Week 12: Galileo and Gravity

This week we are going to take a look at applied math. Learners will be given a ramp (this can be a ruler), a ball that fits on the ramp, measurement device (ruler) and a timer. With these instruments learners can investigate the relationship between distance and time as the ball rolls down the ramp. I encourage teachers and facilitators not to give too much procedure here and let students come up with the way they will execute an experiment and record their data. I usually go with a 10-15 minute “sweat-it-out” period before I give them any hints.

This exercise is a great intro into calculus concepts like “instantaneous velocity” and derivatives of functions that model falling bodies. I think this is fun to do with middle schoolers and up. You can plot your functions and then draw the tangents to the curve and find slopes (this is fun in groups).

If students are stuck, hints may look like this:

  • Have you set up an experiment that you can repeat to get multiple samples?
  • What time intervals are you going to try to record? how far has the ball rolled with zero seconds? 1 second? 2 seconds?
  • Once you have your data, can you plot it to see if there is a relationship? Is it a direct variation?
  • If you plot the relationship, what type of curve is it? Can you create a function for that curve?

Here is a sheet I had for a class that students received after completing their experiments:

Week 11: Soma Cubes

I love Martin Gardner’s work and books that brought math to so many people in a fun and engaging way. One of the topics he covered was Soma Cubes. This week learners can create and play with this wonderful seven piece puzzle that was invented by Mr. Piet Hein during a lecture on physics. I love this puzzle because there are so many questions to ask and ways to solve it. There are a few options for creating your own:

Option 1: Wooden cubes

I ordered wooden cubes and found they aren’t perfect, but do the job with students. You can get them at craft stores or amazon (affiliated link).

Option 2: Sonobe Origami

You can make a Soma cube with a lot of folding. I would recommend doing this with teams and older students (or as an adult). The folds need to be exact. That being said I have seen 9 and 10 year olds do beautiful origami Soma cubes. The best tutorial that I was able to find is on the Luck Paper Scissors Blog here.

Here are some questions/exercises:

  • How many unique ways can you solve it? Is there a systematic way to track your solutions?
  • Are there combinations that will never have solutions (ex: starting with one or two pieces in a particular way)
  • What other symmetric constructions can you create?

One of the coolest links to all of the solutions I have found is here on GeoGebra by Michael Borcherds.

Another unique page devoted to Soma is here.

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Week 8: Density Through Pointillism

This week we are going to look at density in a two-dimensional sense. The idea is to create two dimensional images using various densities of points. The medium and approach can vary for the classroom. Some ideas are:

  • Sand art on a stick surface using different densities of sand (try light colored sand and a dark surface or vice-versa)
  • Pointillism with pens, pencils or markers to create a peice
    • play with shading and contrast
    • practice drawing shapes and objects first
  • Pea gravel on asphalt to create images
  • Moving densities with people to create a moving scene or mandala (this takes some choreography)
  • Paint with round pencil erasers as the point/dot maker
  • Round stickers on a contrasting surface
  • For larger grains or objects learners can measure the density of different areas by calculating how many grains/objects are in a given area (ex: grains of sand per square inch)

Students can calculate the density for various areas of their projects and note observations. Classrooms can discuss and play with density functions, look at density maps (ex: population density), look at pointillism art, and/or use apps that change photos into pointillism sketches (pointillist is the one I use).

me with the pointillist app

Week 7: Cartesian Coordinates

This week learners can get hands on with plotting. I encourage learners to investigate the history behind the Cartesian Coordinates (it’s interesting – I was just reading about it in Infinite Powers by Steven Strogatz).

The idea is to plot with D&D figures, chalk, legos, or watercolors. Make art out of plots! This is a great activity for pre-algebra and algebra students. Younger students can learn as well but can focus more on finding ordered pairs (x,y). Below are four activities for plotting:

Activity 1: Hit the monster (game it up!)

