Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Fairy Tale: The Three Little Writers

Once upon a time there were three little writers, Personable, Prolific, and Persistent. Each decided to venture into the publishing world.

"I'm going to get published by knowing people in all areas of the industry," said Personable.

"I'm going to get published by writing every day," said Prolific.

"I'm going to get published by submitting my manuscripts to everyone," said Persistent.

So each went out to build on their dreams.

Personable went to conferences, ate lunch with New York editors, and sent Christmas cards to every publisher. They all remembered Personable and could call her by name. "I have contacts," said Personable showing off a room full of business cards. "Surely I will be published." But Personable neglected to write and never submitted anything.

Prolific wrote everyday, read books about plot, characterization, and scene, and attended every how-to-write workshop she could. Fellow writers praised Prolific's stories. "I've learned my craft and write every day," said Prolific showing off a room full of marvelous manuscripts. "I know a great editor will knock on my door and insist my work be published." But Prolific never studied the markets, never learned who was who, and never submitted a manuscript.

Persistent whipped out a story in just half a day and sent it to every publisher in the market guide. "I only need one great idea and this is it," Persistent bragged showing off a room full of rejection slips. "I'm thick-skinned and stubborn. I'll never give up until it is published." But the story lacked plot, the characters were weak, and Persistent blindly submitted to whoever was who.

One day a Big Bad Editor came to town. He huffed and he puffed and he stormed all around. "I'm buried in stories I've no time to read. They're low quality, inappropriate, and from people I've never seen. I'm closing my doors until 2017."

The three writers almost abandoned their dream, but they put their heads together and concocted a scheme.

"The Big Bad Editor told me he loves mysteries," said Personable.

"I've got a perfect mystery tucked under my bed," said Prolific.

"I'll march it straight to his door and insist he see it," said Persistent.

So the three little writers went to the Big Bad Editor's office and knocked on his door.

"Go away!" a voice boomed from the other side.

"But I'm Personable. Remember me? We met once before."

A key turned in the lock. An eye peered through a tiny crack in the door.

"I've written a wonderful mystery," said Prolific holding up a neatly packaged manuscript.

The door opened a bit more.

"Please read our manuscript," said Persistent, sticking one foot in the gap. "We'll listen, we'll revise, and we'll work, but we won't give up."

The door opened wide. Mr. Editor grinned. "You're being professional, so I'll welcome you in."

Their work was soon published. They authored some more, because they'd learned to work together to open the door. So be Personable, Prolific, and Persistent, my friend. Someday Mr. Editor will welcome you in.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Invisible Writing

In the beginning of my writing career, my husband used to read my first drafts. And in his sweet beautiful wonderful brutally-honest way, he would say, "It's nice, but..." (here comes the brutal part) "'re writing too hard."

“Like where?” I’d ask.

“Like here.” Then he'd point to a passage. It was always the one I’d spent hours perfecting. It was well constructed, descriptive, filled with sensory images, and flowing phrases. I loved that passage! It was one of my ‘darlings.’

Then I’d take a closer look. Invariably, it was also the passage I’d Thesaurused, over metaphored, and big-worded to death. It was me saying to the reader, “Look at me, the author. Admire how well I can write.”

Last January, Paula LaRocque ( spoke at our North Central/Northeast Texas SCBWI chapter meeting. One of her ‘tricks’ for good writing (among several great ones) was to change long difficult words to short simple words. Then she showed an example, a short descriptive passage. It flowed on the page. It evoked vivid images. It set the scene without being intrusive. It was beautiful. She asked who we thought wrote it. We guessed some of the most famous authors in literature. All wrong. The author was a high school student. His assignment: write a descriptive paragraph using one-syllable words. In a room full of authors, not one of us had caught his powerfully effective ‘trick.’ It was indeed like magic.

The method reminded me of motto that can be applied to more than just writing: the KISS method. “Keep It Super Simple.”

