Friday, October 07, 2016

Prodigy - the math game we have to yell at our kids to stop playing

I am so proud of Kate.  When we were at student-teacher conferences on Tuesday, her teacher praised her math skills and asked what we had done to work on them.  I told her that we did not do much, but that Kate had practiced a ton on an internet game called Prodigy.  She was intrigued and asked if Kate would be willing to show the class sometime.

Her teacher must have went home and checked it that night, because the next day she asked Kate to give a presentation and demonstration to the class about the game.  Kate showed them on the smartboard how to set up an account, chose a character, their clothes and decorations, and then start playing the game.  She showed them the different parts of the world in the game and how to have a battle.  Battles earn you points, gold, and pets.  To fight a battle you challenge another player, a pet, or a monster.  You cast spells by solving math problems that are grade level appropriate.  I wasn't there, but I can imagine little Kate talking about this game excitedly to her class because she and her sisters love this game.

As a parent, I hate flash cards.  Helping my kids to memorize and learn math facts, spelling, and state capitals is so painful for all of us. They hate doing it and so do I.  At Ballard, Colleen's teacher introduced the kids to an online-math game called Prodigy.  The game is kind of like Pokemon, I think. I never played any of these games, but it seems similar to me.  You set up a character that explores this world and fights monsters, other players, collects pets, and go on missions in order to get gold, advance levels, earn new spells, evolve your pets, and get into the Academy.  In a Battle - you can cast spells, but in order to do so you have to solve a math problem.  The math problems seem to match very well with grade level expectations in common core standards and include not only addition, subtraction, and multiplication, but also story problems, graphing, money, time, and set theory.

The problem with this game is that it is totally addicting. we have to yell at them to get off the computer all the time.  They talk about their missions, pets, levels, and battles.  It has helped immensely with their math facts, but it is almost too fun.  We showed it to our friends in Ankeny, and now they too have to limit their kids time on Prodigy, otherwise they play all the time.  Their math skills are getting way better, but would spend hours a day on the computer playing Prodigy.

So if you don't mind nagging your kids to get off the computer, but want them to learn their math facts, this game is for you.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Cardinals game

When I got back from looking at plots I was invited to go to a Cardinals game with some of the guys on my team from work. Neil won tickets in a drawing as part of a fundraiser for diabetes.  I can't bear watching baseball on TV, but in person I like the pacing and time to talk and socialize. 

Lincoln's house

I was driving back to St Louis and stopped for a phone call in Springfield  I have driven through Illinois probably a half dozen times in the last few years, but  never have stopped to see the Lincoln museum and house. 
It is now a National Monument and meticulously restored to its original paint colors-Quaker brown with green shutters, and it's interior as well. History sometimes seems like myth, but in places like this the reality and immediacy of the past is undeniable. 
I need to take Leila and the kids. 


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Emily's Bomb zucchini brownies

Emily has mastered a recipe to use up our zucchini. Usually zucchini brownies are wet and clammy, but this makes a more of a chocolate cake that disappears very quickly. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Can you identify this mushroom?

Becca and I went for a long run and found a faerie ring with about 50 of these ginormous white mushrooms. 

The gills are white with no visible discoloration from spores yet. 

The cap is mostly white but not completely smooth. Do you know what kind of mushroom this is?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday night football

We bought a family pass to the high school sports events. Now I feel very suburban. It is a beautiful stadium with a ginormous video screen complete with instant replays of key plays and barbecue sandwiches that the band parents start three hours before the game. I didn't get one but you could smell the smokiness of them behind the stands. 

Emily's new friends from band wanted to hang out at the mall. When I rolled my eyes Emily informed me that hanging out at the mall probably wasn't as cool when I was her age. I agree.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016


Sometimes when I am in church listening to friends tell about their road trips to Utah, inside I have this conversation with myself.  I tell myself that I am glad I am not driving all that way with my family, that I would go insane driving that long and that it can't be much fun. Then, the other part of me argues that it is a whole lot cheaper than flying that far and that we would rather have that money for other things.  That and flying is no easy feat either with 5 kids.  Someone is always sick, flights are delayed or cancelled, and then we have to rent a car.  In the end it is a draw.  

I think as the kids get bigger and as long as I am able to take two weeks for vacation, painful as it is, driving out west for vacation is going to be part of our summer tradition.  It makes sense, plus it isn't as bad as I fear always.  It is a long drive, and there are fights in the car.  Kids get bored and since everyone has to be buckled (locked in place) people get restless.  Including me. 

Over all it was a nice break.  We went to Fountain Green to visit the Cooks, then went to Provo to visit with Leila's family and go to Neil's wedding.  I never went to Bridal Veil falls as a student, somehow there was always something that I had to do and getting off campus or out of the basement where the lab was seemed almost impossible.  

Southern Utah could be a set for movies on Mars.  The rocks are beautiful, but man I wouldn't want to have to walk across that wasteland.

Fountain Green is so different from Provo and the Valley just an hour away.  The town is tiny and Ag is the dominant industry.  Kids walk their sheep in the evenings to get ready for Lamb Days.  And the Cooks are there so it is our home away from home. 

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Thinking of an animal

The thinking of an animal guessing game just got harder as Becca includes imaginary animals and Pokemon. 

Friday, July 08, 2016

Cyborg swimming robots

Between the police shootings, continued desparate circumstances for refugees across the world, hundreds killed in terrorist bombings and attacks in Iraq,Turkey, and Miami, and then the appalling sniper attacks on cops protecting the black lives matter protesters, there isn't a lot of good news.
Somehow, this BBC story of a tiny swimming robot run by heart cells seems a welcome distraction.

