~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ math goblins

we had an eventful weekend of pressing apple cider and playing with friends on saturday, and then attending a very exciting gender reveal party for quinn’s step-niece! he has been elected as future babysitter already for this new bundle of joy, coming to our family in march.

once he handed in his historical interview, his overall grade in social studies went from F to B, and it was a lovely piece!

he got to choose a book for blackout poetry in language arts, and he picked anne mccaffrey dragonsong. he is excited to create poetry in it, but also to now read anne mccaffrey. his friend l got him into a game concerning the warriors series about cats, so we were off to the library to collect some supplemental reading beyond the math textbook variety. (we ended up with the next rick riordan installment in the trials of apollo as well.)

this age is the odd juxtaposition of hearing him obsess about a crush on a girl, to waking him up in the morning and having him say to me, “you find a planet” and being requested to carry him while spinning (he was orbiting me?) and set him in his chair for breakfast. my completely oblivious to time/date son, knew the date of the first middle school dance. i knew i’d have to remind him to put his shirt on frontwards, but he was already committed to going. probably even with deodorant on. sheesh!

we had another parked car meltdown of a similar theme as last month; “pressure” and school sucks and everything is bad in middle school and “i just want my old life back.” it ended on a pep talk from me about how it’s really normal to feel like so much has changed and to want to go back to your old life, and feel overwhelmed a lot, and have a lot going on, as a brand new middle schooler. i reemphasized the “This Is Super Normal” part several different ways. at one point he was angry about the president. he was in tears over it, as though the angry apricot is somehow responsible for putting quinn through middle school. i tried to reel him back in to his immediate self and stop trying to take on unfortunate political officials, and he came around in the end. it is normal to not want to do your homework. and feeling pushed is normal. even if mama isn’t trying to push but just support. and i stated that and he agreed he feels i do support him and he does want me to remind him to do his homework. there was no actual problem i could put my finger on besides emotional overload, and once he got it out of his system he went and cheerfully did his last 5 problems (verbally while writing his answers… which helps him get it done faster).


on his last day with me of the two weeks, there was a day off from school, so quinn participated in a theatre workshop that was being offered (and had a great time performing in his group’s skit) and then he and i spent the remaining afternoon hours on the beach, something we haven’t been doing very regularly as of late. once again, my big huge middle schooler revealed the little person still inside, as he scampered around on hands and knees, re-enacting cat battle scenes from the warriors book he had just finished. then he buried my limbs in the sand.

after a week away, quinn came back to me on friday, the last day of his first 6-week term, and although he handed in a few things at the very last minute, there was only one assignment that was left incomplete. the assignment was an autobiographical “my name is” poem for language arts, but since that was worth 50 of his 250 points for the term, it meant the difference between a 94% A and a 81% B. he had 2 lines of the title typed into the google doc, after two full class periods of work time, so at least he’s using his class time efficiently. it was due thursday, and at that point, the teacher entered an F, and quinn despaired and didn’t communicate or finish (or really even start) the work.


until he got home to me. after a brief discussion, he stated he did want to try to finish it and hand it in, and we both suspected it may be accepted for a grade if it was done by midnight. i sat him down and filled him full of food, then encouraged him to do a verbal brainstorm of what he wanted to write. he jotted a few words on a list that he wanted to include, but what finally got him going were my outlandish examples of imagery and sensory details. after one descriptive phrase about slaying orcs in a tunnel of trees in a forest (vs. “i kill orcs”), he jotted down “tunnels” and in the end, he crafted his whole poem as a d and d adventure, taking along his band of merry elves/dwarves/rogues. (the teacher’s instructions for the poem were “Peel the onion…you have layers.  You have MULTITUDES. This can include your hopes, dreams, fears, talents, family, personality, history, future plans, and ideas. Use imagery.  Make me see and feel your poem.  Show me your life.  Show me who you are!”

he wrote (crew names changed to pseudonyms by mama):