Our writing is often beautiful, even brilliant, but if it pulls the reader out of the story, if the reader stops reading and thinks, "Wow! That's great writing!", then I haven't done my job as a writer. As the teller of the story, I need to back off, let the story take center stage, and pull the reader in with writing so well done it is invisible to the reader.

It can be a tough lesson to learn. Invisible writing often means rewriting and sometimes deleting our favorite passages. It hurts (a lot), but in order to craft the best story, sometimes our beautifully written 'darlings' have to go.

But be brave, and remember, your ‘darlings’ never have to die. Not really. Mine may be cut from the story, but not from my life. They reside peacefully in a folder on my computer simply titled “Darlings.” Whenever I wish, I can open it, reread them, pat myself on my back in the privacy of my home and say, “Wow! That’s great writing!” And my readers need never know.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fun Friday: Multiplication Brainteaser

Here's a brainteaser for budding mathematicians old and new.

1.  Each letter represents the same digit.
2.  Once letters have been replaced with a digit, the "math" has to work.
3.  Once a digit has been used for a letter, that digit can't be used for any other letter.

Previous similar brainteaser as a sample:
     PIG + PIG = OINK

Possible answer (there may be more than one right answer):
     P = 7, I = 4, G = 3, O = 1, N = 8, K = 6
     743 + 743 = 1,486

Try this multiplication puzzle:
    X   MY  (the "X" is a times sign and otherwise not part of the puzzle)

There may be more than one right answer for this one as well. Give it a try and let me know what you come up with.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Finding Your Character's Voice

A popular writer's conference forum is an editors and/or agents Q&A discussion panel. During these open forum discussions, someone usually asks "What are you looking for in a manuscript?" 

#1 response: good writing.

That seems logical. No mystery there. 

Another response: a character with a unique voice.

Now there's a mystery. What is "voice" and how do I help my character get one? I've read books by other authors who've mastered 'voice' and I’ve studied writer’s how-to books. But the concept still felt elusive, vague, and mysterious.

Finally, at long last, author friends said, "You're manuscript has a great voice."

Really? When did that happen?

To nail down what I’d accomplished by accident so I could repeat it in the future, I looked back through previous drafts of my manuscript. After comparing versions of specific passages, here’s what I discovered.

Example 1 setup: Eleven-year-old Angie is returning to school after a long illness. Her older brother, Brandon, is waiting at the bus stop with her.
Angie wished she could ride her bike to school instead of the bus. She knew Brandon felt the same way. She suspected Mom or Dad (maybe both) had threatened or bribed Brandon into taking the bus, too. He’d scowled more than usual this morning, so they’d probably used a threat mixed with some big-brother-must-take-care-of-little-sister guilt.
The passage establishes that neither Angie or Brandon is happy about the this arrangement, but it lacks the ‘unique’ quality of Angie’s voice.  
Buses. Smelly, bumpy, and crowded. Disgusting. But it was better than getting dropped off by a parent. Slightly. And Brandon’s presence at the bus stop smacked suspiciously of parental spying by proxy. Mom or Dad, maybe both, had probably played the big-brothers-must-take-care-of-little-sisters guilt card.
The second version captures the same scene and the same discontent, but it also conveys the character's emotions the way the character might think it. It is in her ‘voice.’
Example 2 setup: Angie is searching for her friends in a crowded school cafeteria. 
Angie threaded her way through the cafeteria tables.
We know she’s walking though the cafeteria, but we don’t know what she’s thinking or see the other students as she does so.
Angie threaded her way past a group wearing all black, a cheerleader-wanna-be group, and Brandon and his snorting-soda-through-their-noses group.

The rewrite defines the setting and since Angie bypasses all these ‘groups,’ we also know she doesn’t feel comfortable joining any of these groups for lunch.
Example 3 setup: Jahma is a six-inch winged fantasy creature. He’s sitting on a bench next to Angie, when Angie’s best friend, Erin, joins them.
Jahma barely escaped being squashed when Erin plopped down next to Angie.
She plopped? Who (other than a writer) would say that they plopped into a chair?
Jahma fluttered away a micro-second before getting butt-squashed by Erin.
A little butt-squashing is more pre-teen and adds a bit of humor.

