Monthly Archives: April 2012

Who Built That?

“Who built that?”

We did. The whole school did.

“How long did it take?”

All day long.

I had that back and forth at least ten times with students last week at MArTH Madness.  Over the course of four periods, most of our school’s fourth through twelfth grade math classes split time between four different mathematical art stations in classrooms and a 3D construction zone in the cafeteria. (“MArTH” is our  inside-neologism for mathematical art–conceived in something like the following fashion.)

I was “in charge” of the 3D construction zone. We had sets of Geofix shapes, Polydrons, pattern blocks, and unifix cubes.  Most abundantly, we had a number of Zometool kits on loan from the company that makes them.  (A sweet deal, by the by, and worth checking out.)  We had a free-build area and a “big project” area.  The above picture is what our “big project” turned out to be.

It’s an example of MetaZome. Each component is a scaled-up version of individual Zometool nodes and struts. I got the designs for the metapieces from this website. At the end of the day, we also make some “un-meta” versions of our creation.

My experience of working with students on this project really left an impression on me:

  • I love that no on could claim credit for building it, but that so many people were so proud of having a hand in it.
  • I love that kids from fourth through twelfth grades all contributed in real ways.
  • I love that no one–including me, the “supervisor”–had a pre-determined plan for what the final outcome would be.
  • Similarly, I love that it wasn’t clear that the project would amount to anything, until all of a sudden it did. After a period or so we only had some partial metanodes constructed–it really didn’t look like much.
  • I love that once things started coming together, the students totally took over. They started putting the metapieces together without direction from me and started coming up with new ideas of what to try. All of the stuff with the yellow metastruts came out of student ideas and requests. I just played the role of enabler.
  • I love that kids, parents, and faculty universally thought that end result was “cool”.

An occasion. Some supplies. Some direction from me. A lot of unformed potential. Everyone interacting. Everyone finding a task that fits them. Small successes. A collaborative product to feel proud of.

This is what I want my classroom to be, and what it only sometimes approximates. Needless to say, this experience felt really good. Plus, it was a great reminder of what’s possible when all the pieces come together.

Mad props go to Paul and Anna for making MArTH Madness happen. It was so much fun to be along for the ride.