Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sinister, Subversive Silliness

"Oh, frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" She chortled in her joy.

In Daniel's defense, I volunteered him for this primary talk. When word went out that senior primary needed a substitute, I turned to him, asked if he would like to do it, and volunteered to assist with the writing thereof.

In my defense, Daniel agreed promptly. Like me, he generally enjoys giving talks.

In Daniel's defense, he helped outline the talk in great detail. His ideas and examples were excellent and well-organized.

In my defense, he let me draft the paragraph-form version.

In his defense, he didn't have much time to read the thing. I typed it up during second hour of church, printed it from the library computer, and handed it to him right before third hour started.

In my defense, he still had several minutes. And, really, you'd think he'd be more suspicious of his dear, sweet mom by now. I mean, if I handed you a piece of paper and said, "Here, read this out loud in front of fifty people," wouldn't YOU glance through it first for subversive content? Of COURSE you would!!! But then, you are more experienced than a nine-year-old. Poor naif, trusting, innocent, boy...

Here is a picture of the talk:

I added the highlighter in after the fact. It reads, "I want to serve God with my might, so I have decided to do all my chores at home cheerfully, and even volunteer for extras." (Ain't no way I was going to call attention to that language in advance.)

I was curious to see if Daniel would read the talk through before giving it. And if he would notice that wording. And if he would edit out that sentence.

He didn't. He delivered it verbatim.

I have witnesses.

Heck, I have VIDEO. It will join the the burgeoning ranks of mama's blackmail folder.


It is a glorious day.

Tomorrow, when I remind Daniel that he is going to help me clean the entire house in advance of his grandparents' arrival, that will be--(hopefully, oh, please, let it be so)--that will be an even better day.

My house is very messy. It's a combination of still working the kinks out of a new chore system, saving money by dismissing the cleaning help I've had the last two years, and starting a new math  group. Plus doing some more freelance stuff.

"If seven maids with seven mops
swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," sighed the mama, stressed,
and shed a bitter tear...

But here's the good news: I weep no more. You can't see my cheshire-cat-sized grin right now, but even if Daniel balks tomorrow, I have this moment. The glories of my victory will carry me through the next several hours of Sabbath-violating cleaning.

It is, indeed, the most frabjous of days.

--I reference, above, "Jabberwocky" and "The Walrus and the Carpenter", both by Lewis Carroll, whose skill with silly poetry rivals that of Dr. Seuss.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Number Line Protocols

This year I'm helping to start an elementary math group for homeschooled kids, similar to the groups Eric does but on the fourth- or fifth-grade level.

On Tuesday, I tried an experimental "number line" activity. I wasn't sure how well it would work, but the theory seemed sound.

First, I took four different clotheslines, each 50' long. Then I took clothespins, wrote on them in permanent marker, and made four different number lines. One was simple, going from 0 to 50, with each clothespin spaced a foot apart. Another two were harder, with knots or clothespins only 6 inches apart. They covered -50 to +50.

The fourth and final number line dealt with fractions and decimals. Not very many kids wanted to attempt it, but the few who did seemed to "get" the idea pretty quickly that adding .4 + .7 wasn't any harder than adding 4 + 7. There were just dots involved.

The decimal number line. It ran from 0 through 10. Spread out you see 4.4 through 5.0; halfway through I ran out of clothespins and had to get more before finishing. I face constant tangling and can't wait to upgrade to something better, like large beads. Empty ribbon or thread spools might be even better. Feel free to donate!

(You can argue that I was oversimplifying, and that's a fair criticism. My reply lies in Lockhart's Lament, which argues that formal arithmetic, taught only on paper, kills a kid's intuition for how numbers actually work. The essayist argues that this approach is like teaching a kid "music" only by giving him mind-numbing, abstract theory exercises ("transpose this up three steps") without encouraging him to hum the tune, pick it out by ear on the piano, or compose a variation.)

Several parent volunteers and I laid out the lines in the grass at Girlstart, our fabulous host venue. Here's a picture of some kids attempting a few problems:

Why are people walking, not hopping? Ah well, give it time.