So what is ‘voice’?

For me, it’s allowing my character to tell their story in their own words. It adds emotion, shows setting through the details the character chooses to dwell on, and pulls the reader into the story by showing everything, even thoughts, through the point of view of the character.

So instead of putting beautifully written words into my characters’ mouths, I listen to their ‘voice’ and relate their story as they would want me to tell it to the reader.

Friday, December 7, 2012

iPad Whiteboard Recorders and Video Makers

UTube. Even my spell checker recognizes it as a real word. It’s a huge resource of videos of all kinds and one of the major catalysts for house-holding the phrase ‘gone viral.’

For beginners, making a video appears to be a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be. iPad has a number of user friendly apps specifically designed with the time-crunched teacher in mind. With these apps, creating a video is as simple as pressing the record button and then talking to yourself as you work.

Educreations Interactive Whiteboard turns your iPad into a recordable whiteboard. You create a video tutorial by simply touching, tapping and talking. Features include voice recording, digital ink, photos, text, and the capability to share tutorials through Facebook or Twitter.

ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard is another great interactive whiteboard. You can record voice-over whiteboard tutorials as you work. It is very easy to use and intuitive. Teachers can use it, but it also makes a fantastic tool for students to create instruction videos to share. has several sample tutorials which can be viewed without an iPad.

ScreenChomp is a simple doodling board with markers and sharing tools for creating sharable videos. With its friendly, uncluttered look, this one is great for beginners and/or younger students.

There are also online sites that facilitate creating videos from a series of photos. In minutes, you can achieve great results for open house functions, family reunions, or a book trailer. One of the easiest to use is Animoto. Upload your photos, select options, and the site will generate your video for you. There is an Animoto app available as well.
For sharing these creations, use the resources within the app or site, upload to UTube, or utilize a version of UTube just for educators called Teacher Tube.

Making videos can be lots of fun and slightly addicting! And who knows? Maybe someday soon you’re video will make the ‘gone viral’ list. 

Fun Friday: Christmas Excel Fill Puzzle

A puzzle similar to this one was featured last month. I’ll repeat the instructions for completion here, but this time I’m not going to tell you what the puzzle is in advance.

This puzzle uses the fill feature of any spreadsheet application. Simply start a new workbook and fill in the listed cells with the indicated color to create a picture.

Before you begin, adjust the cell widths so that each cell is a square. Click the blank space above the first row’s 1 and to the left of the first column’s A. This will select the entire spreadsheet. Then click on the divider between column A and column B and drag until the cells are squares.

To determine which cells to fill:
C2 à means find the square in column C and row 2, click on that cell, then click on the fill color.
C2:D2 à means click and drag to select cells C2 through D2 and then click on the fill color.

Now click in the indicated cells and fill with each color to form a picture.

Orange: W2, V3, W3, V4:V7, D8, U8, C9, E9:G9, U9, B10, E10, H10, D11, F11, H11, F12, H12, E13, H13, E14, G14, D15, G15, C16, G16, B17, C17, G17, B18, F18, A19, F19, A20, E20, AC20, AF20:AH20, A21, E21, AB21, AD21, AE21, A22, B22, D22, S22, T22, W22:AB22, AD22, A23, C23, D23, J23, P23:V23, AB23, AD23, A24, B24, D24, I24, K24:024, R24, U24, AA24, AE24, C25:I25, K25, R25, U25, AA25, AE25, C26, I26, K26, R26, V26, AA26, AE26:AH26, C27, H27, L27, Q27, V27, Z27:AE27, C28, H28, L28, Q28, U28:Y28, D29, H29, M29, P29:T29, E30:G30, K30:O30, G31:J31

Do you know what it is, yet?

Red: X2:AB2, X3:AB3, U4:AC4, U5:AC5, T6:AC6, T7:AC7, S8:AC8, P9:AC9, F10, G10, L10:AB10, G11, K11:AB11, G12, K12:AB12, F13, G13, K13:AB13, F14, J14:AB14, E15, F15, J15:AB15, D16:F16, J16:AB16, D17:F17, I17:AB17, C18:AB18, B19:AB19, B20:V20, B21:P21,C22:K22

How about now?

