Sunday, September 21, 2014

Math Club: Stuffed Animal Venn Diagrams

My stuffed animals LOVE to come to math club.

Unfortunately, they're so enthusiastic that they get...overly rambunctious. This means I only let them come about once a semester.

("But we'll be angels this time, we swear! It was the kids! The kids made us do it!")

Uh huh.

Still, when they DO come, everyone has a blast. Here are some pictures from one of my very favorite activities last year, involving elementary set theory.

First, I selected which animals were invited. This led, naturally, to some arguments. ("No fair! Scheherezade got to go last time!" and "I feel the unicorns are over-represented whilst we non-magical ruminants are being ignored".)

Sadly, due to space constraints, I was forced to select along specific criteria, with preference going to mammals, reptiles, and magical creatures. While there were a token frog, fish, and bird or two, I apologize to the categories left cloistered in the closet who felt slighted. Their comrades told them later that being squished at the bottom of a laundry hamper for several hours was really not fun, but I'm not sure the excluded arthropods believed it.

Above: "Me, me, me! Take me!"
Below: "Can't...breathe...squashed..."

When it was time for our activity, I presented a short lecture about basic set theory. Venn and Euler, intersection versus union, subset and superset. The right side of the board, below, is relevant. The left was from our earlier practice problems that day.

Then the fun part. Let loose the stuffed animals! ("Freeeeeeedom!!!!")

[I note, sardonically, that the stuffed animals have, in theory, been "free" for five years, now. (They have declared independence and set up their own "government" but they have yet to ratify, or even write, a constitution.) That didn't stop them from acting like sailors on a rare shore leave spree. --ed.]

It was inevitable that the animals and kids would play together and ask for introductions. The children were sociable. ("Miss Gail, what is this mouse called? Oh, hi Reepicheep.") The critters, however, being severely self-centered, seemed to see the kids more as objects than people. Tsk.

I brought out several different colors of yarn and assigned the kids to make large circles on the floor. Then I had them sort stuffed animals by various criteria. This took some time since I had to compete with distractions: barks, oinks, loud conversations, fights, children whose eyes had just been clawed out...

We got there eventually.

Below, you see "animals with wings" in the red circle, animals who can fly in the yellow circle, and the intersection of those two sets in the center. Left to right: Opus the penguin; two dragons and Hedwig the owl; and Rasputin the reindeer, who moonlights for Santa. I also see and Season the sea serpent, but he really shouldn't be there, since he swims but doesn't fly. (Either one of the kids snuck him in incorrectly, or I'm remembering the criteria wrong. It could be animals with wings and magical animals, but there were more magical animals than that....

Yes, I should post these things when they're still fresh. Mea culpa.)

Here's another picture.

It looks like we had magical creatures on the right and maybe non-magical creatures on the left? I think that's right, but it looks like this picture was taken before we adjusted the circles so they didn't overlap.

I recall some charming arguments over which animals were, or were not, magical. The unicorn was obvious, but the kids were dubious about Tecumseh the skunk. I tried to offer a short--short! two sentence!--explanation from American history, but I don't think it penetrated. Fortunately, his impressive cloak swayed the doubters. Or something.

One of my favorite moments involved an argument about Hedwig. Some of the kids thought she was obviously magical, because she's from the world of Harry Potter. Others claimed that she might just be an unusually intelligent "squib" owl. (In Harry Potter, a squib is someone who is born and raised in the magical community but who doesn't possess magical powers.)

It's driving me nuts, now, that I can't remember for certain what our selection criteria were.

I do definitely remember Bear and Teddy being loud, obnoxious, and disruptive, though. They were so bad I was forced to put them in time out. (So, like every other day of math time.)

This picture below looks like "all animals" as a super set and "mammals" as a subset. More Euler than Venn.

There was also a three-circle problem with "real", "mammal", and "extinct". Jon's wooly mammoth Fred--you can tell my engineer of a husband named him instead of me--fit at the intersection of all three sets.

More awesome arguments from the kids:
"Dragons aren't extinct! They're not real!"
"No, they're like the dinosaurs. They belong in the yellow circle."

I tried not to interfere. Instead I just grinned and enjoyed the moment. Sadly, I don't have pictures of that one.

Meanwhile, younger siblings played happily with extra animals in the corner.

My imperfect memories and imperfect pictures are frustrating. I think I was so busy "teaching" (okay, fine, playing) that I didn't adequately document stuff.

Obviously this means we should do it again, right? --But only if the animals PROMISE to behave. No fights! No eating each other! No biting the kids! No loud grunts, growls, moos, and neighs while the teacher is talking!

("We swears. On the precious!")

Okay. Seems credible. Let's do it. ;)

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Julie Kimball, who handled it calmly that day when I showed up on her doorstep looking like a maniac with my hair in a wild, lopsided, fraying bun atop my head. I rushed around frantically for a minute, babbled incoherently, dropped off Littles, and then asked "Do you have any yarn?"

She rose to the occasion beautifully, taking my insanity in stride and producing a skein of cheerful yellow yarn within seconds.

Thanks, Julie. You're a real pal. :)


Julie said...

Of course, I can take your insanity in stride. The real question is could I take your sanity in stride? That is yet to be seen. ;)

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention that Fred was surprised to hear that he was extinct. -- Daniel