There are many things I would like to tweak now that the debut is done. I want to make a new number line where the numbers are spaced further apart and the markers are larger. We were all, kids and parents, inexperienced, but I expect we'll all improve with a little practice. Hopefully by March, children will be bounding up and down like professional bunnies, blithely solving "8 times negative three [flip!] equals...[hop, hop, hop]...negative 24!"

It's a work in progress. I welcome feedback and suggestions. In particular, I wish there were some way to handle multiplying and dividing by negative numbers better. It seems like 8 x (-3) should involve hopping backwards, somehow...

I also have this idea for a color-coded number line, with dots of paint or pipe cleaners representing different ideas. Example: 20, normal; 21, red (multiple of 3), orange (multiple of 7), and blue (Fibonacci number); 22, normal; 23, yellow (prime); 24, red (multiple of 3); 25, green (square number)..."

I was very proud of the kids who were introduced to negative numbers and didn't flinch. I believe in exposing them to big ideas, even if they aren't completely grasped.

This girl did great with it, though, and picked up on the idea immediately:

For some reason, the girl sandals at -12 made me suddenly want to do a number line decorated with big, cheerful foam flowers. And not just because I was sick of the cheap clothespins snagging and tangling all the time.

Some of the parents asked for a copy of my number line rules so they could try something similar at home.

I'm happy to share! Anyone may borrow this for non-commercial, educational purposes. Once again--I get tired of saying this--forgive blogger's idiotic formatting issues. Thanks to my brother, Ronald, for his help working out some kinks, and to Eric and Daniel for helping to alpha-test.

Number Line Protocols
by Gail Berry

“Facing positive” means that you are facing the direction in which numbers get bigger. Start at 0. If you see 1, 2, 3, 4… stretching out ahead of you, then you are facing positive.

“Facing negative” means that you are facing the opposite direction. Start at 0. If you see -1, -2, -3, -4… stretching out ahead of you, then you are facing negative.

“Flipping” means changing your orientation. If you are facing negative and then “flip,” you are now facing positive.

Note: Always start by facing positive. “Flip” from positive to negative only as indicated below.

·         Stand [first number], facing positive.
·         Face [operation].This means you face “forward/positive” for addition, “backward/negative” for subtraction.
·         Move [second value].


·         3 + 5, you start at three, face the positive direction (for addition), and move forward 5, ending at 8.
·         For 3 - 5, you start at 3, face the negative direction (for subtraction), and walk 5, ending at -2.
·         For 3 + (-5), you start at 3, face the positive direction (for addition), and walk BACKWARD 5 (for the negative second value), ending at -2.

Note: 3-5 and 3 + (-5) yield the same result. The only difference is the direction the kid is facing. Feel free to invite the kid to think about why this is or to suggest a better protocol.

·         For -3 - (-5), you start at -3, face negative (for subtraction), and then move BACKWARD 5, ending at +2.
·         Start at zero, facing positive.
·         Listen to the entire problem.
·         “Flip” once for each negative sign you hear.
·         Jump [first number], [second number] times.


·          For 2 x 4, you start at zero, face positive, and then hop forward by 2s, 4 times. End at 8.
·          For 2 x (-4), you start at zero facing positive, "flip" so once you're facing negative, and then hop by 2s, 4 times, ending at -8.
·          For (-2) x (-4), you start at zero facing positive, "flip" TWICE so you end up facing positive, and then hop forward in increments of 2, 4 times. End at positive 8.

·         Start at zero, facing positive.
·         Listen to the entire problem.
·         "Flip" once for each negative sign.
·         Move in increments of the second number.
·         Count your increments.


·         For 15 / 3, you start at zero, face positive, move forward by 3s, and count how many iterations you move. (“Zero to three, that’s the first one; three to six, that’s the second; six to nine, I’ve taken 3 steps, nine to twelve, that’s four, twelve to fifteen, I took five steps.”) It’s fine to use fingers to keep track of which step/iteration you’re on. When you reach 15, you have moved 5 iterations, so you say "5." 15 / 3 = 5.
·         For 20 / 3, you start at zero, face positive, move forward by 3s, and count iterations. You get 6 iterations, arriving at 18, with a remainder of 2. So 20 / 3 = 6, remainder 2.
·         For (-15)/3, you start at zero, “flip” negative, move forward by 3s, and reach -15 after 5 iterations.
·         Note: at the moment, I am avoiding negative division problems with remainders. If you want to try them, I suggest using decimals. Or having an argument about why it’s “negative six, remainder two,” not “negative six, remainder negative two.”


