# The Beauty of Spirals

My 4th grade students are currently studying mathematical masterpieces.  I love showing them examples of the intersection of math and art.  When I saw a tweet yesterday morning from @TheKidShouldSeeThis with a link to the video of John Edmark’s spiral geometries, I knew right away that they would want to watch the video.  It weirdly connected with the magical drawbridge from yesterday’s video, so I showed that part to them first.  We have already talked about Fibonacci and the Golden Spiral, so they immediately found ways to connect both videos to their learning.

Since the students have also been using Scratch coding, I found a Scratch project for making spirals.  First we looked “inside” to decipher the code.  Then the students explored running the program.  After that, I talked about creative constraints, and gave them the challenge of changing one and only one part of the code to see how it made the program run differently. They recorded the results of their new programs and the class tried to guess what variable each student changed based on the videos.  Then I gave them time to freely remix however many parts of the program they liked.

This was one of those times that the students could happily have explored all day.  It was their first time remixing a program, and they delighted in trying to take it to the extremes by putting ridiculous numbers in to see how large or small or non-existent their spirals became.  Some of them created spirals so tiny that they appeared to be flowers blooming as they popped on to the Scratch stage.

And I still haven’t blown their mind with this Vi Hart video yet.  With the school year almost over, we may have to take this unit into their 5th grade year.  There is so much beauty in math, and we have barely scratched the surface!

# Building the Seed Cathedral

Thomas Heatherwick demonstrates amazing feats of design, architecture, and engineering in this TED video that I showed my 2nd graders (studying structures) this week.  After the revelation I had a few weeks ago that my students aren’t entirely sure of the importance of creativity, I wanted to be certain that they saw these examples of unique designs that defy all norms.  The favorite, which literally has gotten “oohs and ahs” from every audience I’ve shown it to so far, is the bridge.  (Go to about 3:33 on the video to see that directly.)  Almost as popular with my students are the apartment buildings near the end of the video that demonstrate that not all tall buildings are wider at the bottom than the top!

# Mom’s Dream Home

Since my 2nd graders are studying structures right now, it seems only right that they should design one of their own.  With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought I could make their designs seem more relevant if they had a “client” in mind.  I keep talking about the importance of empathy in Design Thinking, and they seem to have a difficult time empathizing with fictional characters, so I chose someone they might know a bit more.

We started by brainstorming things that their moms like.  One hand immediately went up.  “Facebook,” the student declared.  LOL, I thought, hoping this wasn’t about to become one of those situations where the students volunteered more information than needed to be shared in a public school setting…  My own daughter would probably respond, “Playing Sudoku on her iPad while she watches ‘Call the Midwife.'”

Fortunately, the rest of the responses were pretty standard.  “Peace and quiet” seemed pretty popular, as did “sleep” and “me.”  Some of the students suggested they also put things that their moms don’t like, such as shoes on the floor, to help them with their later designs.

After the students brainstormed decent lists, I showed them an example of a house floorplan.  We talked about what unique rooms we could add to customize a house for their mom.  “For example, you might like basketball so an indoor basketball court would be in your dream home.  But what would be in your mom’s?”

The floorplans are just rough drafts at the moment, but you can see a couple of examples below.  I’m still debating what the final product will look like.  Draw the outside of the house and do a green screen video?  Make a card with the house facade on the outside and the floorplan on the inside?  I think the moms will get a kick out of what their children think they value no matter what the medium of delivery, but I’d be happy to take any of your suggestions in the comments below!

By the way, if you would like some other ideas for Mother’s Day activities, here is my post from last year.

# Measure This. #2

Day 2 of this year’s standardized testing, so I’m posting a few more amazing feats that defy measurement on any state-mandated tests.  You can see Day 1 here.

Miniature Origami Art

Walmart Yodeling Kid

And I absolutely adore the snow shovel art done by Cindy Chinn.  You can see more images in this article, and you can visit her Etsy store here.  Thanks to Cindy for giving me permission to include this picture/ (If you like her snow shovel art, you should also check out her pencil carvings!)