Yellow: W1:AB1, U2, V2, AC2, U3, AC3, AD3, T4, AA4, AB4, AD4, T5, AA5, AD5, S6, Z6, AD6, S7, Z7, AD7, P8:R8, Y8, AD8, L9:O9, Y9, AD9, K10, S10:X10, AC10, J11, Q11, R11, AC11, J12, P12, AC12, J13, O13, AC13, I14, N14, AC14, I15, N15, AC15, I16, N16, AC16, H17, M17, AC17, M18, AC18, I19:M19, AC19, G20, H20, W20:AB20, F21, Q21:V21, L22:P22, E23:I23, K23

Hint: In each of the above, the first part of a cell code is always a letter. So if it looks like a zero, it is really the letter “O”. The same goes for the number one and the letter “I”.

                O11 is the letter “O” and the number 11. (column O, row 11)
                I16 is the letter “I” and the number 16. (column I, row 16)

Good luck and have fun!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tech Tip: Finding Apps

iPad app searching can take hours before you find exactly the perfect app for you. Many times I get sidetracked from my primary goal because I've stumbled across something I have to have, but never knew I had to have until there was an app for it. To streamline my app-finding (and keep me focused), I've used the following two apps.


AppsGoneFree is as simple as it sounds. Each day it will temp you with from eight to fifteen apps that are free for a limited time only, sometimes just for the day, sometimes just for a few hours, as a means for app-developers to promote their products.  If there is an app you’d like to see “gone free”, you can recommend it to AppsGoneFree for inclusion on their list.


WeWantApps! (the exclaimation point is part of the name) will help you search for an app based on the parameters you select. It’s a great tool to help you find apps suitable for children and preteens. Parameter settings include age, topic or subject, and cost.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ten Terrific Card Games to Teach Math Facts

Most of us grew up learning math facts the good old “drill and kill” way, with flash cards. A handy alternative to flash cards is a standard deck of cards. They help students master their addition and multiplication facts while taking some of the “kill” out of “drill”.

What’s the advantage to using standard cards?

Randomization. I don’t know about you, but I breathed a sigh of relief when my least favorite “fact” was flashed at someone else to solve and then put on the bottom of the stack. I knew it was gone, at least for a while and I could put off learning 7 X 8 (for example) for a few more minutes. By using a standard deck of cards, the students (and you) never know what combination will happen next.

Flexibility. You can control what facts are learned by “stacking the deck”. Do your students need help with their 5’s, 6’s, 7’s, and 8’s multiplication facts? Fine. Create a deck with just those numbers. Do they  need 9’s facts reinforced? Super. Pull one card from the deck each time and have students multiply the selected number by 9.

Competition. Make it a game with rewards and consequences, winners and (dare I say it) losers.

Wanna try some? Excellent! Here are a few sample activities. For most of these, the face cards (king, queen, and jack) have been removed from a standard deck of cards.