Name: Quinn

Date: 10-17-18

Period: 2


My Name Is Quinn

My Favorite Color Is Green

My Favorite Animal Is An Owl

My name is Quinn

I am a dragonborn wizard

I have a pet owl

My crew of adventurers is strong

We have me

Aragorn the human fighter

Legolas the elf fighter

And Gimli the dwarf rogue

We walk in diamond formation

On a quest to find the ancient mithril drum set

We have a map to show us the way

To the treasure

A dragon will be guarding the other treasure

The mithril drumsticks

They are required to play the mithril drum set

I alone can read the map

It leads us through the forest of Everygreen inhabited by ninjas

The tunnels of Diamondrain inhabited by ninjas

And the Skytrayl of the high mountains inhabited by ninjas

We reach the dragon and it’s ninja minions

They are very powerful

But we defeat them

And gain the mithril drum sticks

We now possess limited but large power

After we find the mithril drum set we will have unlimited power

Our journey was difficult

But we return home with both treasures

The mithril drum sticks

Whose power is to play the mithril drum set

And the mithril drum set

Whose power when played remains unknown

Who knows

Maybe one day

All mithril instruments will have been found


he doesn’t know what happens when the mithril drum is played yet! it remains unknown! i told him it keeps it very mysterious and he agreed. it makes us all want to know, and sets up for sequels with these other mithril instruments! i loved his requirement for all of the place names (diamondrain!) to have unconventional spellings so google docs would red underline them. hence skytrail became skytrayl.

on saturday i worked farmer’s market, and left him pancakes and bacon for breakfast. and a couple of haikus (they wrote some in language arts, but apollo also begins each chapter with a haiku). he sent me one in response, via text:

my life as it should

be. nothing to do but what

i want. thank the gods.

when i got home on saturday, quinn and rich were watching monty python and the search for the holy grail, after quinn’s social studies teacher used clips of it to elucidate economics principles, and quinn came home quoting them, with a perfect accent.

in between resisting math homework, it was a weekend full of finding him on page 503 of his advanced algebra textbook, asking me for more logic puzzles, and asking me to play “guess the function” with him. i made up functions for him to guess, after he gave me an example because i didn’t know what he meant (or what fred meant). his example was:

dog 4

cat 4

human 2

fish 0

bird 2

the function is “number of legs.” i was making pancakes while he was asking me so i gave him:

pancakes 3

pizza 4

cookies 2

biscuits 1

playdough 1.5

the function was “number of cups of flour” and even though he knew it had something to do with ingredients, it took him a while to get it. it’s so clear to me that he digs math, and yet resists it so strongly when it is “forced” as he believes of the homework.

good old fred.

we went to a midsummer night’s dream because once quinn heard that his friend l was in it, he stated “we’re going.” his friend was one of the little goblin-minions of puck in the play, and had quite a few lines and some great action. she is in a lot of quinn’s classes, and has played magic with him. the play was great, lots of 80’s references and songs, quite a few kids with real roles, and a great balance of making you like shakespeare while also poking fun at shakespeare. (the funny rhyme stuff… with characters correcting each other on pronunciation followed by “but that doth not rhyme” and so on. also song lyrics changed by varying degrees, but always with “you” changed to “thou”. “every step thou take, every move thou make, i’ll be watching thou.” when we got home quinn asked, “so are there any plays coming up?” and i think his lapsed interest in participating in one at some point might be rekindling.

he wanted to go back to the green room to talk to his friend, and they gushed at each other with thanks for coming and what a great job she had done. rich asked if he got all the 80’s references in the play and he said um, no. none of them.

i rolled up strips of dinosaur kale into mobius strips that i held together with toothpicks… hoping to get him to eat raw kale. and he totally did! and called them mobiosaurs. then he took the toothpicks, stuck them between his fingers, and said “i’m freddy kruger.”

me: what?! how do you know that 80’s reference?

q: “everyone knows freddy kruger, it’s not from the 80’s.

