Category Archives: Math

Topographic Maps…

A cold wind is blowing fiercely. Her blonde, plastic hair “flips” in the wind while she treks up the 5 whole inches of this steep, mountainous terrain. If only she had looked at her handy-dandy topographical map to find the easiest way up, she wouldn’t have almost fallen off to her demise

That’s right everybody we are learning about TOPOGRAPHIC MAPS!!!!

To go with our last lesson about maps, it was time to learn a little bit about elevation! These maps offer more specific information about height and steepness of geographical forms. Of course there is other information included on these maps, like depth of water bodies, populations, camp sites, waterways and other natural formations. The lines that are on the map represent elevations. To understand this better, we went for the Play-Dough to see it in a more 3D way.

This was our process: first we grabbed a nice big hunk of dough and shaped it into a mountainous terrain. Then, we poked holes evenly up the side. We grabbed some fair, innocent citizens of the United Vintage Polly Pocket Nation and sprinkled them across the range (making sure they had their phones in case they got lost!) to remind us of the potential hazards humans can face when traveling without a Topo (that’s lingo for topographic) map! We then traced a line around the base of the mountain and with a piece of thread, cut on the first dotted line (closest to the bottom) and lifted of the top of the doughy fortress. Then we removed to bottom and set it aside but didn’t squish it… If you’re doing this yourself repeat the last couple steps until you’ve cut on every dot. TRACE! CUT! LIFT! SET ASIDE! TRACE! CUT! LIFT! SET ASIDE! WHOOP WHOOP!!!!! Once you’re done tracing, cutting, lifting and set aside-ing, you can see that on the lines on the paper have left a 2D representation of the doughy mound. After doing this project, it was much easier to understand which would be the easiest and also, the most dangerous path of travel for our Polly Pocket hikers. Lines closer together – STEEP! Lines further apart? Better.    Much better.

The wind continued to blow. Blonde, plastic hair still whipping in the wind, she reached the summit. Only to find her tea had gotten cold and her Biscoff biscuits had frozen. No matter. With her topo map in hand, she found the quickest and safest route down to the vintage civilization and headed straight to the cafe for a slice of rustic pumpkin pie. 



Move It!

Yesterday, we went to a STEAM exhibit at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. It showcases some of the work by Sarah and Jon Vanderbeek of Sweet Spot Studio.  In the room there were many dinosaur toys, cars and airplanes, and many work-in-progress toys. The intent of the exhibit was to show the development process and how Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) work together to bring products to life. In the middle of the room, stood a giant word, STEAM and on it was a obstical course for a large orange ball, which once you turned a wheel the ball traveled down a ramp, through a loopy loop, up another ramp, around a large M, down through a large tube and using air under high pressure, rolling across a trigger which made a small foam rocket shoot to the ceiling! Finally, the ball rolled back where it originally started. We did this several times yipping and jumping up and down every single time! It was SO fun!!

Although fun, we only saw gender specific toys, so we would’ve appreciated just a touch of diversity! As you might know from our blog posts, we love science and building and art and math, so this was the perfect exhibition for us!



Maker Time!

As one of our final end-of-the-year projects, we’re learning to create 3D PRINTS on our MakerBot!!! How cool is that?!?! We’ve been making “simple” things on the computer on a professional design program called SketchUp. We’re designing all kinds of things.

For her first print, Olive created a yacht for her minuscule Polly Pockets complete with outdoor seating, a kitchen and guest bedroom! I started by designing a cute character for my ‘cute character collection’. I have since started working on prostsetics for dolls with lost arms or hands. We are learning so many things about math… scale is a big one (no pun intended!)… when we built our first models, we had no idea that they were actually 64 FEET tall! We reduced them down to a size that would actually work with our toys. Can you imagine a 64′ tall Polly Pocket yacht !?

The fact that your own designs can magically appear in a matter of hours is so impressive! As we learn more about the complex program to create things, the next challenge is to create something that ‘fits together’. More on that when our project gets further underway.


This is the MakerBot in action!


This print took about 3 hours to print.

This is Olive’s Party Ship for her Polly Pockets!

This little baby took over FIVE hours to print!


The Great Sphero Challenge!

Quite recently, we heard of a programmable robot called Sphero. After trying one through our Tech Club connection we thought it was SO COOL we purchased one of these awesome robots for ourselves! As a week-long project we were assigned Challenges to test Sphero’s abilities (and ours!) by coding it through obstacle courses! These were the first 4 we were given.