Ten Activities and Games

  1. Draw two cards from the deck and have students either add or multiply the two numbers.
  2. Draw two cards from a deck. Make a two-digit number and create a factor tree for that number.
  3. Draw a card from the deck and have students list the first five multiples of that number.
  4. Deal ten cards to each of four players. Have them group the cards to create as many groups of ten as possible. Students earn one point for each group. Shuffle and deal again. The first player to earn a predetermined number of points wins the game.
  5. Remove the face cards and tens from a deck of cards. Deal four cards. Have students arrange the cards to make a two-digit plus two-digit addition problem with the largest possible sum. (Version 2: Make the smallest possible sum.)
  6. Use the same deck as above (no face cards or tens), deal four cards, and have students arrange the cards to make a two-digit minus two-digit subtraction problem with the largest possible difference.  (Version 2: Make the smallest possible difference.)
  7. Students draw one card from a deck. They subtract their card from 100. The next student draws a card. They subtract their card from the previous student’s answer. Example: Player 1 draws an 8, so 100 – 8 = 92.  Player 2 draws a 5, so 92 – 5 = 87. As players approach zero, if a player draws a card that cannot be subtracted without going below zero, they pass. The player that draws the card that makes exactly zero when subtracted, wins the game. Example: The current total is 6. A player draws an 8, so they pass. The next player draws a 4, so they subtract 6 -4 = 2. The next player draws a 2, so they win.
  8. Reverse the above activity. Have students draw cards from the deck and add them. Example: Player one draws a 5. Player two draws a six, so 5 + 6 = 11. Player three will then add their card to eleven. Play continues until a player succeeds in drawing a card that exactly adds up to 100 (similar pass/play strategy as above.)
  9. Deal five cards to each of four players. Players look at their cards and select the two cards that make the largest sum (or product). All players show their two cards at the same time. The player(s) with the largest sum (product) earns a point. Players draw two more cards to replace the ones played. Play continues until all cards have been drawn and played.
  10. Separate the cards into two decks. Deck one contains the jacks, kings, and queens. Deck two contains the aces through tens. Players draw one card from deck one. This card determines if they will add (jack), subtract (queen), or multiply (king). They then draw two cards from the other deck and perform the indicated operation. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tech Tip: Illustrating Operations with Excel

Excel is all about formulas and functions. Or is it?

By introducing only one or two spreadsheet skills at a time within a mathematics framework, even little guys and gals can be introduced to spreadsheets as early as first grade.

Spreadsheet Concepts

To begin, demonstrate the following spreadsheet skills.

Terms: cells, columns, rows
Skills: resizing columns, filling cells, applying a border to cells

Resizing columns:
  1. Click the gray square above row 1 to select all the cells in the workbook.
  2. Place your cursor over the line between columns A and B.
  3. When it changes to a double-arrow, click and drag to resize the cells until they look like squares.

Filling cells:
  1. Click and drag to select one or more cells.
  2. Click the Fill Color bucket.
  3. Click a color to fill the cells you selected with that color.

Applying a border to cells:
  1. Click the Border button.
  2. Select the All Borders choice.

Math Applications

For the following activities, students prepare their spreadsheet by resizing the columns so that the cells look like squares. Then they fill squares with colors to illustrate a specific operation. Images of what the finished product might look like are below.

Illustrated Addition

Illustrated Subtraction

 Illustrated Multiplication

Illustrated Fractions

 Simple. Fun. Relevant. Visual.

And each activity can easily be finished during one computer lab session or station rotation within the classroom. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fun Friday: Spreadsheet Fill Puzzle

This puzzle uses the fill feature of any spreadsheet application. Simply start a new workbook and fill in the listed cells with the indicated color to create a picture.

Before you begin, adjust the cell widths so that each cell is a square. Click the blank space above the first row’s 1 and to the left of the first column’s A. This will select the entire spreadsheet. Then click on the divider between column A and column B and drag until the cells are squares.

To read the codes below and find out which cells to fill:
C2 à means find the square in column C and row 2, click on that cell, then click on the fill color.
C2:D2 à means click and drag to select cells C2 through D2 and then click on the fill color.

Hint: The first part of a cell code is always a letter. So if it looks like a zero, it is really the letter “O”. The same goes for the number one and the letter “I”.

                O11 is the letter “O” and the number 11. (column O, row 11)
                I16 is the letter “I” and the number 16. (column I, row 16)

Now click in the indicated cells and fill with each color to form a picture.

Yellow: C2:D2, F2:H2, C3:J3, D4:K4, C5:L5, B6:M7, B8:N8, B9:P9, C10:T10, C11:O11, P12:M12, D13:K13, E14:J14, E15:I15, F16:H16, F17:G17, F18, E19:F19

Orange: D6:D10, E11:E12, F13:F14, G15, L13, K14:M14, J15:M15, K16:L16, T11:T13, S14, R15, Q16, P17, O18, N19, E20, L20:M20, F21:K21

Gray:  P11:S11, N12:S12, M13:S13, N14:R14, N15:Q15, I16:J16, M16:P16, H17:O17, G18:N18, G19:M19, F20:K20

Good luck and have fun!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Looking at Looks

Actors in movies communicate as much with a “look” as they do with their spoken words. Their eyes show a mischievous twinkle, a hint of fear, or a romantic gleam.  How can we convey those same “looks” on the page for our readers so they can “see” our character’s emotions?