# Creativity Needs a New PR Person

So, my first graders dropped a piano on my head last week.  I should not have found it quite as surprising as I did, but they still caught me off guard.

I showed them the Creativity video from Apple, and I asked what I thought was kind of a rhetorical question, “Is creativity important?”

One child squinted at me nervously, one nodded somewhat hesitantly, and the other two vigorously shook their heads.  (I normally have 5 in this first grade gifted class, but one was absent.)

I tried not to show my astonishment, my absolute disbelief that they could have responded in any way but, “YES!!!”

After I picked my jaw off the floor, I asked the two certain-that-creativity-is-not-important students, “Why isn’t creativity important?”

One didn’t really have an answer, and the other said with great conviction, “Because it’s just fun!”

How had this happened?  (Maybe because I need the above poster plastered on my wall.) How had I spent this long with these students without communicating that I feel, very very strongly, that creativity is so important?

Yesterday, I decided to get a wider sample from my class of 18 second-graders.  Some of these kids have been with me since Kindergarten, so I was hoping more cumulative exposure to my teaching would give me different results.

It was slightly better.  Only 5 students shook their heads.  But the yeses did not seem very confident.  When I asked the “no” students to explain, one student said, “Because it’s destructive.  The more humans create, the more of our planet and animals we destroy.”

Wow.  That certainly made sense.

Other students were quick to respond with how human creativity can solve problems, sometimes even improving things, and that it makes life worth living.

But still.

When I asked, “Which would you rather have more of – creativity or knowledge?” most of the class said, “Creativity!”  But I suspect they may have figured out by then that I was not very happy about creativity getting a bum rap.

Obviously, creativity needs a new ad campaign in my classroom.  Instead of saying, “Now, let’s do something fun!”, I need to say, “Now, let’s do another kind of important thinking,” or, “Now, let’s work on solving problems a different way.”  I thought I was good at praising unique answers and unusual methods, but now I see that I don’t do it often enough.

Of course, I want creativity to be “fun,” but does that mean it can’t also be important?  Does that mean the perceived “important” types of work can’t be fun?

This tweet that I saw the other day explains one reason that many of our students probably feel this way.

Do we have to measure creativity for it to be considered a valuable asset?  If not, then what can we do to help our students understand its significance.

Or, maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe creativity really isn’t that big of a deal.

# Inspiration from Apple

Apple made some announcements yesterday regarding additional support for educators with new products and management tools.  You can read about it here.  As part of its “Everyone Can Create” campaign, the company released a new video, “One Person Can Change the World.”  Of course, its ultimate purpose is to sell Apple products, but listening to the children narrating may make you ready to go out and do something incredible.  A couple of great quotes from the short video are:

As I watched the video on YouTube, I noticed another Apple video from 2014 that I don’t remember seeing before today.  This second video is called, “Perspective,” and I can’t wait to show it to my students.  As Apple states in the video description, “Here’s to those who have always seen things differently.”

Both of these videos will be added to my Pinterest page of Inspirational Videos for Students.

# OK Go Sandbox

If you have ever seen a music video by “OK Go,” then you cannot fail to be in awe of the band’s incredible creativity.  In every production, you can tell that they spent a lot of time on brainstorming, working hard, and having fun.  Even more notable, though, is how much math and science must be used to create these complex feats of artistic expression.

In cooperation with the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas (seriously wish this had been a thing at my university!), OK Go has designed a new website, the OK Go Sandbox, that provides resources for educators to use with students for STEAM activities based on a few of their music videos.

Each of the music videos currently featured on the site has a link to educational materials that include free downloads, challenges for the students, additional videos, and suggested activities.  From making flipbooks to experimenting with sounds made by different “found” instruments, this resource explores the astonishing potential of merging science with art.  Some of the challenges can be used with the Google Science Journal (a free app available for both Android and iOS).

It looks like this is a dynamic project that is encouraging advice from educators, so be sure to visit this page for more information on how to get involved.