Star Wars Battles and Bent Legs

The Activities

  1. Topics: Addition, Graphs, Time:  Book: Get Up and Go! by S. Murphy.
  2. Topics: Logic, Venn Diagrams:  First, we did our standard Venn diagrams activity using fairy tale characters.  The two problems we did were “Animals” and “Magic”; and “Scary Things” and “Girls”.  Then I shuffled up the cards and flipped over sets of 4 (later 6) cards, and the kids had to come up with as many different ways to group the cards into two groups, with explanations.


    Just Animals vs. Not Just Animals

  3. Topics: Simulation, Charts: I introduced “Star Wars battles”.  The idea is that you have two characters, each with a certain amount of Attack and Health.  Each simultaneously deals damage to the other, and when you get to zero health you are knocked out.  The battles end in a tie if both are simultaneously knocked out.  They also can have armor, which reduces the damage received by one each time.  I designed 6 characters (we happened to have figures for all of them): Kylo Ren (4 attack, 4 health), Rey (2 attack, 8 health), BB-8 (1 attack, 12 health), Flame Trooper (6 attack, 1 health), Finn (6 attack, 6 health), and Phasma (1 attack, 9 health, 1 armor).  We used glass beads to keep track of health, and the kids took turns setting up and running the battles.  We started with the first 4 characters and played all pairs; I kept track of the results on a chart (see picture).  Then we added Finn, did all the pairs with him; and then Phasma.  Then we figured out the win-tie-loss records for each character and compared them.  Finally, I asked them whether they could make a character that tied with Finn.

How Did It Go?

We only had two kids this week; as usual things were easier with such a small group.

Get Up And Go!

A straight-forward book about getting ready in the morning, adding up the time for each individual activity in order to get the total time to get ready.  I gave each of the kids a worksheet to take home and fill out for their own routine.

Venn Diagrams

It’s been a while since we did Venn diagrams, one of the kids remembered them pretty well but the other was rusty.  The fairy tale Venn diagrams is always fun because the kids have to decide what’s an animal, what’s magical, what’s scary, etc.  This time, the gingerbread man wasn’t magical, for Pinocchio: Child: “Is this magical?” Me: “It’s a living puppet.”  Child: “Ok, no.  Wait, yes?”, ogres and trolls are animals.

Grouping the cards is also fun.  I stumped them once by grouping a cat, bear, and wolf together vs. a dragon, goose, and frog.  They often went for very small bits of color when grouping cards.  My favorite was “bent legs”, when “legs” would have accomplished the same split.

Star Wars Battles

Our son has been doing something similar outside of circle on his own, so naturally he loved it.  The other kid also liked it quite a bit.  It took a bit of time for the other kid to catch on, but by the end both kids could run the battles smoothly using the glass beads.  With the stats I picked, it’s pretty interesting because it’s quite non-transitive: Finn has the best record (4 Wins, 1 Tie) while the Flame Trooper has the worst (2 Ties, 3 Losses), yet Finn and the Flame Trooper tie.  For the final question about tying Finn, our son was able to figure out that he would tie with a character with 1 attack and 36 health, because 6 * 6 = 36 damage from Finn.  Pretty nice!

Reading the chart was somewhat tricky, so only one of the kids followed the second part about calculating the records for each character and comparing them.


Spoons Full of Beads (Age 8)

The Activities

  1. Topic: Estimation. Book: Betcha by Murphy. In this book two friends estimate the number of various objects, e.g. cars on a block, people on a bus. It ends with guessing the number of jelly beans in a large jar.
  2. Topic: Estimation. Guess how many beads will fit on each of three different spoon sizes. First the kids guessed by just looking at the spoon. Then we piled on the beads, and I let them make a second guess based on the beads on the spoon. Then we counted to see how many there really were.
  3. Topic: Building. Next I gave each kid the small size of spoon and challenged them to fit as many beads on the spoon as they could.
  4. Topic: Charts. Each kid tracked a different attribute of a Pokemon: color, height, hit points, number of abilities. We flipped over 10 random Pokemon cards and each kid updated their chart. Then we looked at our charts and predicted how the chart would change when we add in the next 10 Pokemon cards.

How did it go?

We had four kids this week, and it was a rowdy but good-natured circle. Several kids got off topic at various points but they generally came back on track after some warnings from me. This morning was my daughter’s 8th birthday party, and she had come home completely exhausted and grumpy. I was quite worried she would want to sit out circle again, but she actually did ok, though she was gigglier than usual.


The kids all enjoyed the book, and played along making their own guesses. The spoon activity was also fun. It was a bit tough to get kids to actually make their guesses, but once they were written down, everyone enjoyed helping to put the beads on the spoon and counting the beads to see who was closest.

We started with the medium sized spoon, and they realized the smaller one would hold fewer, and the bigger one more. Their second guesses (after seeing the beads on the spoon) were generally more accurate than the guess based just on the spoon.

