3-12, Critical Thinking, Education, Games, Math, Parenting, Teaching Tools, Websites

Parable of the Polygons

My students adore Vi Hart videos.  I think the kids understand maybe 1/2 of what she is saying, but she makes math fun and stimulates their curiosity.

Parable of the Polygons” is an interactive website that was created by Vi Hart and Nicky Case.  Having watched several Vi Hart videos, I expected the site to do one of the things Vi does best – teach me math.  But I was mistaken.  “Parable of the Polygonsuses math to teach about racism, sexism, (and all of the other negative”isms”) and what we can do to help eradicate them.

from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case
from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case

I innocently played each activity trying to make happy polygons until I realized that I, a self-proclaimed non-racist, have had probably zero effect in persuading others to be less biased.  Using math, I learned that, unless more of us make an effort to seek out more diverse colleagues and friends, there is little chance things will change.

This is definitely an activity that I will be doing with my students and I hope to make some changes in my life based on what I learned. From now on, this little square is going to be on the lookout for opportunities to meet more triangles 🙂

3-12, Art, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites

Sketch Notes

Yesterday I picked up my 3rd grade GT students for class, and one of them had a cute little notebook.  When I asked her what it was for, she said that she just likes to take notes and draw things in it.

Funnily enough, I had just participated in a Twitter chat the night before, and we had talked about student engagement.  Note-taking was mentioned, and we discussed how copying down what the teacher has on the board isn’t usually very engaging, but other types of notes can be.  I gave the Vi Hart videos as an example of taking note-taking to another level.

I was curious to see what my 3rd grader would do with her notebook. I don’t find myself saying a lot of “noteworthy” things during class, so I suspected she would do more off-task drawing than anything academic.  However, I didn’t want to discourage another potential Vi Hart!

In our small circle of 6 + me, we discussed systems thinking and the Billibonk and the Thorn Patch book.  The monkeys had just learned that elephants were easy to trick from watching the mice, and we talked about how, as role models, we never know who is observing our behavior.  My student was busily drawing in her book, and I asked if she wanted to share.

systems thinking

She explained that getting away with doing something wrong could cause an endless loop -like a person breaking a window makes other people think it’s okay to break windows, and it keeps happening.

Definitely not off-task.

During our Hands-On-Equations lesson, my student sketched a lot in her book.  She later showed me her drawings – detailed examples of an equation we solved on the whiteboard along with the vocabulary I introduced today, “legal move.”

Photo Oct 28, 12 37 51 PM

Some people call it Sketchnotes.  Others call it mind mapping or visual note-taking.  My 3rd grade student’s notes haven’t reached the sophistication of Vi Hart, Austin Kleon, or other examples you will find online.  But I will have this young artist in my class until the end of 5th grade, and I can’t wait to see what her notes look like by then!

If you are interested in Sketchnoting, Kathy Schrock has an excellent page of links, apps, and video resources to use with students.  I think it would be well worthwhile to show some of the examples to students, and give them the option of visual note-taking in class.

UPDATE: 10/31/14 – I just found this great post on Doodling from Leah Levy that explains why doodling is great for your students and gives even more resources!

from Austin Kleon's Visual Note-Taking Page
from Austin Kleon’s Visual Note-Taking Page
Art, Creative Thinking, Education, Fun Friday, K-12, Motivation, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Videos

Next Year Will Be Even Better – Doodling

For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Since today is “Fun Friday”, here is an element of fun I want to emphasize more next year – doodling!

I need to encourage more doodling in my class – maybe even model it more for my students.  I’m not talking about the distracted kind of eyes-staring-out-the-window-while-you-scribble type of doodling.  I’m talking about doodling with purpose and panache.  The Vi Hart kind of doodling:

Sunni Brown can give tell you all of the myths about doodling in a fun, doodly way:

For more examples of doodling, you can see “10 Brilliant Examples of Sketch Notes: Notetaking for the 21st Century.”

Below, you can see one of the 10 pieces, based on Seth Grodin’s talk, “Stop Stealing Dreams.” (I had to look up “one-buttock playing”, which I assure you is completely appropriate in context!)


3-12, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Math, Teaching Tools, Videos

Vi Hart

photo credit: thane via photopin cc
photo credit: thane via photopin cc

I mentioned last week that I would do a post about the Vi Hart videos.  It is probably that many of you already know about Vi Hart, but if this post introduces even one more new person to her genius, then it is worth it.

If you look at Vi Hart’s Wikipedia entry, you will see that she calls herself a “Full-Time Recreational Mathemusician”.  She has her own YouTube Channel, and also partners with Khan Academy to create videos about math.  To put it simply, Vi Hart makes math entertaining.

My students particularly enjoy her Fibonacci series (here is a link to Part 1).  As I mentioned last week, she has become their math hero, and when they designed their own math museums, many of them dedicated rooms to her.

You can learn more about how Vi Hart films her videos by going here:  http://www.ebsstudios.com/vi-hart.html, or watching the video I have embeddeded below.

5-8, Art, Creative Thinking, Education, Math, Student Products, Websites

Museum of Mathematics

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 4.56.59 PM

I am so jealous of New York City.  They just acquired one more museum, and I’m pretty sure it would be a great destination for a field trip.  The Museum of Mathematics opened in December of 2012.  In this article by Bob Minzesheimer of USA TODAY, it is described as ‘”a kind of playground” and a “work of theater” that plays with geometry, art and algorithms,” according to Tim Nissen, its designer and architect.  Why do we need a Museum of Mathematics in this world?  You can check out this video on USA TODAY’s site in which the director gives 5 reasons for this $15 million project.  If you are like me, and do not live close enough to visit, you can at least enjoy some of the hands-on activities provided on its website.

Reading about this museum inspired me to challenge my 4th grade Gifted and Talented students, who have been studying mathematical masterpieces, to design their own math museums.  They gleefully took on this project, and I am enjoying some of their ideas.  Below you can see a couple of examples of what they have done so far.  They are still in the beginning stages, so try not to judge their spelling!

(You will note the mention of “Vi Hart” in both of the examples.  My students are very impressed with her videos.  I realized, today, that I haven’t posted about them on this blog, so I will probably do a post about them tomorrow.)

map2 museum


3-12, Critical Thinking, Education, Math, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools, Videos, Websites

The Twelve Days of Christmas


First of all, I would like it on the record that I despise “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song.  Repetition makes me snore.  I do like the Straight No Chaser version, though…

Anyway, I am sorry to post this so late, but I just devised this lesson yesterday.  Maybe you can file it away to use next year.

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.

Then, I lucked upon this awesome website that has a fabulous interactive which tells the current going rate of each gift in the song.  You know a site is good when the kids are begging you for the URL and writing it down so they can access it as soon as they get home.  It’s really fun to use if you have an Interactive White Board.  Although this does not tie in directly with Pascal’s Triangle, you can use this nifty recording sheet to figure out the actual total cost of all of the gifts for the year 2012.  I had my students estimate the cost of each gift before we looked at the web site.  They were pretty close to the totals for buying each gift once – but had a hard time conceiving the cost of buying the gifts multiple times (like 12 partridges in pear trees).

You may not have a chance in the next couple of days to use every resource that I’ve linked here, but I highly recommend you visit PNC’s Christmas Price Index Gift Hunt.  You may be surprised at the cost of 8 maids milking!