Sneaky Math

cloud diagramWant a side of math with that story time? From simple to semi-sophisticated, here are some ways I’ve worked math into my library programs!

COUNTING SUPPLIES

There are multiple steps in my story time projects, and some of those steps involve selecting certain amounts of art supplies. So we’ll count together. For example, if the kids need 2 pipe cleaners for their project, I’ll hold out a bunch of pipe cleaners and count aloud as each kids selects them, “One…two! Great!”

NUMBERED SUPPLY CONTAINERS

During projects, I’ll often put  a line of supplies on the windowsill, and kids walk down the line and select certain amounts of supplies from each container. I used to use post it notes to mark the number needed on each container…

post it notesBut then I found these little babies!

holder with numberThese are 8″ table card holders. I purchased mine from an online restaurant supply company (The Web Restaurant Store). Don’t they look snazzy?

card holders

DIAGRAMS

Sometimes, I’ll have a project that requires a diagram to demonstrates how much of something is needed. For example, this rainbow cloud project needed to be covered in cotton balls, so I drew a diagram showing how many balls needed to be attached, and how many cotton balls you’d need in total. Numbers, beautiful numbers.

cloud diagramOK! That’s it for the simple stuff. Who’s up for something a little more…elaborate?

In 2012, my library hosted a large-scale Robin Hood event. I knew we just had to do something on taxes. But how were we going to design something that involved taxes, math, Medieval history, but was also simple enough for kids of various ages to grasp quickly?

The answer came from my brilliant event assistant Katie. We would design a tax wheel game based on Hi Ho Cherry-O.  We called it “Your Tax Dollars at Work.”

tax wheelHi Ho Cherry-O is a classic early math game involving counting and numbers. The game is driven by a spinner that dictates whether you add or remove cherries from your basket during game play. But what if the spinner for our version pointed to various Medieval taxes, the game pieces were coins? We could even throw some Robin Hood characters on the wheel. Perfect.

We knew needed to go big and durable at such a large, crowded event. So I ordered a 36″ blank roulette wheel from Spinning Designs Incorporated. The company was very tickled  at how the wheel was going to be used. They gave me a fantastic deal on a wheel that had some very minor surface imperfections (which I honestly could never find).

Then Katie and I researched the different types of taxes from Robin Hood’s day. There were a lot (honestly, who taxes you for churning your butter?). We also had to find a way to gain coins back during the game.

Ultimately, we came up with the following “Lose” and “Gain” categories.

Lose Coin

  • Travel tax
  • Churn your butter tax
  • Bake your bread tax
  • Pay your lord
  • Grind your grain tax
  • Sheriff steals
  • Prince John takes all
  • Land tax

Gain (or at least not lose) Coin

  • Harvest time
  • May Day
  • Good day at market
  • Robin Hood gives you coins

As you can see, there were more ways to lose your money than gain it. We intentionally designed the game that way. There were going to be so many people at the event (3,500 actually) we wanted the game play to average 3 minutes so lots of kids could have multiple turns. If you’re interested, here are the complete game instructions.

group of kidsIn addition to the wheel, there were game boards designed to look like Medieval money bags. You placed 5 coins in your “bag” at the start of the game, then added or removed coins as the wheel dictated. We used metal replicas of Medieval coins. Because we’re nerds like that.

game boardsWhen all your coins were gone, the game was over! As a “consolation” prize, kids got a chocolate foil-wrapped coin. Kids with food allergies or dietary restrictions got to take home one of the metal replica coins.

The “Your Tax Dollars at Work” wheel and game boards were drawn by Kemi Lin, an amazing Princeton University student artist. She did it all. By hand. With packs of Sharpies. After the event, the game was donated to the Somerset County library system. Long may it live!

350 for 50

pen frameEvery year, our library has a writing content called 350 for 50. We challenge kids ages 6-16 to write a short, 350-word story that includes a sentence of our choosing. This year, the sentence was  “The image blurred, then darkened.” Our judges select winners from three age categories and not only do the young authors get published on our website, blog, and print publication, they enjoy a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore!

It is our great delight to present this year’s winners. The artwork for each piece was created by Princeton University student, Aliisa Lee.


Every Day is a Bad Hair Day

Lucy McCulloch, age 9
Bordentown, NJ

Bad Hair DayI am Meddie. I am in 5th grade at Blockwood Elementary School and I am considered a complete freak by most of the girls in my class. The same girls, who for the past six years have tormented me because I wear an enormous hat to school. If they only knew the truth hiding under my hat.

