Microbe Art

photo of young girls looking through microscope

I have long been fascinated with the intersection of math, nature, and art. From Fibonacci to fractals, I find it intriguing to recognize patterns and similarities in natural objects and animals that also appear in those created by humans, and that we can imagine wildly creative innovations from very logical, patterned, or symmetrical visions. When I came across this video of the “Art of the Microcosmos” by Emily Graslie, I had a feeling that it would lead me down a rabbit hole of Fibonaccian proportions, and I was correct. Her interview with James Weiss made me wish I had him as a Biology teacher in high school, or that I had even once gotten the chance to observe the incredible microscopic animals shown in the video. Of course, I’ve known about the tardigrade (also known affectionately as “water bear”) for a few years, so I definitely have no problem imagining it or any other of the strangely beautiful creatures in this video as artistic inspiration.

Following Emily’s film, I had to look up Klaus Kemp, who creates diatomic art, and then I made the mistake of Googling “art made with microbes” and found an entirely different branch of scientific art grown in petri dishes.

After a couple of hours of being transfixed by so many things I had never seen or even known about before watching Graslie’s video, I finally had the wherewithal to drag myself away and try to do something somewhat productive (though not even minutely creative). I started a new Wakelet of “Math, Art, and Nature,” and I even used Wakelet’s new layout option of columns to attempt to organize it a bit. (You may need to scroll horizontally to see all of the columns, and scroll vertically within a column to see all of the links.) This is, of course, separate from my “Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep,” collection, but I went ahead and added a link to it in that one, too.

Just a reminder that, even though fancy microscopes might be nice, you can always get your students started with observations of that microscopic world with an inexpensive Foldscope. You might be surprised at the incredible images you can view with this simple tool.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Rob’s Tinkercad Classroom

Rob Morrill is a Innovation Lab teacher who was invited by Tinkercad this summer to write regular blog posts about projects he has done with students. You can read more about Rob’s experience and expertise in his introductory post. One way to keep track of the projects he adds is to visit this page, which is a “roundup” of all of the posts he has published so far. You can also visit Rob’s website. I’ve been wanting to try a lithophane project, and now I’m even more inspired after seeing his instructions and examples.

In case you’ve missed it, Tinkercad is one of my absolute favorite entry-level design programs (and it’s free!) that I discovered when our school got its first 3d printer. It keeps improving, and you can move from simple designs to really complex ones to accommodate all abilities. Here is a post I did at the end of last year about Tinkercad Design Slams. It’s also one of my recommended online tools to help students develop their spatial reasoning. You can integrate so many parts of your curriculum (especially math) into Tinkercad projects, as well as develop creativity and that Design Thinking mindset. Even if you don’t have a 3d printer (see my post on questions to consider if you are thinking of acquiring one), students love to show off their Tinkercad designs virtually, and they can be exported into other programs. For more ideas on using Tinkercad with Design Thinking, see this post on the City X book.

By the way, Tinkercad has a teacher dashboard that you can use, where you can add classes, students, and assignments. And, did I mention it’s free?!!! Don’t worry if you haven’t used it before. They’ve got you covered with their tutorials, and your students will help each other out. (Mine invariably discovered something I didn’t know about the program every time they used it.)

Thanks to Rob for sharing his innovative ideas!

The Almanac of Interesting Numbers

I am living proof of the myth that only some people are “math people.” For years, I suffered under that delusion — and that I was definitely not one of those people. But things changed in high school. I won’t go into the long, boring story, but I realized that I enjoy math. And while I am not a lightning fast mental problem solver, the logic and patterns fascinate me. That is why I started collecting fun math sites for my students, and made this public list of Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep. I also started following fascinating people who tweet about math (#MTBOS is a wonderful way to start), which includes Sunil Singh (@MathGarden). Singh is a Content Writer for Mathigon.org, one of the Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep. While I’ve included Mathigon on the list, I didn’t notice the “Almanac of Interesting Numbers” until Singh tweeted about it.

Although I don’t believe that only some people have a “math gene,” I do know that there are some of us who find math far more intriguing than others. I’ve had students like that, and if you have them in your class you should show them this interactive number line that will give them amazing facts about numbers. I found the easiest way to navigate the number line is to put a number in the search box and click on the zoom in/zoom out magnifying glasses at the bottom of the page. That’s how I discovered that 40,585 is the sum of the factorials of its digits (4! +0! + 5! +8! +5!) and that 25 is the smallest square that can be written as the sum of two squares.