Sphero challenge #1

CODE Sphero through the obstacle course: maze must have 3 left turns and 4 right|must have at least 1 ramp throughout the maze. Seems simple doesn’t it? Well sometimes simple is hard… and that was the case here it was outstandingly difficult to code directions… but we did it! WHOOP WHOOP!!!

Sphero challenge #2

Build a chariot for Sphero out of pipe cleaners, straws and tape that will hold two passengers – must have 8 turns 4 right 4 left|make the maze out of blocks| must have at least two ramps. BIG TIP!!! When sphero is driving by itself, the turning radius is different then when there’s a chariot on the back and it takes more power. We ended up making many different chariots but because of the turning radius we never made it through. But we did teach Siri to tell a story on command!

Challenge #3

Create a maze. Use measuring tape to define the edges, maze should have 8 turns: 5 right, 3 left, 1 at a 30 degree angle. Create a ramp. Sphero should be able to go backward through the maze.  That was proved too difficult to solve. The backwards part was impossible at the point of what we know, the maze was cool, but backwards… maybe next week!!

Challenge# 4

Drive Sphero up a 12″ ramp. We ended up making several different designs and at one point we were so desperate we tried to make an elevator to the top! With a little help from Mom, a little extra speed, a bit of traction and BOOM we made it to the top only to fall right back down the ramp! As you might imagine there was a whole lot of shrieks of joy, leaping, dancing and a couple of tears of happiness!!! It was really fun and we learned so much about slopes, coding, friction and velocity. Stay tuned for more Sphero adventures!!!




Eyes On The Prize!

The past many weeks we have been learning about coordinates. Longitude, Latitude, the Prime Meridian, Equator and how other places in the world align with one or the other of our own coordinates here in Douglas, Michigan. It has been cool to see how the climate in those areas are the same or different than ours.

So to get a hands on understanding of how coordinates mark places on earth, we did something totally amazing – we went GEOCACHING!!!! Have you ever heard of it? Geocaching is like a fun treasure hunt out in the world and you find the locations using GPS coordinates. The “treasure” is hidden in super sneaky spots and is an interesting mixture of tiny trinkets and things you wouldn’t normally think of as a treasures.

We went to 5 different places around our town, only finding 3 of the 5 caches. People can be tricky when hiding these things! We took a trinket and left one of our own for the next person to find. Once you find it, there is usually a paper inside the cache to write your name and the date it was found. We were surprised how many people had found them before us – it’s a more popular sport than we had thought! Super cool!

Now as we are driving along our road we certainly see things much differently! We will surely do this again wherever we travel next :0)

This is a quick video on what Geocaching is:


Our first ever Geocache find! Super exciting!

Our second find was in a bit of a thicket! The contents of the bucket are below…

This was our third cache – isn’t the container ADORABLE!!?

The Art of Deconstructing Plant Life.

Just yesterday,  we were inspired by a Swiss guy named Ursus Wehrli. He likes to tidy up art, meaning, he has been taking already made art and neatly cleaning it up – otherwise known as deconstructing. {there’s a better example of his work shown below in the form of a video!} We decided, THAT’S SO COOL!!!!!! So we tried our hand at deconstructing. The things you need for this super relaxing project is: something to take apart, tweezers {only if you are doing something super duper tiny like we did} also, a clear surface, a bit of patience and a steady hand. Since it’s spring, we decided to work on plants or flowers… flowers are so exciting!!!. We chose buttercups,{or the yellow flowers if you don’t know what that is} a flat evergreen branch, and white snowdrop flowers. The flowers are brave specimens – daring to bloom in this sporadicly warm, then freezing Michigan February! It’s amazing how many little bits there are in an ANYTHING!






Icosahedron Planets

In our continuing exploration of geometry, we turned out attention to icosahedrons. The word comes from the Greek word eíkosi meaning ‘twenty’ and hédra meaning ‘seat’. So guess how many sides the largest of the platonic solids have? You guessed it – TWENTY!

This activity came on the heels of learning about Buckminster Fuller (see our prior post on building a geodesic dome) and his Dymaxion Map. He created the only flat map of our planet where all the land masses are connected. That guy was incredible!

We downloaded these super cool templates here. It would have been great to have scaled them up and down to make them more representational of the planets’ relative size, but our printer doesn’t print larger than letter size :0). Maybe for a summer project!

Getting the last folds in place was tricky and even after making 2 planets each, I’m not sure we successfully mastered it, but it was a super fun project.