Tag Archives: homeschooling

Scratch Day Logo

NYCL Scratch Day Diary

We’ve been looking forward to Scratch Day for a couple of months now, and am happy to say it went off wonderfully.Facepainted 7 Year Old ready to lead his first Scratch DayIt was five months ago today that we checked out No Starch Press’s SUPER SCRATCH PROGRAMMING ADVENTURE from the library, and it was this past Saturday that Xander revealed Scratchy to 15 more kids, ages 7 to 12, as the culmination of his hard work.

After we shared his Scratchy themed birthday cake (he turned 7 in January) with the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT, I learned of ScratchEd (thanks @TwilightDreamWolf for the heads-up) and their role in helping to bring Scratch to more kids.  From their group, I learned of Scratch Day and looked into where we could go to meet other Scratchers in Toronto, only to find there wasn’t anything already organized.    Thinking about possibilities of organizing something to help foster his passion, I mentioned the idea to him and he said he’d love to teach kids to do it — which cinched it, this was going to happen if he was this keen about it.

There is an amazing technology vibe in Toronto, so I knew there would be many ways to go about the event.  Part of me wanted to see if people at UofT would want to be involved, to keep the university feel of Scratch, but I didn’t have any current contacts there to work.  Working the start-up vibe was another angle I considered, but was a bit wary of the sponsorship angles inherent with that culture.  When I was at an early Maker Series event at the Toronto Reference Library, in connection with their new Digital Innovation Hub, I saw they had the new version of the SUPER SCRATCH book in their collection (which isn’t available in the Library’s main collection). I inquired asked about the possibility of doing Scratch Day there, and they declined saying they didn’t have a kid friendly space.  This brought me to our local library, North York Central Library, which we have a good rapport with.

I introduced the idea to them, and they did some research to see if it might be a good fit.  We arranged to meet and Xander shared his enthusiasm for Scratch and we discussed some of the ideas for what the day could be.  We settled on a small introductory class for kids aged 8-12 accompanied by their parents as a trial run.  Coordination with the Learning Centre in the Teen Zone/Hub at the library, outside of the Children’s Department usual dealings and recruitment  within the Teen Department’s Youth Advisory Group to find volunteers to help mentor during the class was done.  Much thanks to Sharon Andic, and Kathryn Copeland for their work in preparing the program, and to Chantee, Charles, and Wendy for their work during the class helping the kids out.

We announced the class on a blog setup for the event at ScratchDayNYCL.tumblr.com and the library put it in their Spring Flyer of events.  Registration quickly filled up with positive comments from parents.  Xander practiced his instruction skills with a friend, going early to our Homeschool Group at the library for a few weeks.  We also arranged to tour the Learning Centre space to get a feeling of the room and what was available there and discuss the format and layout of the pairs.  Everything was set — I was more nervous than he was.

The biggest hurdle was going to get through introductions, as he was really struggling with that part in our practice session.  Kathryn agreed to introduce him which worked out great.

The class went very well.  We managed to squeeze in two extra groups who arrived morning of to see if anyone didn’t show-up.  Many smiles and much enthusiasm from the kids gathered (and a few handstands from the leader).  We made a NYCL Scratch Club Studio on the Scratch website to help encourage the kids to collaborate and build their skills together going forward.  We ran over our time estimates (of course) so we didn’t get to do the maze program he planned, and we didn’t get to show some of our ‘Connecting to the Physical World’ projects as we had hoped.  His response?  “We’ll just have to have another class.”

Naxder and his Dad leading Scratch DayNot only that, he came home and asked to start to write a book about Scratch, for his “55%”ers, those we know a bunch of scratch but want to do more advanced things.  When he started Scratch, he didn’t read and he learned so he could do more Scratch.  I guess it will also be his gateway to writing too!

A very proud Papa.




Homeschooler Catapult Exhibition, June 2014

The kids & I thought it would be fun to revive the catapult exhibitions we attended a few years ago, when they were too little to build any themselves.  So, here we go:

Catapult Exhibition
June 11, 2014 11AM
Location: TBA green space near North York Centre
Participants: Children educated at home in and around the Greater Toronto Area
Comment here or send me a message (iam at this domain) and I’ll build a roster of participants

Catapults go by many names: ballistae, trebuchets, onagers, hsuan feng, mangonels, petraries, scorpions, tormenta, and others.  What we’re looking for here is a ballistic device used to launch a projectile a great distance without the aid of explosive devices.  Put your thinking caps on, get your tools out, work out the maths and angles, and build away.

We are thinking of setting up a system to measure the distance the objects are thrown, and also an accuracy/target course.  Two categories: kid made only, and then the models which the adults helped with.  Ammo wise, plan to use something similar to an orange — we’ll update this after we’ve had a chance to test a few things out.   Depending on numbers we will either give everyone a chance to talk about their build in front of the group, or a set time where spectators can go from build to build and ask questions about it.