The temptation is to simply write they “saw” something.
It looked like it might rain.
She watched the man cross the street.

These statements can inadvertently create distance between your character and the reader. You've told them what your character saw instead of letting them experience the moment through your character’s eyes. (The old “show don’t tell” mantra strikes again.) Try describing what your character saw without using the verb ‘saw’. (And no cheating. No synonyms either).

“It looked like rain.”
Could become: 
“The streetlights switched on in the afternoon’s gathering gloom and her hair poofed out in an annoying before-storm frizz.”

“She watched as the man crossed the street behind her.”
Could become: 
“The man crossed the street. She quickened her steps, but his pace matched hers.”

These do a better job of showing what’s happening and also have the added bonus of setting a mood.

Another “looking” pet peeve is giving the eyes unusual physical abilities.
  • His eyes ran over her.
  • Her eyes shot daggers.
  • Her eyes swept over the vista.

Eyes can’t actually run or shoot or sweep.  And using these could inadvertently create the wrong image in the mind of your reader. (Often a humorous one that completely destroys the mood.)

“Seeing” is one of our senses, and including the senses in our writing helps readers “see” where they are in the story.  So let your characters look at, watch, gaze, stare, glance, glare, and glimpse what is going on around them. But let the reader “see” through the reader’s eyes and experience the glorious vista of your character’s world for themselves.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tech Tip: Story Starter Apps for Writing across the Curriculum

Story Starters – Ideas for Writing (an aptly named app) is published by Jarrod Robinson and costs only ninety-nine cents. This app features intriguing pictures to help kick start the creative writer within us all. Use it as a springboard for a short story, a mathematics word problem, or a discussion in any subject area.

For example the picture below could be used to:
  • Write a story explaining why the crate is there.
  • Write a math word problem to find the volume or surface area of the crate.
  • Imagine and write about the world surrounding the crate.
  • Come up with a list of practical uses for the crate.

Oflow, another ninety-nine cent app, lists over 100 methods to get your creativity flowing. View one a day whenever you need a bit of inspiration, or scan through several until the right one fires your writing neutrons into action.

And since the Oflow image mentions it, Idea Sketch, a free app from No Sleep Software, is a simple mind map making tool. Use it to:
  • Brainstorm
  • Free write on a topic
  • Flowchart a process (order of operations)
  • Categorize terms or objects (equations, quadrilaterals, fractions and their equivalents)

Have fun with these idea generators. Be inspired and imagine greater than ever before.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tips for Writing a Novel

The end of 2012 is fast approaching. In preparation for that all-important New Year’s Resolution, I’m reviewing my notes from workshops and presentations I’ve attended during the year.

In January 2012, my local SCBWI chapter (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators North/Center Northeast Texas chapter) was privileged to have Paula Laroucque speak to our group.

Among other things, she gave us some practical advice for writing a novel.
  1. Make a road map. Skipping the planning often results in getting lost or taking the long way around to finishing your novel. Start with the destination (major problem), add a handful of possible routes (very brief action sentences), and then create bios for characters that will accompany you on your journey.
  2. Get organize so you can spend writing time writing. Put the actual manuscript in one place. Organize scenes, cuts, and “in the wings” themes in another.
  3. Allow yourself to write a really terrible first draft. Lower your standards because it is a FIRST draft and chances are you’ll end up throwing a lot of it out anyway.
  4. Write in scenes, not necessarily in consecutive order.
  5. Don’t tell everything. Let the reader fill in the details. Hold out a little. It will build suspense and keep readers reading to find out what happens.
  6. Read! (Not necessarily in the genre you’re writing.)
  7. Join a critique group!!