(i told him to ask rich, who proceeded to read him the copyright dates for the entire nightmare on elm street series.)

he also made me chuckle with his use of the word “litotes” which i recall learning in maybe 9th grade enriched english. litotes means understatement; he likes to announce overstatement with “‘hyperbole” so when i said something that was an understatement and he said “litotes” i said, “what? how do you know that?” (i seem to say that a lot.) that one came from life of fred. more than just math in there.

he sat on my lap (painful torture and laugh therapy all in one) and we were covered with the blanket and lisa decided to sit on top of him on top of me for a few minutes one morning. he’s a confusing mix of big and little and clueless and know it all right now!!! knows exactly what pokemon he wants to dress up as for halloween (rowlet the owl) and exactly how many components of his costume to wear to the dance to be extra quull.

i mixed up cookie dough sunday night after dinner and stuck it in fridge, so i was baking the cookies monday morning while i made breakfast and packed lunches. when i woke him up, i told him pancakes for breakfast and a cookie for breakfast dessert. that got him out of bed on a monday morning.

after his pancakes, he chose a cookie, and i got out a plate for him to catch crumbs. i came walking back into the kitchen and he was at the sink running the water, and i witnessed him wash his plate without being asked! then when he put it in the drainer, a jar lid fell into the sink, and he rinsed it and put it back in the drainer! when he turned around i made a super big deal hugging him and fake-sobbing about what a wonderful thing i had witnessed.

while sitting in a boring monday morning meeting, i jotted ideas on a sticky note (i have no idea where quinn gets his distractedness!) about how to make math homework more playful and less torturous. i decided to try making it into something of a d and d game…

  1. he has to roll the d12 to see how many goblins are attacking.
  2. for each problem he completes, he gets one chance to attack them, and
  3. if he completes the problem in under 3 minutes they don’t get to attack back (surprise bonus).

i had already tried giving him one of the egg timers from a game, to show him time passing while he did math problems, and it was just a distraction, something to fidget with. i had tried using a stop watch while he did problems and giving him his lap times as he finished a problem, which only seemed to make things more stressful, and made them take longer. i have had 4011 versions of the logic of time management conversation with him. if quinn had 35 math problems to do and each problem takes him 1 minute, how long does his homework take? what if he takes 10 minutes per problem? etc. the resistance is strong. i was hoping to use the game idea to bring him more awareness of time passing…. or connect it to his reality in a way he could actually embrace.

the game worked like a dream. he slayed all the goblins for days. he wanted to add features to make the game both more fun and more mathy, such as renaming it integers and irrationals. he built a table of goodness knows what, and all i know is it involves pi, tau, and wau, and other irrational numbers!

he was excited when he saw my rules sheet (complete with pi rats/midsummer nights dream slant rhyme/vi hart dragon dungeons proprietary mama inside joke blend) and then spent 10 minutes creating his grid of wonder. something about upgrading from level 1 to wau?

i eventually just said ok, time to roll for your goblins!

he did most of the problems in under a minute.  some were done in 15-20 seconds. we adapted rules as he played, such as allowing 2 attacks for problems completed in under a minute. he has added different enemies and when he had a problem or two left in a section but had already defeated the enemies, out of nowhere a couple of pesky twig blights would swoop in and attack. a clever mama always keeps a couple of twig blights up her sleeve.

of course it worked; he is the kid who couldn’t get in the car; but he could get in the batmobile.

i told him he could do this for his homework any time he wanted; with any work he “has to” do. there is usually a way to make it fun. there are always choices.

i guess that goes for parenting as well. thankful to be remembering these lessons a mere 6 weeks into middle school.

there is almost nothing easy about the steep learning curve of embarking on a middle school journey. except for, in quinn’s case, probably figuring out the slope-intercept equation for said curve.

2 comments to ~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ math goblins

  • Holly Fugate

    I’m loving the lifelong learning of Quinn’s middle school years!

    These are tough years. Soon he’ll look like a man, but still have the maturity of a boy. I guess the brain and body changes as much during puberty as a baby’s in the first years of life.

  • camp boss

    middle school boys are a breed all their own….personal hygiene is a battle to be waged as well as peer pressure!! Best of luck…8th grade has shown its own challenges!!

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