Categories
Education Tutorials Useful stuff

Teaching kids fractions

Our son is learning fractions at school. He’s finding them a little challenging, so I’ve been trying to help him. On one hand, my math knowledge still seems to be sufficient at his level. On the other, I don’t remember doing this stuff like he does it at school.

I found a couple links that will hopefully be helpful to him (well, aside from the examples I worked through with him, some artful diagrams with blocks, and loads of patience), so I thought I’d share them –

I also found the Khan Academy videos on YouTube (also worthwhile if you just want the videos):

Kids these days have such awesome resources available … (and, thankfully, so do we parents!)

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Dawid Małecki
Categories
Business and work Writing

School fees for writers

When I changed careers I knew I would have school fees to pay even though I have been writing (and doing a share of content writing) for a long time. The difference was that I was shifting from writing articles about themes that mostly just interested me professionally to a focused content marketing career. It has proven to be a challenging transition.

Writing for myself vs professional writing

When I write for myself, I write to share an idea, an argument or something I find interesting. The result I have in mind is to share something interesting with you and hope you find it interesting too.

Content writing is a little different. On the one hand, I believe strongly in writing as a blogger. What do I mean by that? To me, writing as a blogger means sharing something with your audience in your voice. It is not, as Nathan pointed out recently, “flogging”, it is something real.

When I think about great marketing writing, I think about articles that share something useful in a personal voice, not jargon filled PR language (I am being introduced to PR as a recent addition to my projects and it feels very different).

At the same time, marketing writing has a tangible objective: add to the business’ bottom line. Marketing writing that doesn’t help the business make money in a meaningful and measurable way isn’t particularly effective. With that in mind, my goal has been to learn to write material that converts more effectively and intentionally.

Although my previous body of professional writing continues to draw traffic, I wrote those articles to inform, educate and satisfy my curiosity about the stuff I wrote about. I wasn’t always writing specifically to convert readers into customers. That happened mostly organically because customers were often drawn to my content and reached out to me because they felt I would be able to help them.

Making those school fees count

In my current position, our emphasis is on measurable performance. We focus on producing content that generates leads that our sales team can convert. Writing that sort of content isn’t as easy as it may have seemed to me when I began. I like to think I write fairly well but writing well isn’t enough. The writing has to achieve a tangible result. That is the purpose of my professional role, ultimately.

This is where those school fees come in. “School fees” are those experiences you go through when you learn to write more effectively. Just being a good writer isn’t enough.

You have to learn to adapt your writing for your objectives and that can feel like starting from the beginning. It can feel a lot like those early, bewildering years in first grade, although with stubble and a family depending on you being a quick study.

Making the transition to this approach can be challenging. It isn’t uncommon to write something I feel is particularly insightful and informative only to receive feedback from my boss that it falls short because it doesn’t adequately address a particular set of needs. Sometimes the feedback can be tough because, after all, I write “fairly well”, right?

I think a big source of frustration is that I have an attachment to my writing. How can you not have an attachment to your work when it is an expression of your personality shaped for a specific purpose? That personal investment in your work is what differentiates it from a stereotypical PR publicity piece and gives it meaning in some way.

Writing something that people really resonate with is a great feeling, probably second only to writing something that feels meaningful in the first place. Sometimes those hits are surprises, too. I’ve written a number of articles that I wouldn’t have thought would have been particularly interesting and turned out to be pretty popular.

As with photography, you don’t usually see all the misses in between because they don’t make it to publication. In between all of those is a series of creative crises, intermingled with short growth spurts.

These school fees can really bite at times although they tend to be worth it in the medium term even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

Image credit: Pixabay

Categories
Miscellany

Small wins when learning a new language

Small wins when learning a new language include being able to have a short conversation about the cost of take-away coffee or checking if your doctor’s office has an early time-slot in your new language.

The big win is being able to type that, coherently, in the new language!

Image credit: Pixabay

Categories
Mindsets Writing

It’s ok to dislike your writing, just not yourself

I came across this great piece of advice from Neil Gaiman about how it’s ok to dislike your writing but you shouldn’t dislike yourself for writing it.

https://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/139093894706/mr-gaiman-how-can-i-get-past-the-self-loathing-i

I may have a story in progress somewhere and I often wonder if I can write fiction well enough to be worth publishing. Being able to separate my feelings about my work and my feelings about myself for producing work that doesn’t meet my expectations of my work (as if I could actually have remotely reasonable expectations when I am still learning how to write well) makes it easier to treat the whole process as a learning experience and keep going.

