Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bridge Unit Study - Lesson 6: Hanging Bridge Model

My son built a hanging bridge.

Although hanging bridges are rarely used today for transportation, they can make wonderful play structures. The one shown below is at a high ropes course. The hanging bridge is mounted on a pulley to a cable. The bridge is controlled with the rope to pull it near, and by gravity when traveling to the other end.

A similar bridge can be constructed over a calm waterway by attaching a floating raft to a cable spanning the waterway.

The book Bridges: Amazing Structures to Design Build and Test was the inspiration for this activity as it has been for most of our other bridge modeling projects.

This time, two straws were attached to a piece of cardboard to run on the main cables of the bridge.

Again, my son used two chairs as the main supports for his bridge.

A basket was hung from the cardboard pulley system to transport traffic across the bridge.

Please visit each of the pages on Highhill Education for more hands-on activity ideas. Math, Science, History

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Programming for Kids

My son is learning to program using Javascript.

After many years learning the basics of computer programming with Scratch, my son is learning his first programming language. Javascript. His last project on Scratch was a Mrs. PacMan game. After working many weeks on his design, which included downloading and reading the code of a similar game, he was ready to move on. Well, actually he wasn't. He wanted to make his game perfect which is a common trait of a computer programmer and engineer, but we told he he was ready to level up, or graduate if you will, to bigger and better things.

We found the key in the book Javascript for Kids. After reading the first chapter I was hooked. The author explained that in reality, computers were actually very dumb. They can after all, do only what humans have told them to do. It made perfect sense and made me laugh.

Then we moved on. This book is perfect because it starts with the very basics and builds from there.  In discussing variables, the first main topic, the difference between numbers, strings and booleans is explained. Short program examples are given and the kids can type them right into the browser to see how it works. Chapters also contain challenge questions designed to get kids creating their own programs using the tools they learned.

We covered about a chapter per week and by the end my son was on a roll.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How to Teach Math Without a Curriculum

Math is everywhere; games, art, and life and it's possible to teach kids lots of math with little to no curriculum. What's more, it's easy to do. However, as skills increase beyond addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and geometry curriculum makes teaching math much easier.

All three of my children learned fundamental math skills through play. Kids learning math this way don't fall behind, or miss steps. On the contrary, they build a solid foundation of skills that enables them to understand higher level math much easier. Many concepts can be taught and absorbed rapidly enabling them to fly through more advanced math curriculum. Because my children were playing, they were motivated to learn. At age 15, my oldest daughter passed the calculus CLEP exam and at age 10 my youngest daughter tested at a 9th grade math level.

Learning math still takes time. The difference here is the way math is being learned. Note that each of these skills should be mastered before moving onto higher level math and it is necessary to master some skills before beginning others. For example, kids should be able to recognize their numbers and count before moving onto any of the other games or activities. However, there are many skills which can be learned at the same time. For example, when kids are busy playing Black Jack 21 to learn to add, they can play Cribbage which reinforces adding skills and introduces strategy and skip-counting. Speed! teaches skip-counting of numbers one through nine. Kids can begin playing the game learning to count by 2's and 5's while mastering their addition facts.

If you want to teach math this way, here is a list of progressively more difficult activities to try and master. This list covers the core skills of elementary math. We covered this list, added in other activities to introduce time, money, shapes and patterns, and also added a workbook or two each year so the kids could see math as written symbolically. Only the core activities are listed, supporting activities such as weaving potholders, drawing symmetric monsters, and additional games which involve a variety of math skills can be found on my Math Page. It is typical to move through the list of games and activities with some overlap concentrating on one game, but mixing in other games and activities for fun.

Number Recognition

UNO is one of the best games to begin with when introducing kids to math.


Chutes and Ladders is a classic game that kids enjoy playing. I like it because it helps with number recognition and they count from 1-100.

Writing Numbers

Make a homemade calendar. Doing this activity with each of my children, they were able to practice writing their numbers, learned about months, and again counted numbers from 1-31.

Number Value

War is the single best way to teach greater than less than. After flipping a card from a standard deck, the person who flipped the card with the greatest value gets to keep both cards. The game ends when one person holds all the cards.


Black Jack 21 is a gambling game played with a standard deck of cards. We didn't play Black Jack to gamble. We played it to learn to add. The dealer gives each player one card face down and one card face up. After peeking at their secret card, kids decide whether or not they would like an additional card to bring the sum of their numbers as close to 21 as possible. They can ask for as many additional cards as they would like receiving and deciding one-at-a-time. If they go over 21, they loose. If they stay under 21, the dealer gets a chance to get a higher total than the child. This game teaches prediction, statistics, strategy and most important - ADDING.

Similar to War, players win a game of Adding War by getting all the cards. The only difference is that two cards are flipped over instead of one and the player with the greater sum of cards gets all four cards.


Speed! teaches skip-counting by 2's through 9's. Mastering this fundamental skill makes learning multiplication, division, factoring and fractions much easier.

Cribbage is a much more complicated game than Black Jack or War, where players try to get points by getting numbers in a row, pairs and cards that total 15. It reinforces skip-counting by 2's and is wonderful for practice with addition. Since the game is more complicated, I would recommend playing after kids have a good handle of the above games, so around age 8 and up.


Every homeschool mom knows that cooking is fraction application. We incorporated food into history and geography as well. Here are some fun dishes to make with kids.


Geometry can be introduced by creating art with a compass and a straight edge. The geometric designs, shapes in circles found on my Math Page can be completed with kids around age 8 after they can draw a circle with a compass. The activities increase in difficulty when exploring math art with mandalas. The mandala activities are great for kids around age 10 or when they have completed the shapes in circles activities.

Please see my Math Page for additional activities to learn and practice math skills without a curriculum.
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