  • Use a gridded mat (like what is used in D&D), large graph paper or overhead projector
  • Draw Axes on the grid and define the quadrants and scale
  • Place or Draw monsters throughout the plane
  • Have students devise functions that can hit/intersect monsters
    • This can be timed or not timed
    • Students can work in teams
    • This can be a D&D math mission if you are gamifying your lessons
  • If there is only one or two learners then smaller graph paper can be used

Activity 2: Cartesian Lego

  • Decapitate as many minifigures as possible for this activity (other round 1×1 pieces will work as well.
  • My students used a large gray sheet and black flats for the cartesian coordinates
  • Make plots of various functions and then see if others can “name that function”

Activity 3: Watercolors (or other art media)

Create plot families using watercolor flash cards

  • add characters, color, and comics
  • label the backs with the family the plot belongs to.

Activity 4: Plotting in a large room

  • With masking tape in a large room you can make a grid
  • Have students plot functions with beanbags or rope
  • Students can toss a beanbag and then try to figure out the coordinates
  • This can work at an outdoor park if you can grid off an area without creating a tripping hazard

Week 6: Randomness using pi

Pi with Lux Blox

This week learners will create a work of art using pi. The goal here is not to understand pi, but to play with randomness. We will dive into the ratio of circumference and diameter on another week. Pi’s decimals go on forever and without pattern. Here are some ideas to play with that randomness:

  • Build a skyline with your favorite building toy using the digits of pi
  • Use graph paper and shade a skyline of pi
  • Assign a note from 0-9 on instruments or bells and have the learners play the digits in order to hear the randomness
    • Example: C = 0, D = 1, E = 2, F = 3, G =4, A = 5, B = 6, C = 7, D = 8, E = 9 (where you use more than an octave. You can also use sharps, flats, or skip notes)
    • You can also assign chords to each digit rather than notes
  • String or circle art with pi (you can do a circle with 10 points)
Pi using a circle with a point every 36 degrees
Students’ pieces

Week 5: Tell a Tale (or comic)

No matter what grade/age, stories are fun. This week I encourage learners to read and write math stories. Take a concept and illustrate it through the art of story. Write comics, picture stories, murder mysteries, fantasies, plays, etc. Students can act their story out, create a stop animation, or illustrate. I often encourage learners to write about a concept they love or think they can teach.

Learners I have worked with have enjoyed sharing their stories with each other and friends. Encourage this through a google classroom, open mic, etc.

Some fun ideas if you come up blank:

  • Powers of 2 – the magic of multiplying (like in Demi’s One Grain of Rice)
  • The algorithm for long division as steps to a mystery or spy mission
  • A solar system of various Euclidian Solids
  • A geometrical mission through space with specific angle requirements
  • The route inspection problem – what is the shortest path for the mail to get delivered with a specific layout of houses?
  • Comics on how to learn or do concepts in math
  • Mystery characters that emulate mathematical properties (Logical Lucas, Divisive Desi, Manipulative Mike, etc)
  • Super heroes that have mathematical powers and must solve mathematical problems
  • Fractals – Create a world, character or story that is iterative and infinite

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Week 4: Polyhedra Study

Opal’s sketch (11yrs old)

Leonardo da Vinci was an amazing mathematician, inventor and artist. His sketches in The Divine Proportion are a wonderful collection to study. Spacial awareness and being able to draw what we see is a skill that can be mastered through practice.

This week, I encourage learners to sketch polyhedra from cubes to tetrahedrons to dodecahedrons. Use charcoal, pencils or watercolors to create works of art. You can model with clay, paper, glue and sticks, or building toys and then sketch. Play with various forms of lighting and shading. Move beyond the numbers this week and look for math in the objects/polyhedra around you.

You can combine this study with history and architecture. Go out and look for polyhedra around you. Can you make a pyramid scene? What is a soccer ball? What is the shading like at different times of day for a favorite building? Are there planes of symmetry for your sketch? How many vertices are there?