Categories
Education

A little project: Stuff to teach our kids

I started a little project for our kids yesterday. It is still pretty early stage and nothing fancy but my son wanted me to share it with, well, everyone. It is called “Stuff to teach our kids“:

Our kids, probably like yours, are insatiably curious about the world around them. I started off sharing videos with them in a playlist on YouTube. I then started finding other things elsewhere on the Web to show them and had an idea: why not create a website with videos, links and other resources that they can learn from?

This is just a little space I created for our kids. It may have stuff your kids would find interesting too. If you found interesting stuff for kids, get in touch and share it? I may share it here.

I decided to create a WordPress site for it because the stuff that my kids are interested may interest other kids and I am a fan of sharing knowledge on the Web, generally speaking.

At the moment my strategy is to write up posts with videos, quotes and links about topics our kids ask me about. I also like the idea of being able to point our kids to a single resource to begin their learning journey. I realised that I was collecting materials from all over the Web to share with them and it made sense to share it all this way.

Yesterday the kids asked me about tsunami’s so I published this:

http://stufftoteachourkids.org/2016/02/tsunamis/

We watched an episode of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey this morning and I had to share some information about Tardigrades:

http://stufftoteachourkids.org/2016/02/have-you-met-the-tough-tardigrade/

If you have any great resources, tips or fascinating topics to share with our kids, let me know? I have started compiling a list of sources I use when I want to research topics for the kids on the site.

Categories
Education Science and nature

Electronics kits are making a big comeback

Our son is fascinated with electronics kits and we bought him a really basic electronics kit with a light bulb, motor and a couple wires and other components. He also has a couple great kits we or family have bought for him to work with.

He built a solar powered helicopter (it doesn’t actually fly but the rotors turn in direct sunlight), has a light chemistry kit and my mother recently sent over a kit which he can use to create a sort of cable car using a used can.

I came across this segment from SA radio (702?) on SoundCloud about the resurgence of interest in these kits. My mother has worked at Wits University for years and I remember playing with little kits her engineer colleagues helped put together for me. This brings some of that back and it’s pretty exciting.

His current project is building an Arc Reactor (as seen in the Iron Man movies) and we have been getting some help from one of the engineers my mother works with. He has sourced a couple resources for us which I’ll share in another post. As much fun as this stuff is, it definitely requires some planning.

As for electronics kits generally, I’d really like to get into some of the other kits available. I have a few recommendations from friends on Facebook including littleBits, Arduino and Raspberry Pi but we haven’t gone down that road yet. Some of the kits can be a little pricey. Of the three, I like littleBits the most but that is a pricey option.

It’s great to see kids interested in this stuff. I sometimes worry they will wind up spending all their time glued to a screen of some kind (we all spend too much time staring at screens as it is). Working with hardware is also a good way to learn about software and how things work, generally. Seeing my son so excited about physical components and building things is really fantastic. What do your kids play with? Any recommendations or tips?

Image credit: Electronics by Nick Ares, licensed CC BY SA 2.0

Categories
Education Mindsets

Pushing my linguistic envelope

My teacher was so impressed with my blog post about Hebrew being the key to my Israeli identity that he sent me a somewhat more advanced text about my home city, Modi’in and suggested I read it and discuss with my class.

Pushing my linguistic envelope

Pushing my linguistic envelope a little although I’m amazed at how much I can learn from a brief text written at a higher level.

No pressure …


If you haven’t read my post yet, here it is:

Finding my Israeli identity in Hebrew

Categories
Education

When not knowing more Hebrew than your kids do can hurt them

Even though you could probably get by just fine in Israel without learning much Hebrew, it has been really important to me since before we even arrived that we learn this ancient language. Besides being practically useful as a day to day language (being both an ancient language and in common use in modern times still astounds me), Hebrew is a key to integrating better into our new home and understanding Israeli culture. At least, that’s how I see it.

We placed our kids straight into a Hebrew language school, despite them only knowing a few scattered words, instead of an immigrant school which teaches in English and Hebrew. It was tough for them in the beginning but, after a few months, they started speaking and understanding the language at a remarkable rate. I’m so envious of their sponge-like brains!