Piling Beads on Spoons

The kids were not satisfied that I had really gotten the maximum number of beads on each spoon, so I gave them a chance to do better. I gave each kid a small-sized spoon and we sat on the floor piling beads on the spoon.  Initially we had gotten 30 beads on the spoon. I managed to get 39 on during this activity, which is one more than the 38 that had fit on the medium sized spoon. Two other kids got 34 and 36 beads. At first my daughter was messing around and giggling but eventually she got quite serious and managed to get 41 beads on her spoon, beating me by two.  The last kid never really tried and mostly threw beads around the room or put them in pockets.IMG_20160731_170549

Pokemon Charts

4 of the 5 kids are obsessed with Pokemon Go, so last week David promised them a Pokemon activity. We thought making charts of various Pokemon attributes would fit into this lesson because we could predict the attribute distribution after some Pokemon to the chart. However, this turned mainly into a looking at Pokemon and making tally marks activity. Not sure how much we really learned here, but the kids enjoyed it.  Two kids did notice that their attributes were closely related: nearly every pokemon with 40 or fewer hit points is also shorter than two feet.  We also noticed that nearly every Pokemon card has two attacks. A few have one attack, and none seem to have three or more attacks.IMG_20160731_173211

Two Towers of Hanoi (Age 6)

The Activities

  1. Topic: Puzzles. Book: Taro Gomi’s Playful Puzzles for Little Hands. The kids still love this book, though they’re getting slightly impatient. The most interesting page this week was one where you’re supposed to trace two different shaped mazes with two hands at once. Each kid wanted to try it more than once.
  2. Topic: Logic, Puzzles. The kids played Tower of Hanoi, first with two discs, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.  Before moving to a higher number of discs, I usually asked them to solve the current puzzle twice. To solve the Tower of Hanoi you have to move a stack of discs from the left peg to the right peg following two rules: you can only move one disc at a time, and you cannot put a larger disc on top of a smaller one.IMG_20160724_175026

How did it go?

This was our first circle in a few weeks, due to holidays and vacations. This week we only had two kids, due to summer break. This made for a very easy and relaxed circle. I was able to spend time with each kid, working on the Tower puzzle.  I gave quite a bit of advice to each one to help them solve the seven disk problem. Eventually the kids noticed that solving the 7 disc problem requires first solving the 6 disc problem, then the 5, 4, 3, 2 disc problem. By the end, they were quite confident about solving the 4 disc puzzle, and could also independently solve 5 discs. Higher than that started to get complicated and required help from me.

Should Have Done Something About Pokemon

The Activities

  1. Topics: Logic, Puzzles:  Book: Still More Stories to Solve by G. Shannon, stories 6-8.
  2. Topics: Optical Illusions, Geometry:  We did several activities from The Usborne Optical Illusions Activity Book, by S. Taplin.  The first activity was about coloring a diamond grid — the well-known illusion about two different ways to see a pattern of cubes.  The second activity involved a pattern with several rows of arrows, odd rows point left and even rows pointing right — once colored, it can either look like, say, red arrows pointing right on a blue background, or blue arrows pointing left on a red background.  The third activity was a circle of dots which when connected in the specified way generated a circular hole in the middle in the shape of a circle.  I extended this activity by showing the kids how to draw a line drawing of a star: Draw a cross on a sheet of graph paper, and then draw a line from (0, X) to (12 – X, 0) for all X.

How Did It Go?

We had all five kids this week.  I realized 15 minutes before circle we should have done an activity involving Pokemon, and indeed there was a lot of talk about Pokemon Go during circle while the kids were coloring.  We’ll definitely do something about Pokemon soon.

Still More Stories to Solve

The first puzzle was a variant of “This sentence is a lie.” — awfully hard for an 8-year-old to guess.  The second was about a king saying “Don’t do X until you see my face” (meaning, “until we meet again”) and then someone sees the king’s face on a coin so they do it earlier.  With some clues the kids realized that people’s faces were on money, and then they figured out the answer exactly.  The last one also went pretty well, they needed a lot of hints but they figured it out.

Optical Illusions

The first two only went ok, the kids were fine coloring the pictures, but then they weren’t impressed by the illusion at all.  For the cube one, I’m not sure if they were actually seeing it both ways, or if they were just uninterested; it’s very hard to tell the difference.  Most kids said something similar for the arrows: they said “They go both ways.”  One kid was quite sure that they were blue arrows going left, because the top and bottom row were red, so red looked like the background.  I added a row of blue arrows to the top, and then they said that the arrows didn’t go either way.

The third activity (circle of lines) was fine, not too hard and a nice-looking result — but still not that much excitement.  However, the star-shaped pattern was much more interesting to them.  It was tricky to do correctly — many of the kids repeatedly forgot to move one of the endpoints of the line.  In the end, all of the kids asked for me to make another cross on grid paper so they could take it home and try it again.  At first, I was doing the wrong thing — connecting (0, 12) to (1, 0) when I should have connected (0, 11) to (1, 0).  One very interesting thing about this activity is that there are several closely connected curves.  Besides the one we did, there’s also one where the length of the line you draw is constant (draw all possible lines of length 12 connecting the X axis to the Y axis), and there’s also connecting (0, X) to (1/X, 0), which makes a hyperbola.