Tag Archives: math

Word Mandalas

I am such a geek.  Last night, I was researching mandalas for an upcoming lesson with my 4th graders.  I remembered that Richard Byrne had just published a post about a new online magazine creator, so I thought it might be fun to try it out and let my students collaborate on the magazine.  Then, I started looking for images to put on the magazine cover, and came across a mandala that used words instead of symbols.  There was no information on how it was created, so I did a search for word mandalas – and that is how I landed on Mandific. (I still haven’t discovered how the original word mandala picture I found was made, but that’s okay.)

Type a word into Mandific, and it will create a mandala for you using the letters of the word.  You can adjust the color, the spacing of the letters, and the design.  See if you can figure out my word in the mandala below.

mandalaword art
Word Mandala created with Mandific

H/T to GeekMom for sharing this tool on a blog post.

Then, I continued my search (I won’t tell you how long I spent on Mandific before remembering my actual mission.) I found MyOats.com.  Still not exactly what I was looking for, but it gave me another alternative for including words in a mandala.

Created with MyOats.com

As you can see, I didn’t spend a lot of time on that one because I had suddenly become obsessed with finding the perfect word mandala generators.

My next attempt was with using the word cloud generator, Tagul.

Word Cloud
Made with Tagul

I also tried Tagxedo, which will allow you to upload your own image to make into a word cloud. However, I had so many problems with it not loading correctly on three different browsers, that I finally moved on to some iPad apps.

WordFoto has always been a favorite of mine.  I uploaded a photograph of a mandala from the web, and then added some text. If you are not familiar with WordFoto, here is a post I wrote about the app.

Photo Mar 22, 7 21 43 PM
created with WordFoto app

My last word mandala attempt was created with the TypeDrawing app. I uploaded a mandala photo, and then traced the main lines with words and some of the symbols offered in the app. After completing my drawing, I changed the photo opacity setting so that only my drawing shows. I have to say that this was my favorite creation.

Photo Mar 22, 7 46 23 PM
created with TypeDrawing app

Photo Mar 22, 7 44 12 PM

I will keep you posted on what we use! If you have any other ideas for word mandalas (that don’t require expensive software like Photoshop), please let me know in the comments below.


Perhaps my interest in the infographics on “Common Mythconceptions” led me to Visualistan, which I bookmarked in my Pocket account awhile ago.  The specific infographic I thought might be useful for my students was, “How Long Did Famous Structures Take to Build?

How Long Did Famous Structures Take to Build? #infographic

Having time during this Spring Break, though, I found some others that might be of interest in educational settings. For example, if your students are doing animal research, you might want them to take a look at, “Travelling Speeds of Animals,” or “Sleep Habits of the Animal Kingdom.”

Travelling Speeds of Animals #InfographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan

Sleep Habits of the Animal Kingdom #InfographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan

Another one that I find intriguing is, “Cultural Differences in Teaching Around the World.

Cultural Differences in Teaching Around the World #infographic

Like “Common Mythconceptions,” I would not recommend the entire site of Visualistan for elementary students, but single infographics from the site could certainly be used at all levels.  There are many real-life math applications and engaging topics, from “Lego Bedrooms,” to the “Evolution of Video Games.”  You could create your own questions, have students create questions, and eventually allow students to create their own infographics!


This year I seem to have a group of students in each of my grade levels who are passionate about math.  Every time I pull out a math activity, they devour it with glee.  It has been a challenge for me to give these students assignments which maintain their excitement for “hard” math without discouraging them with work that is too difficult.  Their classroom teachers are facing the same dilemma.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to see what my 4th and 5th grade gifted students thought about Prodigy.  Prodigy is an online math game that is free.  (It is also available as an app.)  Teachers can add classrooms of students, and can manage the math topics students practice, as well as the levels at which each student plays.  I immediately assigned all of my students to topics above their current grade levels.  After introducing it in class, I gave them their individual passcodes, letters for their parents, and the caution that playing Prodigy was completely optional.  I also notified their homeroom teachers, and made it clear to the students and the teachers that it was completely up to the teachers to decide if the students could play the game in class.

My students say that the graphics are apparently reminiscent of that popular game, Pokemon.  The students create avatars and can battle each other by doing math problems. They can also earn different abilities as they progress through the game.

There is a paid option for Prodigy, where parents can buy memberships.  This allows the students to access a few more features than the free version.  I have one student who asked his parent for permission to get the membership so far; everyone else seems satisfied with the free game.

I like that I can see individual student reports with Prodigy and that I can differentiate for each child in my class.  I am also pleasantly surprised to see how excited the students are about playing the game.  In addition, the privacy aspect seems fairly good, as the avatars do not give away any student information.

Prodigy does not teach.  It is not a substitute for engaging classroom lessons that include higher order thinking skills.  I enjoy using it as a formative assessment as it gives me reports on the strengths and weaknesses of each of my students in the skills they are assigned, but I would be appalled by any teacher who used Prodigy as their only method of assessment or differentiation.

As long as my students continue to be excited about math, I will view Prodigy as one of the many tools at our disposal that supports their learning.  But I will also continue to provide them with real-life opportunities to use math in relevant ways.



