This is not an activity I had originally planned. It grew out of watching the what they had been doing with the some of the materials we had used in previous sessions.
I might have missed thinking about encouraging them to construct their names, but I heard their regular classroom teacher remark on how hard it is to write their names, but they seemed engaged in trying to create their names with sticks. So the next time I saw them I showed up with colorful foam sticks and harvested some other materials from the classroom.
Okay, some of them had trouble making their names with materials too. But what a great effort!
It was really interesting for me to see their sense of spatial relationships on display.
An advantage to this activity was that they were so easily able to self-correct when things wouldn’t fit.
Kids with “i’s” in their names invariably dotted them.
I have a copy of the handwritten version of their names. There’s a remarkable similarity between the handwriting and the constructions, such as Michael makes the H in his name oversized when he writes it, just like he’s done here.
I love that I get to do these projects with kids, This summer I will work with Pre-K students once a week for six weeks. I hope to do projects like this repeatedly and see how or if kids sense of construction develops.
For now, this is the last of my pre-K photos. I think I will next be writing about what the fifth grade project.
Yay! For the third year in a row I’ve been able to lure 5 year-olds and their teachers into a room with the outlines of letters, and then cajole them into filling them up with natural materials as well as objects from around their classrooms.
There are so many things going on with this project. Kids have to work their spatial relationship muscles. They use fine motor skills. They make decisions. They bond with the letters that they create. If you have more time and talent than I have with this sort of thing, you get to use these letters to get kids to talk about shapes, curves, angles, enclosed areas, diagonals and more. OH, I just read a post that I recommend, modelling ways of getting kids to talk about shapes and relationships: https://jennalaib.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/mathematical-connections-in-a-kindergarten-science-unit/
This is a remarkably beautiful project. Still, it helps to keep certain things in mind.
If you’d like to try out doing this, here are my main tips:
Don’t use fill items that are white or that are black
If you are going to try to remove the backgrounds in Photoshop use a solid color background around the letters. I use a white background. Don’t use things with feathery edges (like feathers) as part of the fill material
Usually, the more stuff that the kids pile on within the outlines, the better the final letter looks. Nudge them into remembering to mind the outlines.
Pre-K can do this independently, but it’s great to have a number of adults around
Have students sort materials into appropriate piles when done.
The picture above show how I do the photography: I use camera that can shoot raw files, with a table top tripod. Kids have to stand back so that the table doesn’t shake as I shoot with something like an f-stop of 18 and long exposure. Of course you can use a phone camera, but I am crazy and I want the end product to be awesome as possible. The very first time I brought this expensive camera into a classroom I cracked the screen in the back. Oh well. It works, has character and now I am more careful.
I like having the children work in pairs, though there’s generally someone who wants to do this activity solo. That’s okay too. Seems to me that these young people can fill in two letters before they start to lose interest. They love the natural materials. We absolutely spend time just talking about, touching, smelling and hearing something about the items we’re using before we start. This year I walked around the yard with my husband collecting little frozen pine cones, taking cutting from spruce trees, and harvesting wild cucumber and milkweed pods, I also snipped away at our indoor mint plant and picked some geranium flowers. Then I went to the grocery store and bought about $20.00 worth of flowers.
After all the letters have been photographed I go home and spend way too much time fussing with the images so they will print out well. At this particular school I work closely with the librarian, who has a great color copier on her desk. She helps with printing out and collating pages which is really great because I’m always pressed for time by now, not to mention somewhat brain-impaired from having had too much screen time fussing with photos and layout.
Everybody gets to take home a book! Teachers get full-page copies of each letter. From what I’ve heard, in the past they’ve even shared the letters with the French teacher for when she’s teaching letters to her students.
Now, finally, just for the record, I’ve made a video of how I isolate the letters from the background in Photoshop. This is not one of those slick Photoshop tutorial videos that people in the know know how to do. Honestly, it’s just to remind me of what I’ve figured out works best so that, when I do this next year, I won’t have to, once again, start from scratch figuring what buttons to press.
