A Day in Digitopolis, Part I

day in digitopolis part 1We’ve all wanted to jump into books. Who doesn’t, for example, want to go to Diagon Alley and hit the shops? Join Hazel for stories in the Honeycomb? Explore Babilonium with Candy Quackenbush? Or sail the skies with Matt Cruise on the Aurora? Part of my job at the Cotsen Children’s Library is to bring these places to life for kids, and this month, we headed to The Lands Beyond to visit Digitopolis, the mathematical kingdom in The Phantom Tollbooth.

The math event was intended for children ages 4-10, and my goal was to make it full of exploration, demonstrations, games, challenges, and unexpected connections. And by the four million eight hundred and twenty-seven thousand six hundred fifty-nine hairs on my head, I think we did it!

A Day in Digitopolis took place in the atrium of Princeton University’s Frick Chemistry Laboratory, a soaring, three-story structure of glass and metalwork. Here’s our welcome desk with two student volunteers and Pi balloons.

digitopolis welcome deskBut before I get started on all the details, I’d like to introduce our event collaborator, Bedtime Math. Founded by Laura Overdeck, Bedtime Math is a NJ-based nonprofit organization that provides playful, zany math problems for parents to do with their kids everyday. In addition to sharing their content through their books, e-mail, and free app, they created Crazy 8s, an after-school math club that has been launched in over 6,000 locations nationwide. These guys know, and love, math.

bedtime math booksBedtime Math brought 3 fantastic activities to the event: Spy Training, Beach Ball Party, and Glow-in-the-Dark Geometry. Here’s Spy Training, which was all about codes and ciphers…

spy trainingAnd here’s Beach Ball Party, which involved counting, stacking, and chasing beach balls determined to make a break for it.

beach ball partyIt also involved Ellen Williams (who you last spotted being pelted with marshmallows in this post) inflating dozens and dozens of beach balls for kids at the event. That’s her in the lower right corner of the photo, hard at work. Very impressive lungs has our Ellen (did I mention she sings in multiple choirs?).

But the total show stopper was Bedtime Math’s Glow-in-the-Dark Geometry. This took place in a darkened classroom off the main event floor. Here, kids could build illuminated structures with glow stick bracelets and styrofoam balls. The results were totally amazing.

glowing geometrySome kids decided to use the original plastic connectors that came with the bracelets to make unique geometric creations. Here’s one of my favorites. A series of loops that, when spun, becomes a sphere!

 

Bedtime Math was recently invited to the White House to take part in an early STEM learning summit. Seriously. When it comes to amazing math connections for kids, Bedtime Math has it down!

Moving to a different section of the event floor, we find the fabled number mines of Digitopolis. In the book, Milo, Tock, and the Humbug learn that numbers are, in fact, excavated out of the earth, much like jewels and precious stones. The talented Maria Evans from the Arts Council of Princeton built a 6′ tabletop mine out of cardboard boxes, papier-mâché, Valspar faux stone spray paint, and a couple of giant plastic gemstones I found in our art cabinet. YES!

number mines 1The mines were stocked with an assortment of wooden numbers. I used 4″ numbers I found online at Woodcrafter. If you’d like a cheaper option, I recommend printing paper numbers on card stock.

At the event table, kids reached into the mine, extracted a number, and then decorated it with a combination of metallic markers and glitter markers. We also had plastic gems and glue on hand for some additional bling.

number mines 4number mines 5

number mines 2The mines were staffed by high school volunteers from the Arts Council, who were suitably decked out in miner helmets.

number mines 3Elsewhere in Digitopolis was the “Fibonacci Forest,” hosted by the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. This table focused on math in nature. Specifically, symmetry, shapes (like spheres, hexagons, spirals), fractals, and Fibonacci numbers. The Watershed brought a ton of items for kids to touch, connect with, and explore (including my personal favorite, this nautilus shell).

nature math 1nature math 2The Watershed also did a cool fractal tree project. It involved a half-sheet of green paper, brown markers, and rulers (here are the instructions if you’d like to see them).

nature math 3We decorated the finished fractal trees with bird and leaf stamps, but you can also just use markers or color pencils.

nature math 4And speaking of wildlife, how about some zebra math? We were delighted to be joined by Princeton University Professor Dan Rubenstein from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Among other things, Dan does field work with African zebras.

zebra math 1Some researchers believe that zebra stripes exist to confuse predators. So Dan and his constituents developed “Dazzle Confusion,” an iPad game in which kids “become the lion” and tried to tap black, white, or striped moving targets to determine which one is most difficult to hit.

zebra math 2At the end of the game, the program tabulated the kids’ results and displayed them on a large screen. As the event progressed, the results continued to accrue. This lead to conversations about data collection, measurement, central tendencies, and averages.

zebra math 3It’s worth noting that although there was much variation on kids’ “strikes” on the targets, there was a strong trend (p < .08) showing that the striped targets were hardest to hit! How’s that for some real world math?