Ideally the space we pick in addition to the missile range will have some playground equipment for families with younger siblings, area to picnic for lunch, and generally hang out to make a day of it for those so inclined.  I have a great spot in mind, I just want to test out the range of our builds to get a sense of how much space we’ll need before I settle on it.  Don’t want any windows broken or near by roadways interfered with.

catapult-DIY-easy-kid-actvity-marshmallowNot everyone is as handy with tools and building as they once were, so I hope to see some collaborations between different groups, maybe even some teaming up to share resources and expertise, or some grandparents pitching in.  It could be just the opportunity you’ve been looking for to try a maker project?  Alternatively you might want to start small and build a simple one out of craft sticks, or marshmallows.

Toronto Tool Library logoA place you might want to check out in the course of your project is the Toronto Tool Library, they have a variety of tools available, and at their East End location a makerspace.  Another makerspace in town that has woodworking capability is Site3 co-laboratory.  Let me know if you are aware of others.  Maybe we’ll see some 3D printed designs, in which case maybe check out the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Reference Library?

A site we like is DIY.org, and they have a Catapult or Trebuchet challenge you can submit your project to, or review some of the devices other kids have made.

Some books we’ve found at the library that have designs and plans and ideas on how to get started are:

Toronto_Public_Library_logoSpeaking of the library, maybe you’ll join us at our Wednesday afternoon homeschooler group at North York Central library (1:30-3pm in the storyroom).  We plan to cover a few topics in the next couple of months applicable to catapults (levers & fulcrums for example is set for April 9th’s session for example).

Michael Albert's Pi collage

Happy Pi Day (3.14, March 14)

We’ve been celebrating Pi (π) Day for half a decade or so now, but some of you may be new to the idea.  At the very least, it is an excuse to eat pie, and on the other end of the spectrum it is  a great day to celebrate math and the beauty of nature in numbers.

For those looking to eat pie, why not try to bake your own?  It could be sweet or savory.  Wikipedia has a list of pies to get you started, and AllRecipes has a lot of recipes on making pies available.  Perhaps you want to aim for a Steak & Kidney pie and combine two pseudo-holidays into one?

If you’re musical, there are many pi songs and raps out there you can try to learn.  My favourite is Dr. Arthur Benjamin‘s version of “American Pi”, captured here during a presentation he did at The Archimedeans (Cambridge University Mathematical Society).  We were lucky enough to participate in Dr. Benjamin’s show last year (thanks Ontario Science Centre) and the kids still sing his song (and we have a signed copy of his pi to 60 digits that he wrote out).   We will probably also watch at least one of his lectures from his Great Courses where he focuses on pi too.

There are many crafts and activities to do for those with kids.  Drawing and cutting out and measure circles with paper and string is all it takes to get started.   Don’t be shy about working in some physical activity too — maybe do a 3.14km hike?

A new discovery for me this year is the Pi Search Page which instantaneously finds a series of digits in the first 200 million digits of pi.  My 8 digit birthday occurs three times in those first 200 digits, while my wife’s only occurs once.  Try it out with any other ‘special’ numbers to you and see what you find.  Irrational.

In your pi studies, don’t forget what many mathies consider the epitome of numbers, Euler's Identity (e^π*i = -1) aka Euler’s Identity.

Numberphile has a great playlist for all their pi related videos (1h25m worth of content).  Last year the kids enjoyed watching Calculating Pi with Real Pies.  And let’s not forget ViHart’s pi playlist either.

And for the whimsical here is FlippyCat’s contribution to pi day in dominoes.

Please share how you ended up celebrating this special day, and get ready for next year when in 2015 3/14/15 will be the Longest Pi Day of our lives when it goes to 10 digits at 9:26:53am/pm.

Here are a few additional links to drive your research and insatiable curiosity.

snowflake books

Learning about Snowflakes

A couple of years ago we got Kenneth G. Libbrecht‘s Field Guide to Snowflakes book out of the library and I was fascinated.  After a few failed attempts at capturing our own flakes and getting them under a microscope we moved on from the topic for that winter.

Last winter we augmented our usual kirigami snowflake cutting by doing up a large 3-d snowflake craft to help decorate for the holidays.Large Snowflake Craft

snowflake necklaceThis winter we’ve been participating in a homeschooler group that North York Central Library has been hosting (Wednesday afternoons 1:30-3pm for those who want to stop by — thanks Janet & Sharon) and for our first two weeks we picked Snow and Winter as our theme.   A highlight for me was when I made a giant kirigami flake out of some flipboard paper and my daughter wore it as a necklace, and then later as a skirt.  It reminded me of this ballerina snowflake craft (note: even though they said the craft was only for Moms, I looked past their discrimination) I had come across (which we’ve done too).

sample snow crystalsIf you haven’t seen any of Ken’s books, or his informative website over at SnowCrystals.com, I suggest you look into them, even if you just hit up his kids activity page.  I made a tumblr post back in Dec that included a bunch of animated gifs that their lab made showing the crystals forming too.  I’ll include below a list of some other books and resources that can further your journey on learning about snowflakes and the fun to be had with them.