·         Crawl, slither, dance like ballerinas, gallop, “galumph,” saunter, stroll, or imitate any animal of your choice. For addition or subtraction which involve moving backward, you could try a crabwalk. For multiplication and division, try “hop like a frog” (or kangaroo, or bunny, or astronaut on the moon in 1/6th gravity) or "hop on one foot."
·         Let the kids assign problems to adults, or to each other.
·         Ask what happens when you run out of number line? What if the problem is 7 x 8 but the markers truncate at 50?
·         Try "skip counting" by a number, starting at somewhere that is not a multiple of that number. For instance, start at 2 and skip-count by 3s. (2, 5, 8, 11...). Or start at 1 and skip-count by 3s. (1, 4, 7, 10...) See if you can find any patterns.
Make your own number line. What if it only counts by 7s or 12s? How would you use your special number line to solve a problem like 15 + 9?

QUOTE: “Negative numbers aren’t scary. They’re just in the opposite direction.”

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tortured and "Twitter"pated: Highlight Reel

B-i-l challenged me to do go a week posting a max of 140 characters per update. He's evil; I'm intrigued. Let the self-abnegation begin!

Week 3 since Bear's disappearance. Probably sulking, supplanted by the usurper Theodore. More disturbing: Daniel refuses to mount a search. (139)

August 14
"Twitter" abbreviations r like ancient Hebrew. Old scrolls, no vwls (vowels), ok. But information age? Seriously? Sad language devolution.

Tedra Richter Isn't that MOST semetic languages, tho?

Gail Homer Berry Tdr--prbbl. Hbrw's jst th mst fms. Pls Jwsh frnds hv mntnd th mssng vwls. & 'v rd abt t n bks. Nd trnsltn? (107)

Translation: Tedra—probably. Hebrew’s just the most famous. Plus Jewish friends have mentioned the missing vowels. And I’ve read about it in books. Need translation?

Gail Homer Berry With vowels, above comment minus last two words would be 134. Saved 27 characters. Worthwhile? Nope. (100)

Just read "Bear's Baptism" story to writing camp kids using Theodore "Teddy" to act it out. Ultimate usurpation of poor Bear! Guilt! (132)

Reading Les Miserables. Do we feel sorrier for the ex-convict raising a teen-age girl, or for the girl being raised by a clueless ex-con? (137)

[Someone asks if these short posts will become a permanent style.]

Gail Homer Berry [Name]--just for 1 wk. It's an interesting exercise & builds character. Seems I'm replacing quality w/quantity, tho. Feels like a poor trade. (139)

Eric & Daniel have gotten sanguine about the nightly "lights out/book arrest." Now Sam also hands over books as soon as he sees me coming.

Brian Thomas Now if only your posts had words cavemen like me could understand. (94, including this text)

Gail Homer Berry @Brian: Me hyper-verbal, loquacious wordsmith. You math person. [Gail points] Word woman...math man. Ugh! Caveman capiche? I mean, u get it? (140)

Years ago, I heard a story about a girl @ BYU Japanese house. Unable to communicate nuanced feelings, she had a nervous breakdown. Sympathy! (140)

Gail Homer Berry
(Explanation of target language immersion "houses.") (98)

August 16 
"I'm not even going potty all the way! I'm only going potty a little bit!" --Gail trying (unsuccessfully) to divest herself of an audience. (139) 

Clint Kimball Almost all of your statuses have been 136+ characters. I get the sense you're struggling with that upper limit. (112)

Gail Homer Berry Too true. (9)

Carolyn Homer Thomas Is it mean of me to delight in your struggles?

Clint Kimball Yeah, I don't feel bad either. I have no problem whatsoever rubbing it in your face that I can use as many characters as I want in my reply. (141)

Gail Homer Berry @ Clint -- HAHA--! [Laughter syllables truncated by stupid rationing requirements.]

Brian Thomas Maybe next week we'll ask that you only write in haikus? (60)

Gail Homer Berry @ Carolyn: Short answer: YES! Long answer: Not if u laugh a lot. Mirth makes me feel appreciated & redeems some joy from this torture.

