There has been a lot of conversations about disciplinary literacy in recent months in my real life professional circles. The intent seems to be going in strange directions in math class towards keywords in word problems and being “ok with writing just to write”.  The whole “incorporating reading and writing into the math class” treats the matter as if reading and writing skills are somehow not intrinsic to math and have to be dragged in forcefully.

There is a lot of reading, writing, questioning, inquiring and thinking critically that absolutely has to happen in a math class for students to learn math in a meaningful way. And I also think that often math topics can lead into some great creative writing, art and discoveries across the disciplines. This post is about the latter.

I have blogged extensively about my geometry lessons this year (here and here). I am working with an amazing teaching partner this year, who is taking care of the language arts teaching part of our fifty students’ community. Working with Megan allowed me to regularly cross the imaginary boarders between the subjects without any teachers being hurt in the process. She developed and implemented the writing/reading part of this polygons project.

Polygons Pen Pals

Students have been exploring, classifying and creating their own polygons from tangrams. I noticed some started drawing eyes and hands, and that’s how the project was born. After identifying the properties of their polygons, students gave them names and considered their personalities and life stories.They wrote letters to their unknown polygon pen pals, and next week we hope to exchange the letters and to write responses. I will leave the rest of this post to my students’ work.

SKITTLES

Poly10
I’m Skittles Decagon. I have 10 soft/fluffy/straight edges, 10 pointy sharp vertices like a sword that’s sharpened. My hobbies are catching mine for dinner and breakfast, reading cat history books and I play catopoly on Monday and Wednesday. What are your hobbies?

LARRY’S SWORD

Poly11
I am a polygon from the dragon slayer realm and I used 7 stones/tangrams to build myself. My favorite food is poutine because the fries are mushy, soft and salty. My favorite drink is Mountain Dew because it is sweet and fizzy like Coca Cola and ice tea at the same time.

LARRY

Poly12
Hello, my name is Larry Decagon from Royal Arena. I am infinity years old because my mom, the Witch, revives me from death every 50 seconds. I am dying all the time because I am always fighting in the royal arena.

SHIRO

Poly5
Hello, my name is Shiro Pentagon. I look like a regular quadrilateral with a triangle on top.  I like cats, every candy, a game called ROBLOX, acrylic art, writing with different fonts, friends, traveling and dancing. I also have a cat named Kanto. He enjoys getting dressed up in tiny handmade outfits!

LARRYO

poly3
I am a hexagon with 6 pointy vertices and 6 straight edges. I look like a heart. Some likes that I have are toys like hex bugs, sports like soccer, activities that are outside and movies that are comedy. What likes do you have? I wonder will the earth come to an end.

BOB

Poly2
I’m not a normal shape because I am concaved. I don’t like annoying people because it distracts me. I like doing experiments, building structures and shapes. I won the science contest last year at my school. When I’m bored, I read a book.

LINDSAY

Poly9
I live in a farm in the middle of Japan. I am a triangle. What I like about Japan are the Cherry blossom trees. I am a convex shape and I have one right angle. I am also a 2D shape which means I have one face.

CENAMAN

Poly8
I like parties and I am always wearing a hat. I’m clever, agile and creative. I don’t like loud people at all. Do you like loud people? Some people call me a monster because I have a big mouth and sharp jagged teeth.

QUAD QUADRILATERAL

Poly1
I am a convex shape because I have no edges that are inside. Are you convex or concave? I am a regular shape because all my edges are equal. I like resting during the winter because it is nice and cooling and moving during the summer when there aren’t many obstacles. Autumn and spring are usually equal because the temperatures are very similar.

KASEY

Poly6
By the way, what do you want to be when you grow up? I know what I want to be. I want to be a shape nurse. Because you can heal a lot of shapes and polygons. I like meeting new people. I also like going to the library and school.

Thoughts and Questions

I know that students enjoyed giving “life” and stories to their polygons.  I admit my worries that it might have been a superficial connection. There was no mathematical need for written communication and there are still many questions that I wonder about.

Did moving towards creative writing still support my students’ mathematical thinking in some way?

What is the value in putting mathematical objects and relationships into non-mathematical context?

Months later, my students keep bringing up our infinity art/writing/reading lessons; they keep asking mathematical questions and making mathematical connections. My students spent time thinking about dragons and favorite food of their polygons, but they were also very careful  making sure they identified their polygons’ “physical” features correctly. Mathematical context created motivation for creative writing which in turn created motivation for mathematical precision. Maybe we do need the whole range of experiences to make sense of the whole range of things and our literacies can be a bit more interdisciplinary.

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One thought on “I live on Hepta-Shape street

  1. ‘I noticed some started drawing eyes and hands, and that’s how the project was born.’

    If we’re to really find a place for student initiative, playfulness, creativity, then we need lots of projects like this, that come from noticing what our students do, and giving them time to do it more.

    As for the maths, I think there’s an affective thing here, that should be part of our teaching- the emotions. They’ve created and adopted a polygon as a pet, given it life and personality. Alongside the mathematical description of the polygon, they’ve brought their shape to life. Shapes get damaged when they’re treated as obligations, as form-filling exercises: Number of sides? 5 Acute angle? Yes. Etc, etc. I can’t help but think that this will be memorable for lots of them, just as the infinity question has been.

    And of course as a literacy task, well, you need as many of these playful opportunities for short pieces of writing as possible. It’s interesting that a lot of the children seem – I’m guessing – to have put something a little autobiographical into their writing too!

    Almost every piece of writing has something I want to ask about. What shape clothes does Shiro’s cat dress up in? What kind of structures would Bob build? Is Quad Quadrilateral interested in the seasons partly because there are four of them?

    By the way, what do you want to be when you grow up? I know what I want to be. I want to be a shape nurse. Because you can heal a lot of shapes and polygons.

    Like

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