Thursday, April 23, 2015

Farewell, Ur-Quan, For Now

Back in November I introduced Smiley to Star Control II.

He liked it.  Even though Gallant was younger, he also enjoyed watching space ships to space things.

But the game was always something they watched me do.  After I bought myself a tablet in January, they switched to playing games themselves on the tablet.  (Battleheart Legacy, Dungelot, and Merchant.)

So no more Ur-Quan for now.  I am sure they will return eventually.

And, yes, the game is also available for Android devices.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Merchant App Game

Smiley has a new favorite game on my tablet.

I was looking for the old Apple game Taipan for its basic, age-appropriate economic lessons, and found a slightly more complex game named Merchant.  (More information is available here.)

Taipan focused on "buy low, sell high".  Merchant does not teach that particular lesson, but does a great job with other lessons about buying, selling, and value-added costs.

It is much too repetitive for an adult to enjoy. But it is perfect for a seven-year-old.

He was initially turned off because you send heroes on quests but do not get to actively direct them or see them fight.  But he soon because caught up in the item crafting and selling.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Something There is That Loves a Wall

We recently had a wall built along the uphill side of our driveway, and along the front of our front yard.

Before there was only slope and rocks.  The contractors who built the house apparently made piles, not an actual wall.  The rocks were collapsing.  We were losing driveway space and it looked terrible.

Ross Maier (phone 503-440-4722) comes from a family of stone masons.  He had previously worked for one of the large construction firms in Eugene.  Towards the end of 2014 he got licensed and bonded, and started his own company.

He does great work.  (I also have photos of his later projects, including slate steps and a front-yard fountain.  But I am not sure if I can share those.)

Here is the entire wall:

A close-up of the steps at the top.  You can also somewhat see the stepping stones he added to our front yard.  No more muddy footprints in the entryway!  (And the boys love how the front yard is not a giant hopscotch-like game.)

More of a close-up of the driveway half.

And a zoomed in close-up of the corner.

Finally, sign.

We can certainly recommend Ross.  He does great work, is easy to work with, and has reasonable prices with generous warranties.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What Might a Non-Synagogue Jewish Center Do?

What might a non-synagogue Jewish center do?  Especially for families?

I was asked to do some brainstorming.  I came up with five big themes, and details for each.

What other ideas do you have?

1. Care of Mathoms

A mathom is something not used but too sentimental to discard.  We Jews have many cultural mathoms.  Sometimes we enjoy taking them off the shelf, dusting them off, and using them once (or once again).

A non-synagogue Jewish center could help families care for their mathoms using social networking, a website of articles written by community members, and lending library.

It could help a family celebrate a family Passover seder for the first time by offering advice, recipes, and the loan of haggadot.  It could support a discussion about how to make Chanukah something the kids really value as more than getting presents or being "not Christmas".  It could advise people on how to make a first visit to Israel more meaningful than what a tour package offers.  Etc.

Besides the center's own lending library of books and DVDs, it could cooperate with the Eugene and Springfield city libraries.  This could include a list (on the center's website) of the Jewish materials available at those libraries, as well as financial contributions to make sure the e-books associated with those libraries include plenty of Jewish e-books.

2. Educational Classes

A non-synagogue Jewish center could offer classes about Jewish culture, Hebrew, approaching Torah, Jewish ethics, Israel, etc.  Similarly, it could offer book and film discussion series.

Yet the center actually only needs to support education with (a) money and (b) publicity.

Someone else could approach the center and say, "I would like to offer a five-week film series on such-and-such."

The center could then reply, "That does fit our goals and vision.  Here is some funding.  We'll use our social networking to publicize your project."

3. Community Events

A non-synagogue Jewish center could offer both social-themed and holiday-themed events (gatherings at parks, a community Chanukah party, etc.)

As before, the center actually only need supply some money and publicity.  The person organizing an event need not be staff employed by the center.

4. Charitable Donations

A non-synagogue Jewish center could help families connect with Jewish charities.

The center could also do its own charitable work.

(I happen to know that Oregon prisons need more Jewish books and DVDs.  It would be wonderful if Lane County had a "free burial society" such as this one in New York.  Also, many Asian-American communities pool money to send kids to graduate school: "Not all our kids have what it takes to be doctors or lawyers, but those that do will not have to abandon their dream because of lack of money.")

5. A Space for Halachah Development

Every Jewish generation continues discussing and developing halachah.  Atheistic Jews can do this to actively help our culture evolve and mature.  Theistic Jews can also see this work as an ongoing dialogue between God and the Jewish people.

Traditionally, this happens primarily by discussing the weekly Torah parashot in search of insightful applications.  What does this passage mean for us today?  What does it teach about how to relate to people and to God?

A non-synagogue Jewish center could host weekly parashot discussions, and archive the community's insights on its website.  Over the years this would create a fascinating account of how the community grappled with its identity, ethics, and values.

Conceptual Steps for Addition and Subtraction / More Fun than Flash Cards

Smiley's first grade math curriculum uses the concept of "fact families".

For example, 3, 4, and 7 are a "fact family" because they can create the four addition/subtraction equations of

3 + 4 = 7
4 + 3 = 7
7 − 4 = 3
7 − 3 = 4

A new bit of jargon to me.  But it appears to help Smiley.

Anyway, addition has several conceptual steps.  Let's focus on 3 + 4 = 7 for now.

