I was listening to a podcast this week in which Steven Soderbergh, the famous director, stated, “I am not interesting; I am interested.” This is absolutely how I feel about myself. In fact, I responded, “Curious” to a recent Twitter post asking, “What’s Your Word?” I could spend all day learning new things, and I get really excited when any of those things happens to be something I think might be of interest to you.
On an AI thread in Twitter the other day, someone shared a bunch of images they created with Midjourney, an AI tool. The artwork involved something called, “knolling photography“, which reminded me of natural mandalas. As some of you may know, I used to do a unit on mathematical masterpieces with my 4th graders that included mandalas, and we used many methods to create some. You can see one of my posts about this here. I thought I would jump down this rabbit hole to see if I could create any decent mandalas with some free AI tools at my fingertips (Midjourney is not one of them), and I was pleasantly surprised with the results.
Since Canva is free to all teachers, I started with its “Text to Image” tool, and asked it to make a mandala of quilled flowers. Here is the result:
I also asked for one made with seashells.
Then I asked it to change the style to “watercolor” for another flower mandala. Here was the response:
Even though Canva is free for educators, there are some of you who don’t use it, so I decided to test out another AI chat tool, Bing, in case you wanted a different option. (By the way, if you have the Adobe Creative Suite subscription, you can also try Firefly to do this.)
When my students created mandalas, we worked a lot on symbolism and the meaning of colors, so I started by trying to ask Bing to create a mandala of sports equipment (because that’s invariably what some of my students do). That did not go well. The images were extremely abstract and not recognizable. I finally settled on one where I was able to request a specific type of mandala (spiral dot), the colors red, blue, and green, and a photo of a soccer ball in the middle.
Bing allows you to upload photos, but I didn’t have any success in it making mandalas out of the couple of photos that I tried in the limited time I experimented.
What would students learn from this activity? As I mentioned before, our previous mandala lessons included symbolism and the meaning of colors. We also learned about different types of symmetry and the history of mandalas in many cultures. Creating mandalas themselves helped them to delve more into their own values and creativity. And trying to make them with AI tools will not only bring up philosophical and ethical discussion, but also help them to refine their critical thinking skills to improve their “prompt engineering.”
As Steven Soderbergh also states in that podcast episode when asked about AI, that it’s an iterative tool, but, “It hasn’t experienced anything.” He quotes a Pixar motto, “Be wrong as fast as you can… Just get to the end. If this helps people get to the end of something, fine.” Maybe this is one more option you can give students to get to the vision they have for their mathematical masterpiece — or to create a new vision even better than they imagined.