Visit Paula’s blog at:

It’s loaded with great articles and advice for writers of all skill levels and genres. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fun Friday: Quadrant One Connect the Dots Puzzle

Use a sheet of graph paper to plot the following ordered pairs. Then connect the points in the order you graphed them to make a picture.

Techie Connection: You can also type the ordered pairs into a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel. The x values would go in the A column. The y values would go in the B column. Then click and drag to select all the numbers and create a Scatter Chart with Smooth Lines (Insert ribbon/Scatter).


(7, 12), (6, 11), (5, 9), (4, 10), (2, 10), (0, 8), (0, 4), (1, 2), (3, 0), (4, 0), (5, 1), (6, 0), (7, 0), (9, 1), (11, 3), (11, 8), (9, 10), (7, 10), (6, 9), (5, 9), (5, 11), (6, 13), (8, 14), (8, 12), (7, 10)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Teaching Fractions with Dominos

Looking for a tactile manipulative for helping students visualize fractions? Dominoes and fractions are natural partners:
1.             They both have two numbers.
2.             The numbers on both are separated by a line.
3.             Since the numbers are represented by dots, it’s a great visual for introducing fraction concepts.
4.             And the dominoes can be turned either way without a number becoming upside down.

Writing Fractions – For the beginning fractionier, have students select a domino and then turn it so it represents a fraction less than one.

Simplifying Fractions – Students select a domino, and then turn it so it represents a fraction less than one. To help them determine if the domino fraction can be simplified, have them redraw the domino on paper. Then ask them experiment to see if they can circle dots to create the same number of groups both above and below the fraction line. If they can, then the fraction can be simplified.

Improper Fractions – Select a domino and turn it so it represents an improper fraction. Once again, they can redraw the domino on paper to help them. Circle groups of dots in the numerator equal to the number of dots in the denominator. Count the circled groups to make the whole number. Uncircled denominator dots become the numerator.

Equivalent Fractions Game – Turn all the dominoes upside down. Two or more students all draw dominoes from the pile at the same time. As they turn them over, they try to find a pair of dominoes that are equivalent fractions. The first student to find a pair, wins the game. Turn the dominoes face down and play again.

Add, Subtract, Multiply, or Divide Fractions – Students select a pair of dominoes from the pile. Depending on their skill level, have them add, subtract, multiply, or divide the fractions represented by the dominoes.

Since domino sets come in double-sixes and double-twelve’s, the difficulty level of each of the above activities can easily be modified.

Oh, and don’t forget. In the original dominoes game, players match domino ends. They score when the sum of the end values is a multiple of five. Okay, so that doesn't have a lot to do with fractions, but it is, after all, dominoes.

(Previously Posted on my Adventures in Mathopolis blog, October 2011)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Techie Tips: Teaching Probability

I've used colorful candies, number cubes (aka dice), spinners, random number generators and more to hammer the concept of probability into my students’ heads. Apparently not an easy idea to grasp for most people, otherwise Vegas would go broke. Technology can provide teachers with many of the manipulatives mentioned above and more to help students conquer this concept.


Undecided, published by Deadmans Productions LLC is a free app. It includes a dice roller, coin toss, spinner, drawing for the short straw, rock/paper/scissors, and a random number generator.

Dice, published by Benoit Layer is also a free app. It allows you to customize it to roll anywhere from one to twenty dice at a time. The total for the dice rolled is shown in the background. Settings include dice color, sound, and background.


Marbles Probability (Shodor)
This site simulates the random selection of from 1 to 3 marbles from a bag. The chart shows all possible combinations, the percentage that a theoretical likelihood of a combination will be drawn, and the experimental outcome as a percent of each combination.

Adjustable Spinner (Shodor)
The default spinner has four equal sections, but as the name implies, this can be adjusted. Just click and drag the slider next to each color, or type new percentages into the white boxes next to each.

Experimental Probability Spinner (Shodor)
As each color is spun, a tally is kept for each color. There are several pre-designed spinners or you can design your own spinner.