It all happened one day during a chaotic indoor recess. As usual, the room was divided into four corners containing the “bookworms”, “the artists”, “the fashionistas” and “the gamers”. I took my usual seat with the artists and began to draw cartoons.

From across the room I heard a loud commotion. I looked and saw a boy named Quincy stick out his tongue and make the “gag me with a spoon” action. I didn’t know what was going on, but I saw all eyes in the room turn and look at me. Quincy had a note in his hand. Before I could even ask what was going on, our teacher Ms. Birdfitch, swooped in a grabbed the note from his hand and read it out loud. “Dear Quincy, I love you.  Love, Meddie.” The whole class broke out into laughter. Ms. Birdfitch told everyone to get quite and take a seat.

The note was the last straw. I rushed out the door, and ran down the hallway. I slipped into the bathroom and stumbled to the cold tile floor. Those girls had done it again. But this time it wasn’t a silly name, it was a lie!

I got up to wash my face and looked in the mirror and that is when it happened. I looked at my reflection, but it didn’t look like me. The image blurred, then darkened. I felt my insides getting colder. I couldn’t hide my anger or true self any longer. I took off my hat and let my snakes coil around my head. Finally free from the hat, I walked unafraid back to class. I opened the door to horrified faces.  “Call me by my real name from now on.  I am MEDUSA!”


Memories

Neha Aluwalia, age 13
Plainsboro, NJ

MemoriesThey had been one of the last to escape. A few more weeks, and the ship would have been stopped-and the Jews would never have made it to America.  However, with luck on their side, the newly-wed couple Deborah and Joseph Rubenstein took a crowded, smelly ship to America, and wrapped their faith and hope around them like a warm blanket.

Upon arrival of New York City, things were not at all what they expected.  For one, they were detained at Ellis Island for many days, and the mixture of languages, smells, and sickness were very overwhelming to the lonely couple who understood little English.

When all the papers were finally set straight, Deborah and Joseph used what scant money they had, all their families’ life savings, to rent a room in a crowded apartment complex.

While Joseph went to work at the docks, Deborah stayed at home and began to befriend the neighbors. She became good friends with a man named Leroy Caldwell, a handsome and curious journalist. He was interested in what happened to the Rubensteins, of the events that brought them to America.

The two became so close that Leroy asked Deborah if he could interview Joseph and her about being Jews who escaped from Nazi Germany. After a plethora of conversations about a myriad of war-related topics, the article was almost ready to go.

The one thing that was missing however, was a photograph. Leroy arranged Deborah and Joseph together, pillars of hope in the darkness, and hit the button.  Flash! The camera spit out a photo.  The image blurred, then darkened.
———————————————————————————————————————
“Grandma? Grandpa?” asked the small child perched on her grandparents, squinting at an old photograph, “Is that you?”

Pointing to the young couple, indifferent to their poverty and content, the elderly woman replied, “Yes child. That was me and your grandfather, living out our families’ dreams. We only had each other, but we made the most of what we could.”

The child agreed to this statement by snuggling next to her grandmother and falling asleep, leaving Deborah, Joseph, and the memories together.


Therapy

Roshni Mantena, age 15
Princeton NJ

TherapyShe’d learned later, that its name was Ischemia. She was suffering from ischemic loss of vision, caused by a blockage of the artery supplying blood to the eye. It was the most common reason for sudden visual loss, and left untreated even for a few hours, it could leave permanent damage. The last fact, she knew too well. At first, she’d blamed her parents. If they’d returned home, even an hour earlier. Then, it’d been her grandfather. Genetically inherited, artery blocking cholesterol. Finally, it’d been God. You sent this my way. Her bitterness had consumed her, pushing away her friends,  family, boyfriend. She walked in the school hallway alone, whispers of that blind girl trailing behind her, but she wore them proudly like armor, deflecting whoever attempted to get close. It’d gotten old fast, the loneliness tearing holes deep in her heart, leading her here.

It’d been half past eight and her parents still hadn’t returned home from their dinner party. The summer sky had long since faded into hot, sticky, darkness, and her clothes clung uncomfortably to her skin. She was too lazy to change into pajamas, the horror movie flickering on the TV screen in front of her just interesting enough to keep her from leaving her comfortable place on the couch. The air shimmered, the image from television slightly distorted, from the heat, she told herself. Another minute passed, the beginnings of a headache pounding at her temples. She rubbed her head; dark spots appeared in front of her eyes, the characters onscreen swimming in her vision. The image blurred, then darkened. She could still feel her heart drumming loudly in her ribcage as she screwed her eyes together, squeezing them shut tightly before opening them again. Panic in the form of bile was rising in her throat as she rubbed at them frantically, trying to coax them back from the nothing-ness to no avail. She scrambled blindly for the phone, hands shaking.

