Personal Trainer

Sometimes I wonder how personal trainers feel – do they feel loved by their clients?  Feared by their clients?  Loathed by their clients?  I certainly hope not on that last one.  Personal trainers have their work cut out for them, that’s for sure.  How do you motivate someone to stay on task, enjoy the task and receive as much benefit as possible out of said task?  A tall order!

I face this challenge every day with Max and math.  It’s just not his thing.  We’ve been following the course of a living math approach and have thus tried to have fun with it.  Games, reading about math, learning about mathematicians, playing with logic puzzles, looking at groovy patterns in math – in essence, I’m trying to lay a foundation for math and show him that it’s not all that bad.  Many people my age probably grew up with lackluster and droll math experiences.  I still remember a lecture a math teacher was giving about vectors at the chalkboard when I was in 9th grade.  I walked out of that room wondering, “what the heck’s a vector?”  He didn’t put any pizzazz in vectors and I quickly lost interest.  What I needed was someone who was excited about math, someone who could convey that excitement, someone who could help me to see how creative math is.  I needed a personal math trainer.

Okay, switching gears here a bit, but bear with me.  Around here,  Max has to refrain from the use of any electronic devices for entertainment purposes until after dinner, or thereabouts.  Somedays I’m just not paying attention to the clock and he can pull a fast one on me.  I see some use (stress some) in the games he plays.  His coordination is admirable, he picks ideas and instructions up lightening fast, he has an urge to learn and studies the game manuals for information, and problem-solving prowess is definitely called upon when playing.  At least I can reason with the side of myself that doesn’t like the gaming trend.  There are some strong negatives, but I won’t get into that here.

A little light of possibility occurred to me the other day – how about putting the two together as an experiment?  Math, which he hates and his DSi, which he loves?  A quick search and I was hot on the trail for a good match.  It couldn’t be a game that placed time pressure on him – he freezes when this happens.  It had to be positive, gentle,  incremental and most of all, FUN.  I found it!  This is an experiment of sorts as I am still committed to the living math way of doing things; I did purchase this game to see how he reacted.

Day 1:  we were actually able to say the word ‘math’ today without triggering any banshee screaming.  I handed Max the game and he tore open the box to examine the contents, somewhat skeptically, I sensed.  Nonetheless he popped it into his DSi and in a matter of 30 seconds was taking the Daily Test.  Then…………..I couldn’t get him to PUT IT DOWN.  I’m not joking.  His little brain was clicking and clacking over multiplication, division, subtraction and division in fun little challenges.  The little professor guy on the screen jumped in often enough with words of encouragement to keep him going.  I heard Max murmuring to himself as he ran figures in his head.  The music in the background was happy sounding, upbeat and only slightly annoying.  He played it in the car while I got groceries.  He played it all the way home.  He tested his dad when he got home.  He tested me.  He went to bed with it and played it until I threw a flag and made him stop.  He said, “I can’t wait to take the daily test tomorrow, Mom.”  I said, “Who are you and what have you done with my son?  Surely you are an imposter.  Tell me something only Max would know.”

Day one of my personal trainer experiment was a resounding success.  By that I mean he enjoyed himself while practicing math facts.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Here are a few other similar games I found, specifically for the DS or DSi.  Wii doesn’t have anything like this yet (I asked the guy at the game store, so according to him – he’s the reliable source I’m counting on for accurate information to pass on to you.  Maybe he hates math, too.)  I did not investigate any other gaming systems.

Brain Quest is also available for grades 5/6

There are others, of course.  This is just a smattering.  Something I found to be intriguing – I had to go to four different stores to track down the Personal Math Trainer game.  There was one new copy available in the city we live in…….the next closest availability was in DENVER!!!  It just isn’t stocked!  Which says something, I think.  Most kids don’t walk into gaming stores with math on their minds :).


Clue Finders

Well, it all started with Carmen Sandiego, which led to me paying attention to the software company, which led to me looking up said software company, which led to finding all of this OTHER software…..this is how it always happens!  Following these trails is exciting because the end result is usually good.   Mapless, no global positioning system – just hunting for out-of-the-ordinary materials to make our school days more creative and fun.

The Learning Company produces a few noteworthy products for sure.  We have thoroughly enjoyed chasing Carmen Sandiego hither and yon all over the globe, learning world geography along the way.  She’s just so darn slippery!  Kind of like those games in Las Vegas, if you ask me – she’s rigged to get away every time.  The Learning Company is responsible for the Carmen Sandiego games and here are some others to hopefully get you and your kiddo excited:

[Click on the pictures to get more information and to read reviews]

Learn Essential Subjects in an Egyptian Adventure!

