Tall Towers and Family Trees

The Activities

  1. Topic: Counting by 10s: Book: The Wing Wing Brothers Carnival de Math by Long.
  2. Topic: Spatial Reasoning: Work together to build the tallest possible towers out of Magformers. David and I built our own towers beforehand and marked the heights on the wall.  The kids tried to beat our towers.
  3. Topic: Powers and Charts::  Look at family tree and figure out how many parents, grand-parents, great grand parents each person has.  Also figure out how many kids, grandkids, great-grand kids you’ll have if each person in the tree has 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 kids.  I drew out family trees of a person’s direct ancestors and descendents. For the descendants I drew several versions of the tree, changing the # of kids each descendant had.

    A direct relations tree where each descendant has 3 kids.


Before Circle, David and I each built magformer towers to give the kids something to try to beat.  I didn’t try too hard, so mine was much lower than David’s.

The family tree charts took awhile to make. I first drew the ancestors half on graph paper. Then I scanned it onto the computer, printed it several times, and drew the various descendant halves. Then I scanned it back in, and printed out several copies for the kids.

How did it go?

There were 3 kids at this week’s circle.  During the summer many families are travelling so we rarely get all 6 together.  All the kids loved the tower building challenge…They had very interesting ideas about how to stabilize their tower when it started to tip.  They wanted to build very large fins on each side, kind of like a rocket ship.

Their tower suddenly collapsed while they were still building it, but they handled the disappointment ok.  Then we had David come in and try to recreate his winning tower, but his crashed suddenly, which might have made the kids feel better.

The family tree activity did not go as well as I’d hoped.  I had filled in a family tree for my daughter with lots of our ancestors (by calling up both grandmothers).  But the kids didn’t seem too interested in the ancestors names.  They did have some fun naming their own kids though. ‘Elsa’ was a popular choice.  Somehow I didn’t get to talk about powers as much as I wanted…the kids didn’t really notice how much faster your descendant tree grows if each person has 4 kids vs 2 kids.


Robot Turtle Turmoil

The Activities

  1. Topic: Powers: Book: Anno’s Magic Seeds by Mitsumasa Anno.  This book is about doubling the amount of seeds you have each year.  We acted out part of the book using the Base Ten Blocks.
  2. Topic: Weight: Weigh out a number of ounces of playdough, then make that digit with the playdough. For example, one kid weighed out 1 ounce of play dough and formed a ‘1’ out of it.  I got this idea from the book Games For Math by Kaye.
  3. Topic: Programming: Robot Turtles Board Game. This is a board game where each kid controls a turtle and writes short programs to walk the turtle around barriers to get to a jewel.


This circle took very little prep time.  Mostly I just had to gather together the materials (play dough, a scale, the base 10 blocks, Robot Turtles).

How did it go?

Anno’s Magic Seeds

This book starts with the main character getting 2 magic seeds. Then he eats one and plants the other (which grows 2 seeds the next year), and he does this 3 times in a row!  The kids started to ask me if anything else would ever happen. One of the kids said it was a very boring book.

Then finally Anno plants both seeds and the amount of seeds quickly grows.  The kids easily figured out 3 + 3 = 6, and 5 + 5 = 10.  None of the kids could do 9 + 9 in their heads so I got out the Base 10 Blocks, and showed them how to put a row of nine blocks, and then another row on top. Then the kids happily counted by 2s to 18.  Next we had to 17 + 17, which we worked together to solve.  Now we had to do 33 + 33.  For this I got out the 10 bars, and one of the kids very quickly looked at the two rows and said it was 66 (the 10 bars are awesome!).  Then we did 64 + 64 with the 10 bars, but by now, some of the kids were playing their own games with blue blocks. They protested loudly when I suggested stopping the book, so I then read the rest of it without acting it out.

Playdough Numbers

The kids were excited to work with playdough, and everyone wanted to help me weight it out.  However, no one seemed to get the point, which is to help build a feeling for weight.  Some of the kids took a verrry long time to make their digits.

Robot Turtles

This is a cool board game that teaches programming to kids age 3 – 7.  It turns out that kids that young can have trouble playing nicely.  Overall the kids really enjoyed the game, but we had our fair share of turmoil:

  • One kid crying because she didn’t get the right color turtle.
  • Two kids insisting they would both try to steer their turtles to the same jewel.
  • One kid getting trapped in a corner by another kid’s turtle.

Most of the kids did figure out how to write programs to make their turtles go where they wanted.  The kids were also excited to learn about the Laser cards in the future.