As immigrants, the Israeli government gives us a number of absorption benefits that include free Hebrew language classes (called “ulpan” classes – not to be confused with “kibbutz” which is a different activity altogether). For adults it basically works out to 5 months full-time (mornings or evenings, 5 days a week) or 10 months part-time (I go to class 2 evenings a week for about 3 hours each class).

It is an incredible opportunity to learn and, as tiring as it is working full-time and then still going to classes and returning home late, I generally love going and make a concerted effort to do my homework and learn as much as I can. Unfortunately my older brain doesn’t absorb nearly as much as our kids do (or maybe I have more insecurities and inhibitions that get in the way) but it’s all slowly sinking in.

The challenge is making sure you use Hebrew as much as you can instead of defaulting to –

אני לא מדבר עברית

(“I don’t speak Hebrew”)

… and then switching to English. You get to a point where you can’t say you don’t know the language when you clearly know a little so procrastination takes the form of –

אני מדבר קצת עברית

(Roughly, “I only speak a little Hebrew”)

My latest is asking the person I am talking to to speak slower because the primary challenge now, besides my limited vocabulary, is that Israelis speak really quickly and have a tendency to blend distinct words into something that sounds like one word. One example that always comes to mind when I think about this is, ironically, –

מה אתה עושה

… which, instead of being pronounced “mah attah oseh” (“what are you doing”), sounds like “matta-oseh”. There are many other examples and, as I learned, also many contractions that are legitimate parts of the language. These are wonderful reminders about how little patience Israelis have for drawing things out any more than is absolutely necessary.

Anyway, as much as I am learning, my Hebrew is roughly comparable to my son’s (I know this because I can just about help him with his homework) but not as “advanced” as my 5 year old daughter who even has the accent down. While this is fine for homework purposes and talking to teachers who are accustomed to speaking slowly and using small words; it doesn’t help our kids advance their Hebrew.

We had a meeting with our daughter’s teacher who told us that our daughter works hard, has learned a lot in the short time she has been here and excels in most areas of her classes. Her concern is that our daughter’s Hebrew is still underdeveloped, relatively speaking, and this could hamper her progress in school (I was assured that language alone will never be a reason to hold her back). The teacher basically told us (this was all in Hebrew so it’s an educated guess on my part) that our little girl needs to be exposed to more advanced and varied Hebrew than the Hebrew she is exposed to at school and when she is with her friends.

There are things we can do to help her, for sure, but what this discussion highlighted for me is that being unable to speak more advanced Hebrew than our kids is hampering them. Our friends are native Hebrew speakers and can guide their kids like we do in English at home. It is obvious when you think about it but when our kids study in Hebrew and are also new to the language, not being able to correct their grammar or read story books at a normal pace and with fluent inflection is problematic.

Hanging books at tashas in Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa
Hanging books at tashas in Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa

As a writer, my limited Hebrew is frustrating. I can use the English language considerably better than I can use Hebrew so, on one hand, I look forward to a day when I could write an article like this as clearly in Hebrew as I can in English. On the other hand, it really bugs me that I am still trying to figure out past and future tense and my kids ask me to stop reading to them in Hebrew because there aren’t enough hours in a day.

Learning Hebrew (and any other language) isn’t always easy. It has different rules and forms, most of which are very different to English (which is a pretty bizarre language too, if you think about it). I’ve discovered that I am really interested in the language and have a strong desire to learn it well and that helps on days when it seems like I can’t string two words together (I call those days “bad Hebrew days”).

Returning to the discussion with our daughter’s teacher; if anything, it highlights the importance of not procrastinating and just throwing myself into the linguistic deep-end. I’ve started forcing myself to use Hebrew when I know it and throw in English when I don’t (no idea if that confuses people I speak to – probably does). Like anything new, it requires persistence and I’m still working on that too (although, as Yoda famously said: “Do or do not, there is no try”). I also really like something my ulpan teacher often says; that to learn Hebrew we need to –

לקרוא ( (to read)

לכתוב (to write)

לדבר (to speak)

And to love it

Bottom line: knowing more Hebrew is probably just as much about being able to help our kids adapt better and live up to their potential in a new country as it about being able to order decaf coffee and pay with correct change.