Gail Homer Berry
Brian Thomas...[pause]
What you ask? Impossible.
Vengeance. Five more days.

Brian Thomas
Impossible? No.
But you'd need to be concise!
(61 with this)

Gail Homer Berry
Now, would you really
Prefer such micro-stories?
Ha. Didn't think so.

August 16 
Eric: I built a torture chamber!
Minifig: Aaargh!...
Mom: Eeeek!


Q1: Sociopath?
Q2: 1 pic = 1K words =>Overbudget?

117 +/- approx. 5000


Translation: Eric built a torture chamber and showed it to me. My first question was “Is he turning into a sociopath?” My second question was, “If I post a picture, and that picture is worth a thousand words, does that mean that I’m way overbudget in my character count?”
I had 117 so far, plus or minus 5,000 more characters if you counted the picture against me. And adding that tally brought my final text to 139 characters. 

Gail Homer Berry Lego guy dangles by feet over fire &/or lava while impaled by cruel guard's saber. (82)

Snoopy: It was a dark & stormy nite. Suddenly a shot rang out. The maid screamed.
Me: Everybody died & they all lived happly vr ftr.

Matthew Calabresi Sounds like a vague retelling of "Clue: The Movie"
Gail Homer Berry A demonstration of what we lose by imposing silly length restrictions. Disciplined brevity is good, in moderation, but so is nuance. Sigh. (139)

New paradigm: brevity thwarts decryption. I will embrace this format w/zeal, honoring the tradition that includes "sighted sub; sank same." (140)

Tressa Winmill Mitchell You know you're almost waxing poetic. You could work this to your advantage.

Gail Homer Berry Practice makes perfect.
Tennyson: 'To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'
Gail: To edit, re-write, cringe, then misspell "shEld."

As Harry Potter character deaths mount, I keep offering grief counseling. Boys look bemused and refuse. No emotional investment! Weird... (137)

"Sam, change out of your now!" [Blanking on "swim trunks"]
Irreversible vocab damage? [Nail biting]

Home stretch: 1) 2.5 days of torture remain, 2) planning lengthy, loopy, loquacious blog post on it, 3) past screaming; mostly whimpering.

2 gener8 a plot, I always say,
Just torture karacters. O dire day!
4 now I no exactly how it feels
+ theres no plot, just silly poem peals.


“To generate a plot,” I always say,
“Just torture characters.” O dire day!
For now I know exactly how it feels--
Plus there’s not plot, just silly poem peals.

And commentary:

I faced layered irony.

Reading Lois McMaster Bujold taught me something amazing. When I’m writing a fictional story, I think “What’s the worst thing I could possibly do to this character?”—and then I do it.

And it works! You get all kinds of interesting and funny results that way. (Bwahaha!)

Now I was doing it to myself. And it worked! I got all kinds of interesting and funny results.

It was uncomfortable, though, and it gave me sudden sympathy for all the characters I’ve ever forced to experience messy minions, asphyxiation, orange polka dots, and long division. If things were reversed, what would they do to me?

This silly poem claimed that I was torturing myself to no good purpose since the exercise wasn’t generating a plot, just bad verse. (And I don’t believe suffering innately confers good karma: taking the epidural does not mean you’re a spiritual cripple who loves your baby less.)

The lack of plot was not entirely true, though. Yes, the length restriction were driving me batty, but I was also enjoying how the challenge was generating an awesome conversation among my friends, and that conversation, plus my “hammed up” suffering, were all becoming part of a greater, funny story.

I was torturing myself and tickling myself at the same time.

Yes, I’m crazy.

A new dIrectiv: 2 sAv spAs, I vow
2 spel "long vowls" w/capitals, lIk now.
& also swAr that I'l elimin8
rEdundant leters. This'l B so gr8!


A new directive: to save space, I vow
To spell “long vowels” with capitals, like now.
And also swear that I’ll eliminate
Redundant letters. This will be so great!

Phillip Porter And so it begins. 

Gail Homer Berry @ Phillip--so what begins? The rapid devolution of "twitter/texting" English is already underway, and my insanity is also well documented. (138) 

Matthew Calabresi I feel like I'm witnessing some sort of triumph of the human spirit, but it's of someone whose only goal in life is to bounce off of padded walls. 