Continuing with the technology theme, the Princeton Women in Computer Science designed an original math game for kids using Scratch, a visual programming language developed by MIT.

scratchHere’s a screen shot of the game, which was created by sophmore Lucy Lin. If you’d like to test drive the game yourself, here’s the link.

scratch screen shotThe game was cool, but even cooler was the fact that there was another laptop running tandem to the gaming laptops that showed all the algorithms behind the Scratch program. And volunteers were on hand to answer any and all questions about computing. They also had a couple of encryption puzzles for kids to crack.

Meanwhile, the Princeton Chemistry Outreach Program (we’ve exploded things with these guys before) was busy making awesome math / science connections with kids. Dr. Wagner and her students ran hands-on experiments with parts per million, vitamin c clocks, and timed invisible ink.

chemistry outreach 1chemistry outreach 2chemistry outreach 3For those who prefer their math undiluted, the Princeton University Mathematics Club came out en force to host a “Playful Problems” table. Here, kids found a plethora of logic puzzles, word problems, visual puzzles, calculator tricks, the works!

math club 1math club 2There were 12 different activities for children ages 4-10. The activities ranged from easy to moderately difficult. Here’s an example of our simplest puzzle, which was created by Casandra Monroe (whom you first met here). Here’s the template if you’d like it.

milo number grid puzzleBelow is a list of what we offered at the event table (if you’d like more details on any of them, just e-mail me!). In addition to using Google to find some of these puzzles, Math Wizardry for Kids (Barron’s, 1995) and How to be a Math Genius (DK Children, 2012) were terrific resources.

  • Suduko
  • Lattice multiplication
  • Logic grid puzzle
  • Matchstick puzzles (we used Q-tips instead of matchsticks)
  • Milo number grid maze (see above)
  • 24 Game
  • Multiplying by 9 finger trick
  • Make a paper star with only 1 cut
  • Superimposed shapes puzzle
  • Visual sequencing puzzle
  • Word problems
  • Birthday calculator trick

Important! If you put together your own Playful Problems table, make sure you provide an answer sheet for each problem. That way, parents and kids can check their answers or get a little hint. Also important! No matter how easy the puzzle, provide an answer sheet (you don’t want younger kids to think that their puzzle was too “easy” for a solution sheet).

For those wanting a bit a exercise with their mathematics, we had a giant 16′ x 16′ floor maze (building instruction for it are in this post). Kids had to get from start to finish in the maze – without making a single right-hand turn. If you got stuck, the solution was posted on some glass doors opposite the entry to the maze.

no right turn maze at eventBy the way, did you notice the cute play cart parked in the upper right corner of the above image? That’s one of our “Trio of Treats.”

trio of treatsI always try to include something for the littlest patrons, so I bought 3 adorable food carts and stocked them with math play sets. The food carts are by KidKraft (Sweet & Sunny Lemonade Stand) and the play sets are by Learning Resources. We used  Piece-A-Pizza Fractions, Number Pops, and Count ‘Em Up Popcorn.

And, because little kids love to take things in and out of containers, I bought a fabric basket for the pizza cart, a plastic box with a hinged lid for the ice pop cart, and a clear container for the popcorn cart. After the event, we donated the carts and math sets to a local non-profit preschool.

trio of treats customerOne of the most popular event tables, however, was “Visit the 4th Dimension.” It was hosted by scienceSeeds (whom you first met here, and then again here).

scienceseeds 1At the event table, kids learned about the different dimensions (1st is a line, 2nd is a square, 3rd is a cube, 4th is a tesseract). ScienceSeeds brought their 3D printers to the event and made models. You can see a tesseract in progress below. Awesome.

scienceseeds 2Kids could also make 3D models of their own using drinking straws and plastic connectors. You can buy the plastic connectors online (from Strawbees). However, scienceSeeds has a die cut machine and was able to purchase the die cuts (from Accucut) and make their own connectors from plastic sheets (from Grafix).

scienceseeds 4Like I said, their table was hopping – they estimate they went through at least 3,500 straws!

scienceseeds 3The thing I liked most about the project is that there was no limit to the shape, size, or intended use of the 3D models.

3D model 13D model 23D model 53D model 33D model 4

If plastic connectors are not in your budget, I’ve seen similar activities that used straws and pipe cleaner pieces (like this one), or sculptures that that involved cutting and sliding the ends of bendy straws into one another (like this one). I’ve also seen toothpick and marshmallow, (or toothpick and gum drop) geometric structures. But I tend to avoid those because of food allergies.

Whew! Believe it or not, I’m only halfway through all the event activities! You can check out Part II here…prepare to meet Digitopolis’ famous celebrities, get a bit of hands-on history, listen to some musical fractions, and view some truly stunning representations of infinity…

Hooray! It’s Haiku!

hooray haikuWe get a lot of weird things through our library recycling program, but these little babies take the cake. They’re stiff felt pieces – I assume from a vintage felt board set?

Yes, they’re funny because they’re so obviously retro. But what’s also funny is that only these pieces of the set remain. When you group them outside the context of the larger set, the effect is rather…weird. Honestly, I think it’s the basket of fish that puts it over the edge.