Greg Tang Math Resources

Don’t tell anyone, but Greg Tang Math penetrated my incredible resistance to e-mail spam and persuaded me to visit the site out of curiosity.  I’m not really sure why the persistent e-mails that I kept trashing finally grabbed my attention, but I obviously wouldn’t be writing this post if they hadn’t eventually been successful.  (If you happen to be a spammer, please don’t think I am encouraging you to try the same strategy;  I can promise you that it was a one-time-thing…)

The good news is that I actually found some unique math materials on the site.  There are plenty of free resources that you can download, and even some interesting online math games.  For gifted students, the Kakooma and Expresso pages are great challenges. (There is also an online version of Kakooma on this page.) In addition, there are some printable math games on the resources page.

Of course, there are plenty of things you can purchase on the site.  Otherwise, what would be the purpose of the e-mail barrage?  But I think that you will agree that there is a generous dose of free materials, which makes some advertising bearable 🙂


The Twelve Days of Christmas Math Activities

Way back in 2012, I posted about some interesting math activities that you can do with the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  This happens to be one of my most despised songs ever because of the redundancy.  However, it’s worth using in class to demonstrate a little mathematical magic and get your students to think about the true cost of ridiculous gifts that no one would actually want to receive (aside from five golden rings).

Four years ago, this is part of what I posted:

My 4th grade gifted students are studying mathematical masterpieces.  We had looked at the Fibonacci series earlier this year, and a couple of days ago, I stumbled across an interesting lesson that ties Pascal’s Triangle in with “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  We spent half our day: creating the triangle, finding patterns in the triangle, finding Fibonacci in the triangle, trying to make sense of a Vi Hart video about the triangle, and using the triangle to figure out how many gifts were actually bought each day.

The other portion of my post mentioned a website interactive that doesn’t appear to work any longer.  However, it was hosted by PNC, who has been kind enough to provide an updated version that gives current estimates of the cost of each gift. There are also some educator resources, designed for middle school and high school students, as well as a free printable coloring book.  I plan to actually have my student calculate the final cost of the gifts.  (If you want to do the same, don’t let them use the website at first because it reveals the answer when you scroll down far enough.)  This recording sheet is one that you could use for gift calculations.

A nice feature of the updated PNC site is the interactive graph near the bottom that allows you to see how costs have changed over the years for the group of gifts as well as for each individual gift.  This can yield some good discussions on what might be driving the costs up or down.

image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:XRF_12days.jpg
image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:XRF_12days.jpg

SolveMe Mobiles

I was wandering around the “Would You Rather Math” blog the other day and noticed a tweet from the author (@Jstevens009) on his sidebar about SolveMe Mobiles. “It’s challenging and stokes curiosity,” he wrote.

You don’t have to tell me twice.

I immediately visited the link and spent my lesson planning time “testing” the site to see if it would appeal to my students.  Kind of like the way I “test” all of the cookies in a fresh batch to determine if my family will think they are satisfactory…

Fortunately, most websites don’t disappear after you test them (unlike chocolate-chip cookies), so my students will still find plenty of curiosity-stoking challenges to keep them busy when they try out SolveMe Mobiles.

The games are similar to the Balance Benders series of books, which my students enjoy.  They help you to practice algebraic thinking as you try to figure out the value of each of the shapes on the mobile based on the clues that you are given.  Of course, it starts out deceptively simple, like the one below.

SolveMe Mobiles, Level 1
SolveMe Mobiles, Level 1

Both shapes have a value of 5 since the entire mobile is balanced, and has a total value of 10.

There are 200 challenges, so you will eventually reach ones like this:

SolveMe Mobiles #163
SolveMe Mobiles #163

The online interactivity is fun because the mobile will tip if you identify the wrong value for a shape.  Thank you, SolveMe Mobiles, for this much subtler way to say, “You’re Wrong!” than many other games use.

If you are going to want to record your progress  If your students want to record their progress, they can log in.  Otherwise, there is an option just to play without registering.  You can also build your own mobiles.  Or your students can.  I mean, you probably want the students to do it – but I won’t tell anyone if you do it, too. 😉


Open Middle

Open Middle is a blog that offers unique math tasks for K-12 students.  Dan Meyer, an educator who speaks about how “Math Class Needs a Makeover” in this TED Talk, describes “Open Middle” problems this way:

  • “they have a “closed beginning” meaning that they all start with the same initial problem.
  • they have a “closed end” meaning that they all end with the same answer.
  • they have an “open middle” meaning that there are multiple ways to approach and ultimately solve the problem.”

Several educators contributed problems to the Open Middle site. You can search for challenges by grade level and by mathematical area (such as geometry).  Below is an example, submitted by Ian Kerr, from the 5th grade group of fraction problems.

5th grade fraction problem from Open Middle, submitted by Ian Kerr
5th grade fraction problem from Open Middle, submitted by Ian Kerr

I would encourage you to take a look at the “Open Middle Worksheet” that you can download for students, as it gives students space for multiple attempts, and also asks students to verbalize what they learned from each attempt.  This is an excellent way to reinforce that you can learn from mistakes, and the growth mindset attitude that you may not know how to do it yet.