.” But beyond that I found it really interesting to troll through the thousands of comments. And this problem illustrates an important issue. People were all able to correctly figure out what a horse, pair of boots, and horseshoe had to equal. Their mistake came when they substituted in the last step.


Pair of Horseshoes=4

One Horseshoe=2

Pair of boots=2

One boot=1

So what does 1 + 10 x  2 equal?


Why? Because you multiply first and then add. PEMDAS, or the order of operations guides us hear. So it is not a matter of opinion or debate. In math we have a prescribed way of doing things just so we can avoid massive internet confusion like what we have witnessed with this problem.

How to Get a College Scholarship


“Getting a college scholarship is your new summer job.”

These words spoken by my mom shaped my four years of high school and eventually landed me a full tuition scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. She believed I could earn more money by developing a stellar transcript than by working a minimum wage job…and she was right.

You can design a high school plan that uniquely positions you to win a free (or almost free) ride to school. Here are the top three things you need to do to make that happen:

  1. Ace the SATs. The new SAT is harder but it is easier to prepare for. You can take an SAT prep course or just work your way through all the free material on Khan Academy. But whatever you do, make sure you give yourself at least 6 weeks to prepare. A score of 700 turns heads and pushes your application into the right pile.
  2. Plan for Letters of Recommendation. You need someone to validate your education, especially if you are home schooled. You can have a transcript full of honors classes but without an outside expert adding a stamp of approval the admissions board might question the level of rigor. The ideal candidate to write a letter of recommendation is someone with a PhD or an expert in your future field. When you ask for the letter type up a list of your accomplishments or things you’d like them to reference. And don’t forget to send a thank-you note afterwards.
  3. Study your school. Every college and university is unique. I poured over Pitt’s website and memorized their core values. I knew what type of student body they were trying to foster. That information influenced my admissions essays and helped me on my interview. As soon as you know what school (or schools) you might be interested in start tailoring your high school program to fit their vision.

There are thousands and thousands of scholarship dollars out there just waiting to be claimed. In the end, working on all those applications ends up being a very high paying summer job 🙂

Photo source