First, a kid learns that addition means counting both piles of objects.  We start with a pile of three and a pile of four.  If we count all the objects we get to seven.  (Perhaps we merge the piles, perhaps we do not.)

Second, a kid learns that it is faster to count onward from the bigger pile.  We do not need to start counting at one.  We can start at four (the size of the larger pile) and then keep going for the object in the smaller pile ("five, six, seven!").

Third, a kid learns basic number-line sense.  Adults do not solve 14 + 2 = 16 with mental counting.  We simply know that two more than 4 is 6, and similarly two more than 14 is 16.  We more or less picture the number-line and just know how nearby numbers relate.

Fourth, a kid memorizes fact families.  A first-grade favorite is 7 + 4 = 11 because seven and eleven rhyme.  Ideally many addition problems involving small numbers are memorized so they no longer need to be solved by counting.

Then the four previous developmental steps are applied to subtraction.  Consider 7 − 4 = 3.

Fifth, we could remove four objects from a pile of seven objects, and count how many remain.  (The subtraction equivalent of counting both piles of objects.)

Sixth, we could count down from seven four times.

Seventh, we could count upward from four to seven.  (Seeing whether counting down or up is quicker is the subtraction equivalent of counting from the bigger pile.)

Finally, we can use number-line sense or fact family memorization get the answer without counting.


Smiley needs to memorize some fact families.  Flash cards are boring and not fun.

I designed something better.  Reloading that page generates a new worksheet of sixteen problems.

Because of how the fact families are carefully "hidden" on the page, solving these problems is fun for him because Smiley feels like he is "cheating" by finding the patterns.

Actually, he is learning the valuable skill of not solving math problems in order, but looking for how to do the fast/related problems together.

I brought some samples to all the Edgewood first grade classrooms last week.  The kids worked in pairs.  The worksheets were a big success.

An Illustration of Arlinac Town

I just wrote about commissioning some mancala-style abacuses.  That helped lots of people, but was not a project for me.  A second commission at the end of 2014 was.

My role-playing game, Nine Powers, is getting ready for some more purposeful sharing.  It now has a Google+ page, which made me realize it needs at least one nice image.

So I commissioned Jereme Peabody to create an image of the setting's main location, Arlinac Town.

This was a surprisingly big project.  We exchanged dozens of constructive e-mails discussing ideas and critiquing drafts.  Jereme was wonderful to work with, and we're both quite happy with the result.

Perhaps once Summer begins I will have the time to start publicizing Nine Powers properly.  Currently my life has too many other chores and errands.

Fidelity Charitable in 2014

My previous post mentioned Fidelity Charitable.

In 2014, that non-profit funneled donations more than 620,000 times, totaling nearly $2.6 billion.  You can read more here.

Mancala-Style Abacus

I have blogged before about my friend Jeffrey Weitzel and his local banjo making business.

His work had a slow point last Winter, and my family's account with Fidelity Charitable had grown with the stock market in 2014.  So I commissioned him to make a special set of abacuses for Edgewood Elementary School.  I sent money from Fidelity Charitable to the school to cover the cost.

A normal abacus is dreadful in a room full of first graders.  When jostled its beads move into the wrong places.  Flipped over it drives like a car.

But these mancala-style abacuses work great.  For several months my weekly volunteer time focused on teaching all three first-grade classrooms how to use them.  The kids learned about place value and adding numbers bigger than twenty.

Smiley has owned an abacus for about two years.  I had bought the fun Aba-Conundrums book for him.  That book also provided more fun things to do in the classrooms.

Dip Pen

Smiley has a weekly homework assignment that always includes a page of two of handwriting practice.

He does not resist it much.  But handwriting practice is not fun.


Years ago I bought myself an inexpensive glass dip pen as a souvenir from visiting the Corning Museum of Glass.

Smiley is finally old enough to use it carefully.  It is a special treat, something he only gets to use when doing his handwriting practice.

Dessert Choices

When Smiley was two years old, the only candy he knew about was the chocolate chips we use for baking, and white tic-tacs.

After lunch and dinner, his reward for finishing his meal was two Dessert Choices.  Usually he picked two chocolate chips.

When he became three years old, his meal sizes had increased, and he advanced to three Dessert Choices.

During his third year he learned about other kinds of candy.  Some he even got to have as options for dessert.  For each new option, I assigned how many Dessert Choices it counted as.  Small candies like jelly beans were one Dessert Choice.  Medium candies  like gumdrops were two Dessert Choices.  Large candies, like a miniature candy bar, were three or four Dessert Choices.

When Smiley turned four, he advanced to four Dessert Choices after lunch and dinner.  But then the advancement stopped.  He recently turned seven, and still only gets four Dessert Choices.

But the size of a Dessert Choice has inflated over the years.  And I have started to use this system to teach him fractions.

Here is his current menu of dessert options.

(The chocolate chip corner is currently used for miscellaneous small things, and the day I took this photograph happened to be out of chocolate chips.)

Smiley has no trouble understanding that two fourths added to one-and-one-half equals two.  He does that type of fraction addition almost daily.

The only drawback is that the current system is too complex for his little brother.  Gallant is about to turn four, and is ready to move from negotiating for dessert to the old version of Dessert Choices without fractions.

Perhaps I should buy him his own two click-clack boxes?  But even if I label the four boxes with the name of which boy each is for, I predict having two dessert "currencies" might be confusing.