1. Educational App Review — DragonBox Algebra 5+, 12+ and Elements
  2. Educational Video Review — Between the Folds
  3. Website Review — Oyez.org (The Oyez Project)

1 - Educational App Review — DragonBox Algebra 5+, 12+ and Elements
by Elizabeth Kamath

Apps are often a great gift – no sharp bits to step on, no pieces to lose. It’s even better when the apps are fun and educational.

This series of math games is excellent for introducing the concepts of algebra and geometry. DragonBox Algebra 5+ ($4.99 for iPad, iPhone, and Android) makes linear equation fun with colorful graphics and cute characters (these later change to letters). Your goal is to get the box on one side alone, and the game slowly guides you through more rules to achieving this goal. It covers addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and is suitable for children ages 5 and up (my 5-year-old loved it, as did my 10-year-old).

When they’ve finished that game, go on to DragonBox Algebra 12+ ($7.99 for iPad, iPhone, and Android). You need not wait until age 12, but more advanced concepts are introduced such as parentheses, negative integers, and the addition of fractions. (The concepts from the first DragonBox are quickly reviewed at the beginning.) My younger son, who is now 6, is about halfway through it. My older son finished it before he was 11 (and he is no lover of math).

DragonBox Elements ($4.99 for iPad, iPhone, and Android) does for geometry what the first two do for algebra. Explore shapes, angles, and proofs through play. The game is listed as ages 9 – 11, but that’s far too restrictive. My 6-year-old has completed about 2/3 or it, and my older son finished it before he was 11.

Parents (including us) frequently find these games just as engaging and educational as their children do. You may find yourself understanding these topics better than you did when learning them in school. This is definitely a bonus when we’re called upon to help with a tricky math problem, which means these games are a wonderful gift for the whole family.

2 - Educational Video Review — Between the Folds
by Elizabeth Kamath

Between the Folds is a nearly hour-long documentary about origami and the people who practice it. Even if you’ve never made a paper airplane, you (and your children) may find much that is fascinating here. The people profiled are quite diverse – physicists and mathematicians, artists and teachers, from teenagers to people even older than I am. (As a bonus, one of the people profiled was homeschooled.)

Of course a lot of the information is specifically about origami: its history, its basics, how people are taking it in different directions in today’s world. But you’ll also find this a wonderful jumping-off point to talk about creativity in general. Why do different people, using the same medium, come to such different expressions of that medium? Is that true with other forms of art besides origami? Is there a “right” and “wrong” way of artistic expression? What are some other ways that science and art merge?

There is nothing here to keep this video away from even the youngest audience, but depending on your child, those under age 7 or so might start to get bored. Combine it with some hands-on origami for a perfect art lesson.

3 - Website Review — Oyez.org (The Oyez Project)
by Elizabeth Kamath

This website is perfect for teens studying current events, American history, or debate and anyone interested in a career in the law. It’s also great for adults. Regardless of your political leanings, please read this review through to the end, because this website is for everyone, and it needs our help.

On February 13, 2016, we saw the passing of one of the most influential legal minds of our time, Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia served on the Supreme Court for nearly three decades, and during that time became well known for his bold writing, biting humor, and devotion to the legal philosophy of Constitutional Originalism. Justice Scalia was a man of strong principles that he fought for daily, even when that sometimes brought him in opposition to the people who usually supported him.

No understanding of the Supreme Court, as it currently exists, is complete without some understanding of Justice Scalia. And no study of our government is complete without an understanding of the Supreme Court. Fortunately, there is a website that can provide you with a unique and unequalled opportunity to explore the history and current workings of the Court - Oyez.org.

A key case during Scalia’s tenure was District of Columbia v. Heller. This case established that individual citizens had a Constitutional right to bear arms. It’s a topic Scalia felt passionately about, and he authored the decision, so let’s start our exploration of Oyez.org there.

From the homepage of Oyez.org, select “Cases”. On the left are menus that allow you to sort the cases in various ways. Under Term: choose the year 2007. This pulls up all the cases from the 2007 term (which extends from fall 2007 to spring 2008) and orders them alphabetically. You can choose to order them differently (date argued, date granted, etc.), using a different menu, but let’s leave it as alphabetical for this.

Using the alphabetical listing, scroll down to find District of Columbia v. Heller. Select the case title and you will be brought to that case’s page. Here you will find basic information about the case (when it was argued and decided, the advocates’ names, etc.), and important background information about the case along with the question posed to the Court. Read this with your child to understand better this case’s issues. But then the real fun begins.

Back at the top on the left-hand side, you will find “Oral Argument” and “Opinion Announcement”. Select the Oral Argument and you will go to a page that allows you to listen to the actual argument, including Justice Scalia’s (and the other Justices’) questions. After listening to the argument, you can return to the case page and listen to Justice Scalia read the Court’s opinion (i.e., their decision). In both cases, you can watch the words scroll on your screen along with the speaker (when a Justice speaks, their photo at the top is also highlighted), or if you prefer you can print the transcript and the opinion. If you don’t want to listen to or read an entire argument or decision, you can easily see at the bottom of the case page how the judges ruled.

But don’t stop with just this case - you can listen to cases from the most recently argued all the way back to 1955. Studying the First Amendment (or civil disobedience or the history of our flag)? Go into the search box (at the top of the page with the magnifying glass icon) and type in “Texas v. Johnson” to find the case that answers whether flag burning is a form of protected speech. Do you have a first cousin who has argued some cases before the Supreme Court, but you don’t know which ones? Type her name into the search box and Oyez will list them all for you with links to each case’s page. (One warning - while most cases are G-rated, some criminal cases contain graphic descriptions. For example, Kansas v. Carr and United States v. Stevens are not child-safe. If you have any question about content, please preview any case before allowing your child to listen.)

When you’re done exploring cases, select “Justices” where you’ll find biographies of all the justices who have served. The “Tour” button leads you on a 360 degree tour through the Supreme Court building. (If you go into Justice Ginsburg’s chambers, you can see a photo of her and Justice Scalia riding an elephant!) “News” brings you the latest in Supreme Court news.

If you enjoy the Oyez Project’s website and find it useful, I urge you to use the “Support Oyez” link on the top of their home page. The Oyez Project is a nonprofit endeavor, and they’re trying hard to avoid charging people a fee or cluttering the site with annoying ads. A gift of anything, no matter how small, would be a big help.

Additionally, the Oyez Project is in a period of transition, and they are looking for a new home. I won’t go into details here (in part because I’m only an avid user and not connected with the site in any way), but they need a new foundation or group of generous individuals to fund them, as their current contract with Chicago-Kent College of Law is about to expire. If you know of anyone who could help in this, or simply want more information, please contact Jerry Goldman at jgoldman@oyez.org. (Mr. Goldman also provides fantastic technical support if you have any problems with or questions about the site.) This site is a vital resource for American history, current events, and government transparency.

“More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly.” —Justice Antonin Scalia


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