  • Math – Multiply the two numbers on the sign above each jeep to figure out which one can make it all the way to Cairo.
  • Reading – Build reading comprehension skills as you interpret reading passages and earn valuable Cairoglyphs to gain your next clue.
  • Geography – Master U.S. and world geography as you help ship packages around the world. Can you locate the city west of Denver?
  • Vocabulary – Learn antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms as you move blocks of stone one at a time to complete a sentence.
  • Science – Develop your knowledge of mass, force, and angle to construct a bridge across a river. Watch out for the crocodiles!
  • Math – Solve math problems with decimals as you stack the correct column sections to build a miniature palace.
  • Word Problems –  Solve word problems to gain access into a mysterious ancient pyramid. More adventure awaits inside!
  • Spelling – Spell your way across the chasm to stop the evil archaeologist before he takes over. Be careful, one wrong letter can spell disaster!

***UPDATE AS OF 3/24/10Well, I had high hopes for the above-mentioned software.  I purchased it used on Amazon and we have stumbled upon some computer glitches.  We are able to get maybe 15 minutes into the adventure and then the computer crashes.  We’ve tried two different computers (Windows platform), to no avail.  I’m really disappointed!  I may contact The Learning Company to see if the problem can be resolved because what I saw of the game so far I really liked.  Math, geography, history…….Max was having fun while it lasted.  So, read the reviews and decide if you want to give it a try.

A tsunami, a lost island and a volcano ready to erupt add the adventure to this edition – this is probably the one we would start with.

Mutant plant warriors (?) threaten to take over a town and it’s your job to protect it through sheer brain power!

All of these tap into math, reading, science, vocabulary, geography and spelling skills.  They are formulated for your PC or Mac and are not expensive.  Don’t forget to check eBay or your local homeschool co-ops – you might be pleasantly surprised at the inexpensive or free materials floating around out there!  Good luck on your hunt.

We Haven’t Found Carmen Sandiego…..Yet.

What an adventure Max is having trying to locate the lady in red who is none other than Carmen Sandiego!  Carmen’s been around for many years and you can try and track her with uploadable software or by playing a board game.  I picked up a cheap version of the software and uploaded it yesterday.  Max has been jet-setting all over the world and learning as he goes.  Occasionally he’ll yell out something like, “Mom!  Where do I go to get to Capetown?”  or “whose country flag is this one?”

It’s a twisty-turny adventure through many cities and countries.  The two A.C.M.E. agents tracking Ms. Sandiego are fun because they sometimes bicker.  You have a database of information at your disposal so you can research some information about a clue, you can collect electronic gadgets along the way (like a clue analyzer or an ‘electron illuminator’, which is just a plain old flashlight) to help you out in certain situations, and there’s a notebook wherein you can store information about your clues, etc. etc.  Occasionally you’ll run into a logic puzzle that you need to solve in order to receive another clue.  I sat with Max for the first 30 minutes to help if he got stuck, but then he took off on his own and got lost in the hunt for clues.

It’s cleverly designed and worth playing.  Since yesterday Max has been to Thailand, South Africa, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Antarctica, the United Kingdom, Russia, New Zealand……….all the while being exposed to cultural and country facts.  The graphics do a good job of capturing the essence of each place, right down to the foods that are favored and the mode of dress.  The Peruvians are so colorful!

Here’s a picture of this particular software.  Staples carries it as does The Learning Company, which is the retailer for this software (Broderbund Software):

I’m very pleased with the game.  I also suspect that Carmen might not be as vile as she is made out to be.  But we’ll have to see once we figure out her motives and find her!

There are many other similar products that involve Carmen Sandiego.  Here are a few choices to get you searching in case you are interested:

This one looks particularly intriguing since you need to use more abstract thinking to solve pieces to the puzzle – and you get to meet interesting characters from history like Julius Caesar, Beethoven, Thomas Jefferson, Leif Erikson and many others.  Looks like a fantastic history game!

Good for us non-quick thinkers.

I did notice while reading some of the reviews that the software sometimes has challenges in various platforms like Windows XP or MacOs, and other newer versions.  Most seemed to generally be very pleased with Carmen and her hijinks!

Oooo – several episodes from Carmen’s TV series in DVD format!  How cool is this?

Rita Moreno plays the role of Carmen.  There are a few other DVD episode sets available, too.