Never one to pass on an opportunity to share the weirdness, I decided to turn these pieces into a writing prompt for Cotsen Critix, our literary society for kids ages 9-12. I told the kids they had to take these objects and create a story or describe a situation. But to make the prompt extra challenging, I told them they could only do it…in haiku. Here are a few of the resulting poems:

Three naughty children
Trying to catch a big bird
Oh no, that is bad

The bird eats the fish.
Can the bird eat the weird fish?
Suddenly it dies.

Yellow, pink, red, green
Let the fish swim in the stream
In a crate they scream

The bird flurries by,
A calm wind trails behind her,
Whee! This is so fun.

Flowers so dandy
Too bad birds eat the flowers
Sad so really sad

The boy ate dyed fish
Have fun in the stomach fish
Good bye Good bye fish!

The bird sips nectar
It’s so sweet, so delicious
Yummy yummy, yum!

Why so surprised fish?
Knee socks are really hip now
Too bad you’re knee-less

It’s gonna die soon!
It’s going on a flower!
It doesn’t matter.

The exercise, of course, was primarily meant for a bit of fun. And as you can see, there were silly poems, crazy poems, and goofy poems (did you spot mine?). But then, this little piece of perfection floated off a pen…

My nose is tired
Of the many smells of spring
When will winter come?

Books Done Wrong

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The life of a book is fraught with danger. Readers dribble food, bend pages, and spill beverages. Bugs nibble, sun burns, mildew blooms, and dogs gnaw. As a result, there are some pretty gross books out there. But “gross” works for kids, so I decided to combine grossness and literacy with a little investigative fun.

In 2010, I designed a “Books Done Wrong” table at the Princeton Public Library’s Children’s Book Festival. I displayed damaged books (labeled “Exhibit A, B, C” and so forth) on a table along with some large magnifying glasses. Nearby was a police lineup that matched the damage on the books to the perpetrators (I drew a police lineup backdrop and stood little cardboard versions of the perps in front of it).

Alas, these were the pre-blog days, so the above photo is the only one I have of the event table (like the fedora?). But I did ask our student artist, Aliisa Lee, to create a line up of repeat offenders. Meet Pen Marks, Sunshine, Water Damage, Silverfish, Food Spills, Mildew, and Chomping Dog.

lineup of book baddiesAt the event, kids examined the books and guessed who damaged what book. If they identified the perpetrators correctly, they were awarded a small plastic magnifying glass. I bought mine from Educational Innovations. Cheaper (but lower quality) magnifying glasses can be found at Oriental Trading Company.

So that was my little event table.

Leave it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to take it to the next level.

For starters, did you know The Met has multiple libraries? One of them, the Nolen Library in the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education is open to museum visitors and researchers of Art History. Even better, the Nolen Library has a children’s section, complete with storytimes!

Web_Learn_Kids and Families_Resource Card_Nolen Library Family_Filip Wolak

Courtesy of the Nolen Library. Photograph by Filip Wolak.

Even the littlest museum patrons can browse relevant picture books and computer programs. And just look at these amazingly stylish computer stools!

computer stationsLast year, when The Met launched MetKids (their digital feature for tweens), the Nolen Library and book conservation staff from the Thomas J. Watson Library put together a beautiful demonstration of the intersection between books, science, art, and conservation. Here’s the team (from left to right): Yukari Hayashida, Leah High, Jenny Davis, Dana Hart, Naomi Niles, and Chelsea DeGlopper.

met teamThe exhibit was spread over two large tables. At the first table you could find things like damaged books, sample of paper, and posters of pests.

damaged bookbook posterpapersdamaged pagesHere’s my personal favorite – a microscope that shows a buggy book muncher up close.

bug microscopenibbled bookbug on screenHere’s a book catalog the conservators water-damaged on purpose for the event. So if you’re thinking of doing a similar table, and can’t find damaged books in your personal collection, feel free to customize one that would otherwise end up in the recycle bin!

water damageAt the second exhibit table, there was information on how to fix books, including the various materials conservators use.

presentationI really loved this – a laptop showing before and after shots of fixed books:

before and afterDuring the event, conservators gave a presentation, encouraged kids to touch and explore, and fielded all sorts of questions.

table crowdThe library also hosted a bookplate-making activity in a side room. On display were some of their fascinating historic bookplates (the real ones – not reproductions!).

historic bookplatesNearby were plenty of art materials to make your own bookplate. Fantastic!

bookplate suppliesbookplateIf you haven’t been to The Met, by all means go. After my family and I left the MetKids event, we explored the rest of the museum. We were not prepared for how astounding, amazing, gigantic, and beautiful it was. I always wondered why Claudia wanted to run away to The Met and how the siblings managed to stay hidden (I speak, of course, of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). But now I understand. I understand!

Many thanks to Leah High at the Nolen Library, and the conservators from the Thomas J. Watson Library, for letting me come and photograph their fantastic, and incredibly educational, event table. Thank you!


Children’s Book Festival photograph courtesy of the Princeton Public Library.