The Sum of Two Rolled Dice & Graphed Results (Saint Anne’s School)
This site will roll two six-sided dice and then graph the sum of the two dice. Click anywhere on the dice to begin, then press the space bar to roll the dice. The graph updates after each roll to reflect the sum of the two dice.

The Sum of Two Rolled Dice & Tallied Results (Shodor)
This site will roll two six-sided dice and tally the sum of the two dice in a chart. The dice rolls are displayed as a regular dice and as a net. You can also click the New Dice or Make Dice button to use a dice that repeats numbers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Submitted, Accepted, and Published (Eventually)

I realized early in my writing career that nonfiction sells easier than fiction. Nonfiction is, after all, ninety percent of the market. So although I passionately love and continue to write fiction, I also write nonfiction and how to.

I researched a story, targeted the market, and had a nonfiction article accepted in 2007. The magazine clustered articles by theme, so I wasn't surprised when my story was slated to be published in December… 2010. Years passed. The date of publication came. And went. And my story wasn't published. Other projects pushed the missed publication date into the back of my mind.

Last month, I got a check in the mail. No letter accompanied it, but printed on the check in tiny bold letters was a date: October 2012. Hmmm….

So I waited. And while I waited, I cashed the check. (Of course). The second week of October 2012 I received a contributor’s copy of the magazine. Hooray! It only took five years, but my article was published. and I had received a whopping thirty dollars for my patience.

The moral of this story:
       Crime doesn't pay. Sometimes writing doesn't either.
       Hang in there, baby!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nervous Characters

I read the latest chapter in my young adult book to my critique group. One critiquer said there was too much “clenching”. (Not the romantic kind).My character, thrown into a stressful situation had reacted with clenched teeth, clenched fists (twice), and (in previous chapters) a whole body clench.

A character in danger is an interesting character. It encourages readers to turn the pages and find out what happens next.  But how does a writer “show” nervousness and pent up anger?

The “clenching” method does “show” nerves and works well in moderation. Here are some other ideas:
  • Biting lips, fingernails, or the inside of the cheek.
  • Inability to stand or sit still: drumming fingers, tapping or shifting of feet, crossing or uncrossing legs, pacing.
  • Pushed toward anger/ready to fight: knuckle cracking, fist flexing, standing up, crossing the arms.
  • Eyes: glancing toward a door or around the room (i.e. looking for an escape route), glaring (challenging), eyes fixed on something other than the speaker or thing making them nervous (denial, “If I ignore this thing, it will go away.”).

For other “showing” ideas, page through a book on body language. There is subtlety in every human movement. We instinctively recognize and interpret them to read another person’s mood. Our job as writers is to intellectually use these movements to telegraph what’s going on in our character’s minds.

In addition to “body business”, another way to show nervousness is to create a “nervous” simile or metaphor appropriate for the age level and situation. A couple of sayings you may recognize are:
  • “Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.” 
  • “Jumpy as a cat on a hot tin roof.”

And a non-cat description: 
  • “Nervous as a live fish in a toilet bowl.”

Find a unique, non-cliché way to describe your character’s mood. It can lighten a tense mood with a little humor, as well as showing (there’s that word again) something about your character. Example one’s rocking chair analogy has the feel of an older person, while example three relates to the experience of a younger character (i.e. flushing a deceased carnival fish down the toilet).

What’s your favorite “nervous as” phrase?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fun Friday: Puzzling Math

Let's make this a fun Friday. Here's a little brainteaser for budding mathematicians old and new.

1.  Each letter represents the same digit.
2.  Once letters have been replaced with a digit, the "math" has to work.
3.  Once a digit has been used for a letter, that digit can't be used for any other letter.

Simple Sample:
     MY + HE = US

Possible Answer (there may be more than one right answer):
     M=1, Y=2, H=7, E=8, U=9, S=0
     12 + 78 = 90

Now you try this one:

There may be more than one right answer for this one as well. Give it a try and let me know what you come up with.