Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Science and Math Gnomes

Botany, Math, and Astronomy Gnomes upon a stage made by Willodel

I used to make Math Gnomes inspired by the dolls used in Waldorf schools, in which the four processes (Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division) had personalities that helped children comprehend their duties. Ruling over the four processes was a royal personage who went by "King Equals" or "Empress Equals," depending upon the teacher. As enjoyable as math gnome sets were to make, I stopped sewing them for the shop when I realized that I had never actually sold a single set-- every set I made was for home use, a school auction, or a trade.

 I decided to make single math gnomes for children and adults to have nearby for encouragement and inspiration. I wish I had secretly carried a math gnome in my pocket when I was in school. I struggled with math, not because of lack of aptitude, but because I needed more time to work through equations and learn to understand them than the curriculum allowed. Later, chronic absenteeism (or rather, dread of school literally making me too sick to attend school) compounded the problem. A math gnome in my pocket would have kept me company and in my imagination would have encouraged me.

My daughter's teacher has her second graders say, "I am a brilliant mathematician" while stroking their imaginary beards. How can I help but think of math gnomes? (Though to be fair, brilliant mathematician Ada Lovelace was beardless.) I've started to sew STEM Gnomes. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. In the past, I've made variations of astronomy and entomology dolls, but this is the first time I've made them with a series in mind. I'm sewing them for creative whimsy. I enjoy making fairies and maidens with flower baskets, but I want to develop my sewing skills as well as the stories in my head.

Speaking of stories, I remember perking up when I first heard about "story problems," only to find out how tedious the plot-lines were. There's not much dramatic tension in figuring out the rate at which a car will overtake a bus, for example, unless it's actually a car chase. Then, I'd like to know why the passengers in the car were chasing the bus. Did someone steal a painting? Did someone forget her keys? The human interest angle is important!

12 comments:

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

Oh my goodness, I had the exact same combination of anticipation and disappointment when it came to story problems. They were still my favorite, though.

I love the math gnomes.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thank you, Anamaria. By the way, you may enjoy the book You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman! particular in the section about math books and math problems.

adrienne said...

Love the new dolls!

I also always felt cheated by word problems when I was a student because they were just a math problem in a really flimsy disguise.

El JoPe Magnifico said...

Ah, but beware King Equal's duplicitous brother, Prince Approximate! That guy is totally crooked.

Saints and Spinners said...

El Jope Magnifico: I am such a fangirl of Prince Approximate. It's one of my guilty secrets.

Adrienne: Yes! That was my thought, too. I've been working with Lucia on math puzzles, because "problems" seems like such a loaded word.

Have you heard the story about the camel and the watermelons? When was the last time you saw a camel carrying watermelons? Link: http://www.braingle.com/1388.html

Lone Star Ma said...

The Girl still likes her Pi Gnome, but a virus gnome...that would be her favorite.

tanita davis said...

(@ Lone Star Ma: Germ/virus gnomes are an AWESOME idea. We sang a song "Germs, My Invisible Dog," when I was a kid, and I think having a germ doll to carry around would be amusing ...because they're there anyway.)

My favorite doll a stuffed lamb - which my mother (SIGH) gave away, because another child loved it so much he wept. (...!) But, I think I would have loved to have a Story Problem doll in the STEM series so that I could make up appropriate story problems. (Like the rest of you, I wanted DEARLY to like story problems but they were SO disappointing!!) That's what I'd do if I went back into the classroom - once a week pick a story problem from a box that was a real story that the kids had made up, with real math principles...

Lone Star Ma said...

The Girl already has a bunch of virus dolls, by the way, from Giant Microbes - Santa brought them.

Saints and Spinners said...

LSM: I've seen those virus dolls. Are they cuddly? I jest. They're pretty cool.

Tanita: Your mom gave away your stuffed lamb? Wah. The Story Problem doll is a good idea-- a really good idea. Why didn't I think of it? Let me think of what the Story Problem doll would look like. Props would be so cool, too, but there's only so much I can do with felt in terms of fiddly things. I think I'd definitely need to have a camel carrying bananas....

Wendy said...

A little shout of glee for an awesome blog: I nominated you for the LIEBSTER BLOG AWARD. Keep up the good work! http://goodbooksforyoungsouls.blogspot.com/2012/01/passing-along-liebster-love.html

lisas2186 said...

These are so cute!
Have you ever heard of nanoputians?
http://www.org-chem.org/yuuki/nanoputian/nanoputian_en.html
They're probably hard to make with felt, but they'd be awesome for anyone struggling through organic chemistry...

Saints and Spinners said...

Wendy: Thanks so much! You are very kind.

Lisa2186: Oh my goodness, those nanoputians are charming. Thanks for introducing me to them. I may yet figure out a way to represent them in felt.

I've been struggling with making a chemistry gnome all week, which is why tomorrow's offerings will be sparse. However, I did come up with interpretations for both a chemistry gnome and a computer science gnome (the latter is based upon Ada Lovelace).