Monday, January 13, 2014

Writing mathy poems - a student activity

On the web-page of mathematician-poet Sarah Glaz I found a link to this file of math-related poems that she prompted students to write when she visited an Arcadia University class session of "Truth and Beauty:  A Course in Mathematics and Literature" taught by mathematician-poet Marion Cohen.  The writing was prompted by an activity-list developed by mathematician-poet Carol Dorf.  Poems by Whitney Boeckel and Olivia Lantz particularly caught my eye and, with their permission, I present them here:

Whitney Boeckel's poem is untitled:

       Calculations running through my head
       The probability of making it.
       Reaching for the wall.
       Extending towards the infinity
       The variables I
       can’t control
       Swarming exponentially
       Trying to divide them
       Faster than they multiply
       Equally exhausting
       But the solution is there
       Waiting to be proven.

     Nerve     by Olivia Lantz

       Infinite people shouting to be heard equals
       greater music that adds and subtracts
       from the integral event of exposing yourself
       to simplify.

       Look to introduce yourself, make the most.
       Divide the room up and people multiply.
       Young actors gather within parentheses
       hoping to gain more or less dreams.

Notes at the ends of the poems in Glaz's file tell us that Whitney Boeckel had swimming in mind as she wrote and Lantz was thinking of rehearsals for "Midsummer Night's Dream."   The complete file of 14 student poems is available here. Also, I offer below the exercise by Carol Dorf that Glaz used to prompt these poems:

          Write 3 situations from your life (I usually model this with situations from my life, 1 significant/serious and 1 like a trip or something not emotional.)
          Write 10 mathematical words from something you've studied recently. With a group you then have everyone share their words and they can "borrow" any words of interest.
          Circle one of the situations.
          Write for a specified period of time (10 min is usually about right) describing the situation using as many words from your list as possible.
This student activity formulated by Dorf also is included in an article in the Proceedings for the 2013 Bridges Conference. Dorf is poetry editor for and has gathered a variety of poetry-with-math resources in this online journal.

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