If I don’t publish any more posts this week, I think you can guess what I’m doing instead…

Photo by Flash Dantz on Pexels.com

Plotting Plots

If you have a fascination with literature and graphs, you may have seen LitCharts, which I wrote about back in 2016. LitCharts includes an interactive Theme Wheel for each of the works of prose covered on the site, such as this example for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I enjoy the meaningful conversations students have as they analyze such charts, often giving me many new understandings about the books from their perspectives. “Plotting Plots” is a website that also aims to give you alternative visualizations of books, though its “library” is not a comprehensive, yet, as the one you will find on LitCharts. Tom Liam Lynch is open to suggestions for new books to add as well as any other feedback from users. On this site, you choose a book, then select up to four words from the book that you would like to see plotted on a graph. The graph shows you the chapters where you will find those words and their frequency. For example, here is a graph I made for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

I would ask students to do a “See, Think, Wonder” activity with this graph to find out what they already know about the book, what assumptions they might make based on the numbers, and what questions this prompts. I would say, having read the book a few times, that I think Chapter 5 is right around when Harry comes face to face with blatant displays of magic for the first time, and I would wonder why friendship does not appear very often in the book despite the relationships he develops with Hermione and Ron.

The blog posts on the site are equally intriguing, such as this one on The Hate U Give, where Lynch gives us some insight into his realization that the parents play a more important role in the book than he initially assumed.

Because I love seeing the way different people can find to creatively use graphs and infographics for deeper understanding, I have this new Wakelet to share with you. As you will see, graphing is not just for math!

My Dog Can’t Do Any Math

So I have this friend who is about to adopt a dog and its foster mom said that it’s a great dog and it even knows how to “perimeter poop.” And I said, “OMG how do you train a dog to perimeter poop?!!!!!” And she said, “I was going to ask you!” Because I have three dogs. But sadly, none of them perimeter poop because I never knew that concept existed — so I guess you could say that they just “area poop.” You’re probably wondering why I am telling you this. Basically because I initially regretted that I never taught my dogs to perimeter poop but then I started regretting that I’m not in the classroom anymore because this could definitely be turned into the kind of math word problem my students would have thoroughly enjoyed. Once a teacher, always a teacher. And then I got philosophical as I realized that this was a classic example of someone having a lot of experience (me: having owned countless dogs) learning from someone new (her: adopting her family’s first dog ever) and that’s the lesson I should impart to you – that no matter how much you think you know about a topic it’s not as impressive as a dog that can defecate with geometric precision.

And since this blog is more about sharing resources, really, than about random thoughts about my inadequacies as a teacher of children and/or canines, here is a math resource on gorilla poop (I couldn’t find one on dogs) from the Lincoln Park Zoo. Or you can watch the video below of Maggie, the Jack Russell who supposedly does math (I think there’s some conspiring going one between Maggie and the owner). I like how one of the young students says in bewilderment, “My dog can’t do any math!”

If you want some more math resources, try my Wakelet of Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep.

The dog who poops on our sidewalk – you know, where we walk

How Do You Really Feel About Pi Day?

If you’ve never celebrated Pi Day (March 14th) in your classroom, you may be missing an opportunity to get your students really excited about math. There is something quite magical about this number that appeals to curious young minds, inviting those who even believe (wrongly) that they don’t have mathematical minds to join in the fun.

Or, maybe not.

I was looking for new resources to add to my Pi Day Wakelet, and realized that I had somehow missed that Vi Hart, worshipped by my students for her math videos about Fibonacci as well as her awesome sketches of slug cats, has a tiny bit of a problem with Pi celebrations. She eloquently explains her argument in this video from 2014, Anti-Pi Day Rant.

I only discovered Hart’s argument by first unearthing Why Pi is Awesome (Vi Hart Rebuttal) by The Odd 1s Out on YouTube. (FYI – there is the comment that, “This is all bull crap” around 6:42 in the video.) And that, to be honest, is the first time it ever occurred to me that Pi might not be all that.

Side note: The first comment I saw under the rebuttal video was, “When the 2 quietest and smartest kids in class have a heated argument and everyone takes notes and grabs popcorn,” which seemed quite funny to this former GT teacher, who listened to debates like this in her classroom all of the time.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you really want to add a bit of a twist to Pi Day in your classroom, maybe you could show the students Hart’s video a few days before March 14th, and ask the students to persuade you as to why this number should be celebrated. And then you can use the ideas in my Pi Day Wakelet.

There are subsequent videos about Pi Day by Vi Hart in which she seems to soften her stance a bit – even one asking Pi to stay home last year to avoid coronavirus – but I haven’t watched all of them. Suffice it to say that my world was rocked hard enough by one anti-Pi video that I need a bit of time before I watch more.

from giphy.com