Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter 2013

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Easter 2013, a set on Flickr.
Everyone got together on Easter Sunday for a meal and egg hunt. Despite everyone's best effort, we're pretty sure there are still a couple eggs hidden in the grass.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fractionally Frustrated to the Third Power

elephant bathingWe need to do a better job of giving kids the NEED for math. Helping my 8th grade son with his Pre-Algebra review homework tonight, we got stumped on taking negative fractions to the third power. Perhaps it because I teach in technology where everything has practical applications or maybe it's just my personality; but I cannot think of a reason to perform that calculation.

As a review section, I know to look back in the chapter for help. The original lesson explained that elephants eat 125 pounds of hay a day. We can write that as 5^3. OK, but why would you? If you asked anyone helping feed the elephant to bring you 5^3 pounds of hay, I bet the elephant would be hungry.

I understand that exponents and roots are shorthand for longer calculations. They are useful in programming as a way to reduce the size of the code. Outside of that context, I just don't get why anyone would know (or care) that a volleyball court has an area of 2^7 meters. Tell me the court is 128 square meters and that has meaning. We can cover it with carpet, or add sand to a depth and we're talking volume.

We were both long past figuring out the HOW, but I need to know the WHY. If the notation does not communicate meaning, then it becomes meaningless and our students are lost.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mindstorm Drag Race

The programming students just completed a two week Lego Mindstorm robotics competition to build a drag racer. In keeping with the students' personalities, one followed directions found in a book and the other got creative.

Early tests revealed that using gear ratios gave the dragster greater speed than simply running the wheels directly off the motor. That led to adding as many gears as possible, but then the torque became too great for the motors to push the car off the line.

Other factors that came into play were a friction sled front end versus wheels. One Mindstorm uses the rechargeable battery pack while the other uses AA batteries, so power supply may have been a factor.

Steering became an issue, as both vehicles tended to veer to the side. Both racers used two motors to drive the axle, so mismatched motors may have delivered more torque to one side.

The programming wasn't overly complex. We used light sensors to identify when a bright light was flashed to start the race. While working through gear ratios, they did attempt to write code that would simulate shifting gears, applying less power at the start and increasing it accordingly.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Movie Review: Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

In the days leading up to his 13th birthday, Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy undertake an amazing journey of discovery. Through an intricate cast of characters, Jeremy's deceased father is able to impart a trove of wisdom to his young son.

I appreciated the tenderness and emotion present throughout the feature. Becoming a teenager can be difficult, especially through ever changing family circumstances. This movie is a compelling and thoughtful coming of age tale.

The PG rating was for thematic elements that may be difficult for young children to understand. There was a couple scenes with a Ouija board and a fortune teller, but neither was presented as a valid source of information. The language was clean and images modest.

The best compliment I can give the movie is that it made me want to read the book. Be prepared to talk with your kids about responsibility, growing up, divorce and death of a parent... and of course the true meaning of life.

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Ecclesiastes 5:18
imdb link