Book Review: Math Games With Bad Drawings

I’m not a math teacher but I do enjoy learning about different facets of mathematics, if only to be able to help my students when needed. And I enjoy games, particularly ones that challenge my learners.

So Ben Orlin’s Math Games With Bad Drawings is a treasure box of ideas, packed with 75 (and 1/4) challenges and games that are infused with math concepts but can be played mostly with paper, pencil and sometimes, dice (plus, a few need a few more pieces, easily found).

Orlin is a master at deceptively simple comics that are funny but insightful and are perfectly paired here with his sharing of the math games, and how to play them, along with variations and the deeper questions of why each game matters for mathematical thinking. He also gives fascinating histories of who invented the games and why. Plus, he’s  just a very funny writing.

Here’s one called Taxman. Here’s another called 101 You’re Out.

I’ve dog-eared about ten different games here that I know I can easily bring into my classroom for quick paired or group activities that will spark some interesting thinking of sixth graders. I highly recommend Math Games With Bad Drawings and another book of his — Math With Bad Drawings — is one I lent to my math colleague and then never saw it again (so, I know, it connected).

Peace (and fun),

Poem: That Dog Might

This week’s stop for the National Writing Project’s Write Across America was at the South Coast Writing Project at UC Santa Barbara (California) and the theme was social justice.

I chose an image by photographer Mary Ellen Mark called The Damm Family In Their Car, which was a powerful visual of a family on the edge, and the description with the image mentioned the family’s dog, too, and that dog — Runtley –  became the focus of my poem.

(Note: Copyright protections means I could not use the actual image and the dog image here was generated by Adobe Firefly)

Peace (and Support),

PoemCatcher (An Invitation To Play)

Paper Poem

I am always intrigued to try new ways to write poems, so when someone at the NWPStudio space mentioned the form of a paper Cootie Catcher/Origami Fortune Teller to write and share a poem (and gave this one by Leila Chatti as an example), I thought: hmmm.

How would one do that?

Well, after some digging around, I found a helpful website dedicated to Cootie Catchers (gotta love the Web in all of its specific weirdness!) that not only had samples of setting up these childhood games in different themes and content, but also, there was a template you could use to edit with text and image and then download and then fold, and then play.

I wrote an 8 line poem (each line below a number in the paper catcher) and began inviting folks to give me a sequence of numbers from 1-8, and I would use the paper PoemCatcher to share out lines of the poem. Ideally, each sequence creates a new poem (although each of the 8 lines remains the same).


If you want to play, just leave me a comment with a selection of numbers, and I will respond with your poem.

Peace (Paper and Poems),

Daily Create: Playing With Corners and Folds

I’m not even sure what kept me working on this DS106 Daily Create prompt through the day yesterday but the prompt about paper folds first led to an image that I thought was interesting but not what I wanted (I used an online paper fold art generator off Github but it seemed more like some alien blob factory).

Folded Blobs

So then I wrote a short poem, about writing on paper as you fold the corners in.

start from a corner
and pull inward, sharp
edges folded at the
center of the writing
of a poem of the story
you were trying so
hard to make clear
before it disappeared

That visual stayed with me for a few hours, and then I went back to start to try to visualize the words actually being folded. This was done using a screenshot of my poem and then some filters and effects in Lunapic.

Folded Paper Poem

Later, I wondered if I could make the digital image more three-dimensional and found a site that sort of does that, or at least does it interestingly enough for me to work with. I took that video file of the flat poem becoming more dimensional and moved it into iMovie, where I kept on tinkering around.

Then I composed the music track, added narration, and it was done. Normally, a Daily Create takes about 15 minutes but this one just hung around in my head for the day, so I just kept on playing around. The video at the top of the post is what I ended up with.

Peace (and Folds),

Morning Poems

Tape Cassette

I am just gathering together another collection of poems from the week. These mostly come from one-word prompts off Mastodon or from the Ethical ELA’s Open Write for July.