Donate Rice to Stop World Hunger and Learn at the Same Time

Thank you, Tammie, for this resource.  The United Nations World Food Programme designed this concept and a website to help bring attention to world hunger, and more importantly, to put an end to it.  Your child can help right from your living room!  Your child can spend time on this site anytime, answer questions about many subjects (from chemistry to Spanish to geography to math and more), and for each right answer, ten grains of rice are donated to hungry people all over the world.  No fluff here, it’s the real deal.  According to the UN, a child dies every 6 seconds from hunger.


Today Max answered questions about vocabulary and geography and in the process earned 600 grains of rice.  That’s the best part.  Secondarily, he got to practice some of his language and geography skills.

The subjects covered are:  famous paintings, chemistry symbols, English grammar and vocabulary, world geography and capitals, French, German, Italian and Spanish, pre-algebra math and the multiplication table.  Within each subject you advance to harder levels to keep going.

If you answer a question incorrectly, FreeRice will ask the same question again later so you can try again.  Here’s a section quoted from the FreeRice site explaining how questions are chosen for you:

FreeRice has a custom database containing knowledge questions at varying levels of difficulty. There are levels appropriate for beginners and levels that will challenge the most scholarly professors. In between are levels suitable for students of all ages, business people, homemakers, doctors, truck drivers, retired people. everyone!

FreeRice automatically adjusts to your level. It starts by giving you questions of increasing difficulty and then, based on how you do, assigns you an approximate starting level. You then determine a more exact level for yourself as you play. When you get a question wrong, you go to an easier level. When you get three questions in a row right, you go to a harder level. This one-to-three ratio is best for keeping you at the ‘outer fringe.’ of your skills, where learning can take place.

In the vocabulary section, you can hear each word pronounced by clicking on the megaphone symbol next to the word – nice feature.

Companies sponsor banners on the FreeRice site; money from these banners help to purchase the rice that is then given to those suffering from hunger.  Another quote from the FAQ section:

FreeRice does not make any money from this. FreeRice is a website committed to the cause of ending hunger around the world. It is run entirely for free and at no profit. All money (100%) raised by the site goes to the UN World Food Programme to help feed the hungry. Sponsors make all payments to the UN World Food Programme directly.”

Enough said.  Go play and help save the day! This is win-win.

Rat-a-Tat-Cat – Math Game that Challenges Memory

I already mentioned this game under the previous ‘Math Games’ post, but seeing that we played it over and over and over during the holiday break, I’d like to focus on it a bit more closely!

This game was a huge hit with the kids who visited us (ages 6, 8 and Max, of course, age 10), and with the grown ups who were lurking around the premises as well.   The game always seemed to be on somebody’s mind; it was brought to the table again and again.  It’s fun and addicting, just like dark chocolate.  Dark chocolate is rumored to be good for the brain, so using a sound principle of reasoning, Rat-a-Tat-Cat must be good for your brain, too.

Here’s a picture of the game (click on it for a link to the Gamewright site for more information):It’s a game of strategy, MEMORY, and addition.  The memory component is particularly welcome at this stage of my life, being that I forget lots of stuff and could benefit from some work in this area.  I chuckled inwardly many times as I noted just how many adults forgot what cards they had while playing this game – seems to be a common theme among us older folks.  Just when did the early 40’s become old???  Ack.

The kids, on the other hand, didn’t have much of a problem remembering what was in their hands and used that knowledge to their advantage.  It’s a simple game to play, takes just a few minutes, and can handle up to six players at a time.  By the time you gather up the cards at the end of the round, you’ll want to deal them out to get another round started.  Basic addition is the last task to add up what you have in your hand – good practice for all concerned.

Gamewright is a fun little company.  Check them and their game offerings out.

Math Games

Let the games begin!  Here are several math games and math game sources you might wish to take a look at.  Just click on the picture for more information!  Not sure if these will appeal to you, because sometimes computer or video games merely serve as a substitute for YOUR attention, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Board games, however, are interactive and let you participate in the learning process.   I’ll include a smattering of computer games and board games/card games:

A game for the PC or Mac and compliments the book by the same title.

  • Captivating story sheds new light on middle-school math concepts
  • Discover prime numbers; explore Fibonacci numbers
  • Learn about powers and square roots
  • Glossary with mathematicians, terms, and concepts
  • 11 challenging games for extra fun

For grades 3-6.

Ages 6-12.  A game of timing and basic math facts (strategy, memory and addition).