She inhaled sharply, running fingers over the raised bumps, feeling out the words. Palm flat, pride swallowed, she pushed the door open into therapy.

Cinderella Story: Make a Princess Dress

two princessesThis winter, I posted a sneak peek of a Cinderella dress created by local high school junior, Vicky Gebert. The dress was constructed of bubble wrap, trashcan liners, drinking straws, t-shirt bags, forks, plastic blue lace print, Styrofoam, and chicken wire. It looked utterly amazing.

dress on stairsVicky’s dress was the centerpiece of a Cinderella Story: Make a Princess Dress program our library hosted last weekend. Kids were invited to channel their inner godmothers and create a dress out of art supplies (including supplies you might not immediately consider when planning a grand night out).

If you can’t wait to see some of the creative dresses, scroll past the instructions and let the fashion show begin. Otherwise, here are instructions for building your own princess dress!

For the dress base, you’ll need:

  • A 11″ x 28″ piece of poster board for the bodice
  • A 4″ x 28″ pieces of poster board for the skirt sash
  • 4′ piece of ribbon for the bodice
  • 2′ piece of ribbon for the skirt sash
  • 2, 20″ pieces of tulle ribbon for shoulder straps
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch

I used black poster board to make the example dress (it shows up better in photos), but for the actual program, the bodice and skirt sash were made of white poster board. Definitely use the thicker variety of poster board (i.e. 6-ply) because it’ll hold up to all the art supplies you’ll be adding later. I also used 3/8″ white ribbon. It was easier to lace that particular width of ribbon through the punched holes without tearing the poster board. The tulle ribbon I used was 3″ wide to allow easier threading as well.

The Nearly New Shop, a local thrift and consignment store, was kind enough to loan us a dress mannequin for the program. It really helped to have the dress base on display so grown-ups could see what the final product should look like.

OK, ready to get started? First, wrap the largest piece of poster board around your upper body until both ends almost touch behind your back. Trim with scissors if the bodice is too long, cuts into your armpits, or if you want to create an unusual neckline.

Use a hole punch to make 5 matching pairs of holes down the back of the bodice
(our holes are marked with white rings in the photo so you can see them better).

bodice lacingStarting at the top of the bodice, lace the 4’ piece of ribbon through the holes. Tie
a bow at the bottom.

bodiceNext, wrap the smaller piece of poster board around your waist until both ends almost touch. Use the hole punch to create 2 pairs of holes.

skirt sash holesLace the 2’ piece of ribbon through the holes. Tie a bow.

skirt sashLastly, your shoulder straps! Slip on the bodice and adjust it to the right height on your chest. Punch a hole in the front of your bodice, directly underneath your shoulder. Punch a matching hole in the back. Thread a 20″ piece of tulle ribbon through the hole in the front and knot securely. Pull the tulle ribbon over your shoulder and thread through the hole in the back. Knot tightly and cut off any excess. Repeat on the other side. The finished straps should look like this:

strapsYour dress base is complete!

finishedNow that you know your dress fits, I recommend unlacing the bodice and the skirt sash and laying them flat for decorating. This is especially useful for the skirt sash. It’s easier to make a huge fluffy skirt on a flat surface than a curved surface.

Here are the art supplies we used at the program:

What can I say? We had a tremendous time! The kids not only made dresses, but matching crowns, wands, accessories, hairpieces, and jewelry. It was wonderful.

ringAnd here’s the inspiration for the program, artist Vicky Gebert! Vicky answered questions about her dress, crafted with kids, and generally lent her awesome creative magic to the program.

vickyWe were also joined by two Princeton University student groups – the Sustainable Fashion Initiative and the Stella Art Club. They were incredibly creative and incredibly sweet with the kids.

design 1 And now…some of those fantastic, fabulous, and fanciful dresses! Fanfare please…

dress 1dress 9 dress 12 dress 3dress 10 dress 2 dress 20dress 16 dress 19 dress 18 dress 17dress 13 dress 14 dress 11 dress 8 dress 7 dress 6dress 4 dress 5