In Limbo

Recalcitrant Seeds

Playing The Band

Juggling Ideas

The Bend

Peace (For Poets),

Graphic Novel Review: The National Parks (Preserving America’s Wild Places)

History Comics: The National Parks cover

Now here’s a perfect book for the annual Write Out celebration of National Parks and public spaces that takes place each October. The National Parks (Preserving America’s Wild Places) by Failynn Koch is part of a series of “History Comics” by the First Second Publishing company, and this deep look at the formation of the National Park system is fantastic, fun, informative and provocative.

In this fast-paced historical tour of how the National Park System came to be, Koch does not turn her attention away from controversial elements of the park system’s history that includes the taking of land from Native American tribes through force and manipulation, the racism that encountered the “Buffalo Soldiers” who acted as the first protection force of public lands following the Civil War, and the much-too-slow rise of women leaders in the organization, mostly due to gender disparities build into the institutions of government. In many books in the past about the National Parks, these issues are either left out of the official narrative or brushed over. Here, Koch gives these topics ample room.

The book also explores the impact of many important historical characters, like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Marjorie Stoneham Douglas, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and many others who saw that only through activism and outreach could the general public really see the value of a system like the National Parks. And even those who are often celebrated (rightly) for their advocacy are giving nuances (such as Teddy Roosevelt’s inclination to still want to hunt animals on public lands and ignoring the interconnected lives of the forests themselves).

Koch spends ample time, too, on the debate that has long taken place between those who advocate Preservation (protecting lands from any significant human activity) and Conservation (allowing some operations to take place, such as logging, while protecting the space). We still see this taking place today, particularly when it comes to introducing animals like the wolf back into park lands or in fire reduction strategies.

In the end, this graphic history provides a rich insight into one of our country’s treasures: the complicated system of public spaces that are the National Park Service system. In the Write Out project (a free program which takes place each year in the Fall), we explore some of these issues through activities and collaborations, but this book would be a nice text to any classroom library (ideally, given the text complexity here, upper elementary to high school readers). Boy, I know I sure would love to have a class set of this book for our classroom work in Write Out.

(via Macmillan Publishing site)

Peace (and Parks),

Digital Poem: On Hobbomock (Sleeping Giant)

The latest stop for the National Writing Project’s Write Across America – where different Writing Project sites are hosting writing activities – was Connecticut and the focus was on state parks. Interestingly, I grew up in the town next to one of the parks — Sleeping Giant State Park – and spent a lot of time there.

But I didn’t know much of the myth of the Giant, so I enjoyed learning more of the Native American stories and then using some of that in the digital poem. The Sleeping Giant actually looks like a giant, on its back, napping.

Learn more about the Sleeping Giant.

Peace (and Poems),

Generative AI Presentation 1: AI, Ethics and Education

Word Cloud: Teachers and AI

I visited our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Summer Institute yesterday to give a workshop presentation about Artificial Intelligence, Ethics and Education and we began with an interactive Word Cloud activity. The prompt was: what words or phrases come to mind when you think of Artificial Intelligence. The Word Cloud above is their collective responses.

You can see that most had more of a negative reaction than positive, and the conversations about reservations about AI in society at large, and in schools, more specifically, were enlightening.

Many had never even tried ChatGPT or knew about Google Bard, never mind the raft of other tools that have come out. Only one participant in a K-12 school had had any discussions at the school level about the emergence of Generative AI, and no one knew of any school policies that have been put into place.

Our ethical discussions revolved around issues of privacy, of copyright, of bias and more, and then we moved into the ideas of whether Generative AI belongs in classrooms, and if so, how and why. This led to conversations about leveling reading texts, engaging in AI “thinking partners” for inquiry, creating outlines on topics and more. We did talk about copy/paste plagiarism (one of the Summer Institute facilitators — and our new WMWP site director — is a university professor, and she noted this is a big discussion point in content-area departments more than the English department).

The big takeaway for me was a rich discussion about the authenticity of student writing, and how teachers must be attuned to the writers in front of them, and the possibilities of using technology to guide that process (or not) but not to replace that work. Tapping into the writing activities gives students a unique voice and authority that AI tools just don’t have. (Yet?)

I used Curipod as my presentation platform — it is another AI site for making presentations — and if you want to see the presentation (and make a copy of it for your own use), you can by using this link.

Peace (and Wonder),