Friday, December 11, 2015

Joyce Sidman love and math everywhere

Serendipity is getting a new Joyce Sidman book the day before I get to spend some quality time with the kindergartners. If you're not familiar with Joyce Sidman, acquaint yourself with her immediately. She's an extraordinary poet who finds beauty in the everyday joy of the Earth. Also, like so many of us here at SK, she appreciates found art

As I was saying, I purchased Sidman's magnificent Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature earlier this week and then I had the pleasure of spending two afternoons with Val's class. Unsurprisingly, the youngest of SK readers loved the poem/story and its compelling, intricate illustrations as much as I did. 

After carefully examining all of the illustrations, including both the snuggly spirals of the curled up field mouse and the powerful spirals of the tornado, the kindergarteners decided to attempt to arrange themselves into a spiral on the library carpet. They talked, argued, listened, tried, tried again, and continued to try to figure out how to make it work. I did my best to step back and let them try to simultaneously arrange their physical selves and their conversation as they tried to take turns giving suggestions of what everyone else should be doing. While, at first, they were all eager to curl up into the center "ball" of the spiral, most of them eventually sat back and stood up to try to figure out how best to place humans into a spiral. I must report that their negotiations of ideas and bodies did not end with a nine-person spiral on the floor, as we'd originally intended, but they did make astute observations about the nature of the shape, the size of their bodies, and the ways in which they needed to arrange themselves in order to make the spiral possible. Perhaps we'll try again another day.

In thinking of stories about shapes and math in our lives, I'm reminded of Mary Cornish's poem, "Numbers," which I'll leave here for your reading pleasure. 


I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition--
add two cups of milk and stir--
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

And multiplication's school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.

Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else's
garden now.

There's an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mothers' call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn't anywhere you look.
—Mary Cornish

To the "generosity of numbers" and the delight of kindergarteners,

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