# 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.

# Feebo, Not Chee

Feebo, Not Chee is my latest attempt at doing a Digital Breakout.  Like the previous one, this one is designed for 4th grade students.  Ideally, they would work on it independently.  The pages are not in the same order as the clues, and there are a couple of links to external sites on this one.  If you are an educator who needs answers to this breakout, please e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com

# Artful Maths

Yesterday’s post about the new OK Go Sandbox made me think about this blog I bookmarked awhile ago.  There is something about the juxtaposition of art and math that fascinates me, so the title of Artful Maths immediately caught my eye.  Under the “Resources” menu you can find, “Mathematical Art Lessons,” which is where I learned of the existence of “cardioids.”  Most of the lessons are accompanied by Powerpoint presentations and downloadable handouts.

Another section of the site I like offers ideas for “Puzzle Games.” This is where I found out about a free iOS game called, “Fibo,” which I am still trying to figure out.  Not all of the game suggestions are free, but you may discover a few new ones that cost little to nothing.

Artful Maths also includes links to origami resources and other mathematical interests.  There are quite a few Christmas decoration ideas on the blog, which I will need to remember for later this year.

Thanks to Clarissa Grandi (for sharing all of your awesome ideas!

# National Engineers Week

February 18-24th is National Engineers Week here in the States.  Since my 2nd graders have been studying bridges, we did an activity from the Building Big website, which is still one of my favorite resources when we talk basics about man-made structures.  Yesterday’s activity was one I had never tried with a class before, the Suspension Bridge activity.  Despite prepping everything ahead of time, I went through my normal roller coaster of emotions during the lesson.

Fortunately, all groups eventually got their bridges built, and they were fascinated with the weight the suspension bridges could carry compared to the beam bridges.  I would definitely do this activity again for the wow factor!

For more resources to teach your students about engineering, you can head on over to Discovere.org.  I’ve also embedded an awesome video from the National Science Foundation called, “What is Engineering?”

# My Brain on Open-Ended Projects

Thanks to some inspiration on Twitter from Jessica Hirsch (@jhirschcusd), I thought it would be a neat idea to have my 4th grade gifted students try to create Makey Makey Operation games with shapes.  (They are on a Geometry unit in their regular classrooms, so this seemed like a good time to try it.)  As my classroom once again became a Disaster Zone Lab of Innovative Thinkers, I realized that I pretty much go through the same thought process every time we embark on these adventures. I tried to make a visual of it, which you can see below.  I ran out of space at the end, so don’t assume that these things always end on a high note…

We will hopefully complete the project next week, and I will blog more specifics about it.  If you aren’t familiar with Makey Makey, you can see my post from earlier this year about the Onomatopeia Poetry the students created with Scratch and Makey Makey.  And yes, my brain went through the same steps for that one, too!