One more photo of Grandma Shirley

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Grandma Shirley

This is how I remember my grandma from my childhood. 

  1. Going to Mexico city together
  2. Staying at Grandma's during the summer as a kid.
  3. Tuna fish sandwiches and icecream
  4. Staying at Sandra's with Bob
  5. Talking about science and ideas with her at the table
  6. Books in her office - sci fi and the Nancy Drew Hardy Boys
  7. Her riding to our house as little kids on her motorcycle with Grandpa
  8. Building nesting boxes with Grandma in Indiana 
  9. Wood turning 
  10. Her showing us as kids that she could take her dentures out
  11. Getting sick at her house
  12. The chickens with the inside out feathers
  13. Black walnuts
  14. Talking to her about my Dad after he died.
  15. Her working on woodworking in the workshop
  16. Using potatoes to attract nematodes in her garden
  17. Going with her on the lawnmower and then watching her bludgeon to death a gopher with a shovel. 
  18. Her in her coat and hat getting irritated people thought she was a little old man
  19. Eating out with Bob and Grandma
  20. Bob in the workshop
  21. Bob and grandma talking to Leila when I first brought her home
  22. Mom and Grandma's excursions 
  23. At my Dad's funeral
  24. The big 90th birthday bash.  
  25. All of the help she gave us when we first came to Boise. 
  26. When Colleen was born while she was visiting in Indiana
  27. Stories about her childhood
  28. Gardening 
  29. MR2
  30. waking up while driving to Nampa as a child in the car and watching the red headlights in front of us working their way up and down the hills along the highway.  Seeing the city stretched out ahead of us like a glowing amoeba along the hill.  
  31. The old house with the porch 
  32. Playing tag with cousins in the yard after Grandpas funeral
  33. Sandra's trailer and her dog with mismatched eyes. 
  34. That time I got sick while staying at her house and she helped me clean up. 
  35. That card game with the board she made for all of us.
  36. Playing scrabble and losing by 80 or 90 points

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Apps may be the savior of public transportation

I can't think of many things that is as intimidating as taking the bus or subway in a strange town. Especially a large city. Buses may seem infrequent and routes bizarre and out of your planned path. I think many people avoid public transportation because it is inconvenient and requires a foreknowledge of routes and timetables. 

Looking at my commute to work I mentioned to a colleague that I was considering biking to work instead of driving or taking the bus on days with bad weather. I have a few pounds around the middle I need to work off after almost a year of back and forth to STL, hotel rooms, and restaurant food. I also feel nostalgic about riding to campus as a grad student. Monsanto in chesterfield is so big that it looks and feels like a college campus. My coworker is French and he scoffed that as a white American I would take the bus or bike instead of driving. 

That was a challenge, so when I flew to STL as part of a trip to MD on Thursday I decided I would not rent a car or take a taxi or an uber (My colleagues all use this as a noun, which shows how ubiquitous Uber has become, I bet it or something like it will eliminate the traditional taxi) - all costing about 25-35 dollars for the day. I decided I would take the bus. The bus said it would take over an hour to get to campus, but driving was estimated at 30 minutes.  Google estimates by bike were only 1.5 hours. I was by far the minority on the bus and the Metrolink train.  Almost all riders were black, some Hispanic.  

There is a metro train that runs to the airport. It is on the back side of the parking garage and obviously little used. The train comes every few minutes. The app told me I would have to wait until 8, but then a train came and Google somehow knew it and updated the times.  This is a transformative tech if we take advantage of it. I followed the revised instructions and got to Chesterfield in just under an hour.  Other riders also were using google maps to check to see if buses or trains were delayed or ahead of schedule.  I think like Uber has updated Taxi service by making it possible to easily check on your phone and get a ride, apps around public transportation could really help break down barriers about using public transportation.  

So the kids and I will be using public transport to go downtown St. Louis.  Nothing is more aggravating than getting stuck in traffic with a minivan full of whiny kids and then trying to find parking at the zoo. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

One week left in Huxley

It feels very unreal that a week from today we are moving. I will miss Huxley terribly I am afraid. No place has felt so much like home. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Des Moines Museum

The Des Moines Art Center is an eclectic mix of masterpieces and modern art. It has a Monet and Andy Warhol's and a performance art video of someone underwater playing in slow motion in a pitch black room. I am embarrassed to say that I have only been three times in seven years.  Since we are moving to St Louis I want to hit some of my favorite, but neglected places. 

This last few months has been so overwhelming that I have not updated the blog. That and I really didn't want to move and writing about it meant somehow that I needed to be positive about it. 
Kate loved the modern art, while it bored Aleah to eye rolling and impatience. Kate drew careful drawings of her favorites.  
Kate really had a good eye for the subtlety in some of the more abstract art. This painting had a section below the concentric circles where the paint had been layered in the exact shape Kate sketched and then painted over? in the same base colors.  It isn't clear in the photo, but the textured area is like a distorted reflection of the rising concentric circles.  Why?  I don't know.  What does it mean?  I have no idea, but somehow it enhances the painting. 
I think more abstract and modern art is enhanced by display in museum conditions. Space and lighting help make them feel like art. 
I thought this one though was really interesting. By this time Aleah was ready to move on to the art that "looks like something."   
There was a miniature of this sculpture in the museum and so we visited the full size sculpture in the park, where there was an Asian cultural festival. This was Aleah's element. Food, people, dancing.