This would have been a great game to add to our unit study on Ancient Egypt!  Parent’s Choice and Dr. Toy Award recipient.  Combining basic math operations skills (addition, subtraction,
multiplication, and division) with order of operations practice,
players trek their way across the rows of the pyramid by using
numeral and operation triangles to correctly create and solve
math problems.  But beware, your opponent can steal or swap
your number triangle and complete his pyramid first!

This would be very easy to make – no need to purchase it.  Extra fun for families who are schooling more than one child, too.

Love this game.  Hate the loud noise the die make when they hit the center of the box, but that can be remedied by throwing them onto the carpet.

This might entice some kids to sit with their math facts.  However, I think it’s a bit pricey at $40 to $45??

Catch Zeus if you can!  The great Greek god has bolted and it’s up to you to nab this dashing deity.  Play cards strategically, adding numbers as you climb Mt. Olympus.  Grab Zeus when the total reaches a multiple of 10.  Better yet, summon the strength of Apollo, Poseidon, or all-powerful Hera to bring Zeus within your grasp.  Reach the top of Mt. Olympus with Zeus in hand and you’re a mortal among the gods.  To play is human.  To win, divine!

For those who haven’t spent summers at chess camp!  Finally, a simple, guided way to learn to play chess – The world’s greatest game – quickly and without stress! The secret? An innovative deck of action cards. Each card depicts a chess piece and how it moves. You move only this piece on your turn. This eliminates the need to memorize all the chess pieces and their moves in advance. And the great news is that after a few turns, you’ll instinctively know how to move and capture with your knights and bishops, rooks and pawns, king and queen!

The object of the game is to get your marbles into a row before the other players do the same. Roll 3 dice and add, subtract, multiply, or divide the dice numbers. Then pop your marble into the hole that corresponds with your answer. Many answers are possible for each roll of the dice. Young children will like using the standard dice. A 12-sided die makes it even more challenging for older players. Because chance enters in with the roll of the dice, even the youngest player, not just the smartest, can be the winner. Recommended for ages 9-adult.

Not really an ‘arithmetic’ game, per say, but a game of spatial reasoning.  It encourages you to look at things differently and train your brain to recognize what you didn’t see before.  This is a much-loved game by many, many families!

Tangrams can be fun.  Thinkfun makes many fun little games like this.

Family Math.  A lot of families have it!  It’s a homeschool standby with much useful variety.  There are other editions available for older children.

Logic and math facts.  Starts out easy, gets harder.  Max likes these.  If you’d like to try out a puzzle, go to

Recommended on  For ages 9-12.

Another version.  We’re working on fractions now, so this will probably end up in our library.

A game of sequencing.  You could up the ante by trying to arrange all even or odd numbers or multiples of a number.

Grade Levels: 2-6

Sports Math is a collection of games designed to let students practice their math skills under the enthusiastic direction of sports desk anchor Les Dynam and roving reporter Sam Mathews who introduce each game and comment on the action and progress. Kick a “fractioned” soccer ball through a goal post or measure your skill at the long jump in meters; it’s all about using math skills in everyday life until taught concepts are fully learned!

Also available for decimals, percentages and fractions, depending on what you might be working on.

Practice makes perfect in the world of math, but practice is more fun when it’s a game instead of homework. The rules of this board game resemble those in Scrabble, but Smath is played by creating math equations instead of words. The game includes a playing board and lots of tiny tiles with numbers, signs for math operations, and brackets to create more complex equations, which players can place on the board horizontally or vertically. The game can be played at different levels of difficulty, from simple addition problems to equations combining operations (for example, (2)(2 + 3) = 5 x 2). The game is for two to four players at different levels of math proficiency, making this an educational (but still entertaining) game for the entire family, the classroom, or for home schoolers.

Same concept, but may have some design flaws.  Read the first review on Amazon and decide if this game is worth your time or money.

Fatbrain Toys has the best pics and description of this game.

This multiple award-winning exciting multiplication game assists younger players in basic multiplication skills and challenges players proficient in multiplication. Roll ‘n Multiply teaches multiplication, encourages cooperative learning, and enhance strategic thinking. Simply roll the dice, multiply the numbers, check the answer against the multiplication table and plan your strategy. Sounds easy but what happens when your opponent blocks your space? You don’t want to be captured. Includes 2 10-sided dice, 44 playing pieces, multiplication table, playing board, game tray and instruction manual. Plan on 5 minutes to learn the game and 5 to 15 minutes to play the game. Two players. Ages 8 and up.

We’ve played this, but outgrew it very quickly.  Kids learn budgeting and making change.

Okay, that’s enough for now.