On Thursday night, I got a message in the class WhatsApp group from Danyaal’s teacher , saying “Next week is our numeracy week. On Monday the boys need to dress up as a mathematical concept. Help the boys to make an outfit.”
Needless to say, I was taken by surprise. I know that, for whatever reason, schooling involves dressing children up so the school can get cute pics for the end-of-year magazine. (That’s why, right?) I get it. But, did it really have to start so soon? We’re barely into the second term of grade 0. My friend with the sewing machine hasn’t even learned to use it yet. It is too soon.
My first instinct was to respond with a series of snarky comments, a stream of gifs and possibly an emoji. But then I realized that I don’t actually know any of the people on that group and they might not appreciate that conversation. So I settled for one of these ( 🤔 ) and put the gif on Facebook.
I was stumped but I didn’t want to turn to Pinterest straight away. (That just felt too much like looking up the walkthrough on YouTube the minute you get stuck in a video game.)
But what could we dress him up as that was (1) mathematical and (2) age appropriate, given that this child doesn’t yet have a clear concept of what mathematics even is.
“What could we send him as? He’s in grade 0. What’s the most basic mathematical concept there is?” I asked Sameer.
“Zero,” he replied.
But how to represent zero, nought, the absence of things, nothing?
We couldn’t very well just send him to school with a giant zero painted on his shirt. Also, technically, explaining the concept of zero, as nothing but also as a placeholder for something, is actually quite complex.
I may have started to panic at that point but I shouldn’t have because my Facebook friends came to the rescue very quickly, and boy did they deliver, in the way only people trying to make each other laugh on the internet can.
First, there were puns.
Then, more puns.
And then the kind of maths you need further reading for.
It wasn’t all googling and reading. Friends in the office tried to explain the concept of a Möbius strip, then made one of paper and had me run my finger across the surface to see how there was only one edge. Others spoke about how they’d been taught math as kids. And I started wondering at the philosophical nature of a subject that can be either fascinating or infuriating, depending on the teacher chance gifts you. All I can hope is that Danyaal has better math teachers than I ever did.
Meanwhile, we decided to go with our strengths and what we had lying around the house – thick cardboard, a glue gun and coloured paper. Given those materials, it came down to a choice between a Rubik’s cube or a die. And given that we’re
lazy trying to go for something age appropriate, this is how he ended up.
- Storage box cardboard
- Light cardstock, black
- Cold glue
- Glue gun and glue sticks
- Box cutters
- Paint, white
First, we painted the box and let it dry. Then we cut the bottom flaps off using the box cutters.
Then we measured Danyaal’s head and shoulders. We worked out that the hole we were going to cut in the top of the box had to be no more than 20cm in diameter or else it would slip off his shoulders. It couldn’t be much smaller either because then his head wouldn’t fit through the hole. Next, we measured his arms to figure out how big the arm holes had to be. I did this, very scientifically by pinching his upper arm between by them and middle finger. (Yes, he has skinny arms.)
Then we had to make circles for the head and arm holes, and cut them out. Fortunately, his head is about the size of a soup bowl and his arm was about as thick as a mug, so drew around the edges of those to make our circles on the flaps at the top of the box (which were temporarily folded together) and on the sides of the box. We cut the circles out with the box cutters.
Then we used hot glue to hold the top flaps together. All that was left to do after that was draw mug-sized circles on our black cardstock, cut them out and apply with cold glue.
In case you’re wondering what the “mathematical concept” is, it’s “bonds of seven“. Basically, that means pairs of numbers that add up to seven ie the numbers on the opposite sides of dice. (1 and 6, 2 and 5, 3 and 4.)
Danyaal’s response when he fit it on was “I’m going roll around on the floor!” (My first response was “No!” The second was “You can do that when school is over.”)
It’s not the most exciting costume in the world, but I figure we have to set this bar low. Really really low, because who knows what we’ll be asked to “help the boys make” in grade one.