Gail Homer Berry
A padded cell no prison makes
if I have paper, quill,
And no restrictions on their use.
(Plus real food, not swill.)

Gail Homer Berry
A second thought--I'd get more done
Without my kids in tow;
But with no reader feedback...?
Nah, I guess that I won't go.

Gail Homer Berry
@ Matthew--I am laughing, still,
@ comment u just made.
My big regret? My meter changed.
I've played, strayed, prayed, and paid.

Commentary: It drove me crazy that I switched from straight iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line with alternating accents) in my original poem posts to a pattern of 8/6/8/6 syllable lines, albeit still in iambic feet in the comments. That’s what I mean by my “meter” changing.

Carolyn Homer Thomas I feel like Brian and I should have also imposed a "no non-standard abbreviation" limit on you, too. I HATE l33tspeak with a fiery passion.
Gail Homer Berry
I hAt it 2! But how else cud
I skwEz a 4-lIn stanza
In2 restrictions u impOzd?
Cant soar, just glide. Lufthansa!


I hate it, too! But how else could
I squeeze a four-line stanza
Into restrictions you imposed?
Can’t soar, just glide. Lufthansa!


Well, obviously “Lufthansa” was a stretch. I was trying to evoke imagery of a majestic bird hobbled by a clipped wing, or a sleek airplane hampered by silly governmental regulations. Something that should be soaring but is just managing an awkward glide. I was also desperate for a rhyme.

It's also true I hated the "mixed cAs" spelling. Awful. And obnoxious. Another sad compromise.

At no point, though, did I ever say "wood of" instead of "would have." i hav sum standerds

Carolyn Homer Thomas considering you had another 30 characters with that one, I'm pretty sure you could have done it.

Gail Homer Berry
That last one, true. I did it to
Annoy you, natcherly,
But pause and think: though it pained you,
the "scorched earth" burned, more, me.

Gail Homer Berry
Some "triage" principles apply
to all my verse, I fear.
If I must change 1 vowel, then
perhaps I /all/ should shear.

Commentary: I did consider, seriously, capitalizing even words where it was unnecessary, like “mE” and “hE”, just for uniformity. I refrained. Aren’t you proud of me?

Clint Kimball If it were me I would have truncated your original post to:

"I've got it! I'll replace long vowels with capital letters and eliminate redundant characters! (95)"

Then again the truncation would defeat purpose of the post in the first place. Hmm...

Gail Homer Berry @Clint:

Two motivations have I: first,
From all this pain, make art;
The second--it's ignoble, aye--
To others, pain impart.

2 Ne 2:27

Commentary: I’m particularly proud of that one. I think it was the favorite poem I wrote that week.

The scripture reference is about how Satan is selfish and “seeks to make all men miserable like unto himself.”

It’s petty and cruel and I ought to be ashamed of myself. But I will confess I took an unholy pleasure in spreading the suffering around. And it DID help me feel better.

As Alcatraz Smedry would say, “I am not a nice person.” Also “
Authors write books for one, and only one, reason: because we like to torture people.”


If U cud undrstand my prEvyus pOms,
I pity U, mE, languj & al tOms.
The rIming is such fun thO; I intend
2 kEp it up 'til I or English rend

Tedra Richter thk u, e.e. berry. Lol


If you could understand my previous poems,
I pity you, me, language, and all tomes.
The rhyming is such fun, though; I intend
To keep it up ‘till I or English rend.

I've hit my stride! I'm writing terse, cute odes.
Just ten. More. Hours. Pray I don't expl--


I survived!

As an over-reaction, I wrote a loquacious blog post about how I'm normally:

+Articulate with adverbs, appreciative of allomorphs, authoritative on articles, antsy at antecedents, and even ardent about aspectful auxiliary verbs.

+Babblish*, even with bound morphemes.
+Chatteritive*, using classifiers in compound-complex clumps of clauses. Copiously circumlocutious...

...and on through the alphabet.

Then, just as I was regaining some equilibrium, I spent many hours doing some very dry technical writing. That threw me off-kilter again.

At the moment, I am still experiencing some severe over-corrections, like babbling maniacally.
(More than usual. And I heard that.)

I am confident that I'll return to "normal" Gail style...any day now.