A chart of commonly agreed upon types of snow crystals

A chart of commonly agreed upon types of snow crystals

Pool looking North from the upper stretching area.

North York Central Homeschool Swim Lessons

I’m organizing swim lessons for homeschoolers.  The pool is Douglas Snow Aquatic Centre, the City’s large 50m pool in Willowdale at 5100 Yonge behind the North York Civic Centre, and next to North York Central Library at the North York Center Subway stop on the Yonge line.

Friday mornings starting Sept 27 2013, at 10:30 for a half hour lesson, and then I’ve arranged a half hour of leisure time immediately after from 11 to 11:30 so the kids can stay in the pool, and the adults and young siblings can join in too.  During the lessons the adults can observe from the upper level open gallery.  For the final lesson, they will probably open up the water slide for the kids to use too, but normally it won’t be available for use.

Pricing is the City’s standard lesson fee, which is $68 for a nine week session (about $7.50 a class) (might be more expensive if you aren’t a Toronto resident).  For the extra half hour, we pay a ‘Guard Fee’ which is $15/week for the group.

They are willing to accommodate a variety of ages and a variety of levels, with a maximum of 15 kids (which would be 3 groups of 5 kids each).  If you have taken the city’s lessons before, they have their system of “Ultra Levels” in their “Learn to Swim” program, so please let me know which level your child(ren) is in and the pool will try to spread them out so those in similar levels will be in a group, if we have multiple groups.  If there is too large of a gap between levels it might not work out (e.g. four kids at levels 3-5 and one at level 9, or 3 at levels 1-2 and one at level 5).  Caveat: Since it’s during the day, the instructor won’t have the extra “Deck Attendants” you might be familiar with from evening or weekend lessons.

The upstairs space is fine for eating lunch in, and the library is right next door so you can make a day of it if you are traveling for the lessons too.

We’d like to have numbers finalized by end of next week, September 13.  Contact me directly if you are interested or have more questions.

table power of 10

Scale of the Universe and Powers of 10 resources

The concept of the scale of the universe has come up multiple times with my kids, and our friends, so I thought I’d put together a few links and resources we’ve used.

There is the ‘classic’ video (film-strip style) from the Eames Office, Powers of Ten and now with its accompanying website.

There is the superb flash animation: Scale of the Universe 2 by Cary Huang and Michael Huang (the (at the time) 14-year-old htwins).  [Hmmm… embedding it doesn’t work, sorry]

There is The Known Universe by American Museum of Natural History, which you can interact with via their Digital Universe 3D Atlas software (powered by Partiview) and presented by one of the makers at TED (Carter Emmart).

If you want to just think about really big numbers too, check out Numberphile‘s video of Googols and Googolplexs.

Howto Try Trihexaflexagon

We finally managed to get a hexaflexagon working!  Check out the video of my son demonstrating.

If you’re having trouble getting started too, here’s a recap of our journey.

We were introduced to them a few weeks ago thanks to vihart‘s great video (via my friend Kate), but stumbled around at first trying to figure them out.   We watched Danny Halvern’s Hexahexaflexagon movie and had some success putting them together with a compass and ruler but it was very time-consuming and we didn’t get many iterations before giving up.  We read over the hexaflexagon construction instructions but were still overwhelmed.  We found a page that talked about the different ways to flex it, but it was still too much to get us off the ground.  I went back to basics and read Martin Gardner‘s original Scientific American Book of Puzzles and Games which probably would have worked if I had taken the time doing it myself, but couldn’t work trying to get the kids to do them as well.  I found a template (and was confused by the having both sides on one side) but, didn’t have a colour printer available so was stumped again.  How were we ever going to get folding?!

And along came the Celebration of Mind Gathering for Gardner.  Their party organizer’s kit finally collected together a simple set of Trihexaflexagon templates in the same spot that we could work with.  We printed out numerous of their blank templates (note to self: modify this to include the numbers for the absolute newbs) and after a few attempts at numbering and colouring it for the kids we got one put together.  Woot!  My son has already modify it to include putting the pattern in the middle and watching it go to the outside and he wanted to do two more before bed, but there is plenty of time for it now.  Are hexahexaflexagon’s next?

Update: Day Two.  We’ve made a few more videos as we worked through our folds and more.  First up is me walking you through the tri and the hexa hexaflexagons.