I’m in the busy part of my art-in-ed, itinerant artist season. The challenge is to keep what I do relevant to the students, to the curriculum, to the teachers, and to myself. Most of the work that I do in schools is done with teachers I’ve worked with in previous years. Usually I repeat a project each year with the teachers’ new classes, though there are always tweaks that are made. Then, sometimes, it’s time to retire a project that’s been working well for years.
I’ve just finished up quite a few projects in classrooms, many of which were new this year. I’m going to attempt to write a number of posts about these projects before the next set of classes that I teach start up.
There’s been a shift in my approach to what I offer to the schools. Whereas I used to think of my work as a way to motivate and celebrate literacy, now I am more focused on using our bookmaking projects in a way that supporting the teachers’ math goals. I’ve been realizing that the math part of the curriculum is where many teachers most appreciate support. There is so much in the paper and book arts that can support the math that students need to learn that making this shift has been thoroughly enjoyable to me.
Symmetry is a theme that kept emerging in the projects that I presented these last few weeks. This is partly to do with the nature of making books, but I also deliberately focussed on it more than it other years. I’ve realized, just recently, that the symmetry of shapes is the visual equivalent of mathematical expressions. I probably won’t express this well, but here goes. Think about doing any sort of math problem that has an equal sign in it. 5+3 = 8. It’s balanced. If you add a 3 to one side you have to add a 3 to the other side to keep the expression true. Math calculations are all about symmetry and balance. It is, therefore, completely appropriate and desirable, to help kids develop their natural affinity to symmetry.
One of the projects that I did with kindergarten students had to do with these piles of square cards. Students worked in teams. The first student puts down a card, then the partner puts down a card that is a symmetrical reflection of color and shape. They take turns putting down a card and then reflecting it.
It tool a bit of doing for these 6 year olds to get the hang of what we were doing, but, still, quickly, patterns emerged.
These cards, by the way, are an element within a larger math activity book that we made.
Since these pieces are made from paper, I suggested to the teacher, as this becomes easy for the kids, to cut out one of the smaller squares from some of the cards so that mirroring the shape transformations becomes a bit more challenging.
Another symmetry project I tried out for the first time was with the Pre-K crowd. My friend Joan, who has worked with this age group, showed me this activity that she had developed with kids she had worked with. I’ve been excited to try it out.
What I did here was define a line of reflection. Then these five-year olds did the same kind of reflection symmetry that I described above, each taking turns putting down a stick, then the partner reflects it with one of their sticks.
Again, it was a struggle to get these students started, but it didn’t take long for them to catch on.
After a short while I combined groups so, instead of working in pairs, there were four people in a group, which led to different kinds of designs. The pattern above was made near the end of the activity. From start (first handing out the sticks) to finish, this activity took a mere twenty-two minutes, which was how long it took them to began to lose interest. At this point I suggested that they just used the sticks to make whatever arrangements that they wanted to make. Surprisingly, many started trying to use them to spell out their names. I heard their teacher remark something about the fact that they struggle to write their names but they seem to be able to construct them just fine. Which gave me an idea, which I will show in my next post. Now, though I want to jump back to the photo at the top of the post, which is the books made by seventh graders.
I’ve been doing this project with the seventh grade for many years. I give them a large piece of paper (23″ x 35″), which they fold and tear to make a pamphlet.
I don’t explicitly talk about the symmetry of the folding we do, but I will talk about it in the future. The fact that the sequence of fold and tears results in a scaled down version of the original sheet is something I want them to be aware of.
In fact, every aspect of making this book is symmetrical, even the pattern of the thread that sews the pages together is totally symmetrical.
When building just about anything, even a book, symmetry rules.
Mathematicians celebrate Valentine’s Day with more unbridled abandon than any group I’ve ever seen. Kindergartners get the silver, for liking the day of hearts, but, hands down, mathematicians take the gold.
I’m gathering just a fraction of the posts I saw coming out of the math community this past February 14. Images started popping up early in the week in anticipation of the big day. Luke Walsh and and Iva Salley were the early birds. Iva with her heart shaped number puzzle…