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Writing About Apples, or, How to be Creative

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Writing About Apples, or, How to be Creative

Back in March, my mom texted me happy St. Patrick’s Day and asked, “so what percentage Irish is the baby? Only a math major can figure it out!” I took this as a challenge, and after texting my mother-in-law for information, I did some calculations and came up with this:

Phoebe is approximately…

  • 1/4   Italian (25%)
  • 7/32   German (approx. 21.9%)
  • 3/16   Scottish/Irish (approx. 18.8%)
  • 5/32   English (approx. 15.6%)
  • 1/16   French (approx. 6.3%)
  • 1/16   Danish (approx. 6.3%)
  • 1/32   Polish (approx. 3.1%)
  • 1/32   Czech (approx. 3.1%)

 

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My baby is probably less than 15% Irish.  But still very kissable!

 

Now that the baby is three months old I’m slowly getting back to my paying jobs, one of which is writing math curriculum.

And last week I created an assignment called “Melting Pot Math” in which the students have to figure out the “fractional ethnicity” of a person based on the countries his great-grandparents are from.

My bosses are happy to have me back; they continually praise me for my ability to come up with creative math projects. And I’m sort of amazed myself. I’ve been doing this job for over four years now; you’d think I would have run out of ideas for teaching fractions and long division. And yet I always come up with something, often based on whatever is going on in my life: wedding planning, visiting Mexico, getting an ultrasound. I even wrote a math curriculum called “Literary Agent.”

I’m also getting back to my other part-time job – tutoring – but right now I’m only doing it on Skype. I just hired a high school girl who will come to the apartment one afternoon a week to watch Phoebe while I’m on Skype, but up until now my husband has been watching her while I tutor.

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On Sunday I was tutoring, and my student’s camera wasn’t working.  She could see me, but I couldn’t see her. It didn’t matter, though. She was just reading out loud to me from To Kill a Mockingbird, and we were discussing.

Out of the corner of my ear, I heard Phoebe start crying, and it sounded like a hungry cry, so I told my student to hold on a second. I fetched the baby and then said, “okay, keep reading. I’m just going to feed her.”

I guess I had a moment of flamingo syndrome –I couldn’t see my student, so I assumed she couldn’t see me. I pulled down my tank top and started breastfeeding. A few seconds later, I remembered that my student could see me, and I adjusted the camera so that only my face was visible on the screen. Oops! I can only hope she was so engrossed with To Kill a Mockingird that she didn’t notice her tutor flashing her!

Toward the end of the lesson, my student told me that she had to give a speech the next day to the entire middle school. “Our teacher told us we could pick any topic we wanted, so I chose apples,” she said.

“Apples? Like the fruit?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

She practiced her speech, and I gave her a few pointers.

“Why did you decide to write your speech about apples?” I then asked.

She grinned. “I didn’t know what to write about, and I was eating an apple, and my friend said ‘why don’t you write about apples.’” She shrugged. “So I did.”

I’m pretty sure that’s not what her teacher had in mind for the assignment. On the other hand, it’s a good lesson: when you don’t know what to write about, look around and write what you see. Write about your baby. Write about your day. Write about the apple you’re currently eating.

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When I started this blog four and a half years ago, I worried I might run out of things to write about. But, like with math curriculum, I always come up with something. Often I take inspiration from whatever is going on in my life, big or small.  Like accidentally Skype-flashing my student.

I don’t consider myself to be an amazingly creative person, pulling brilliant ideas out of thin air. Often I’m just a girl writing about apples. I look around, shrug, and write about whatever is in front of my face.

 

 

 

Math, Watermelon Martinis, & Lists to Help Your Writing

Math, Watermelon Martinis, & Lists to Help Your Writing

 

One of the several part-time jobs I do to support my writerly lifestyle is creating math curriculum. It’s a pretty sweet sitch. I work from home, get paid well, and am able to do as much or as little as I want each month. It’s one reason why I recommend to all you wannabe creative writers out there: become a math teacher first. (Ha ha. But no, seriously.)

I work for a company that sells Common Core correlated lesson plans and worksheets to middle schools around the country. The main emphasis for us creators is to come up with exciting ways to link math to real life so that the kids will be interested and invested.

For example, I did a lesson where kids watch this Beyonce video and describe her moves in math terms: 90 degree rotation, moving two steps along the x-axis, etc. Then they make up their own dance and plot it on the coordinate plane. Fun, right?

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Teacher face!

At first, it was pretty easy for me to think of creative ideas — I used some of the things I’d done (or wanted to do) with my own students back when I was a math teacher. I wrote lessons about crop circles, ant farms, shipwrecks, and hair extensions. I was especially proud of my lesson about a chicken drop.  (If you don’t know what a chicken drop is, see here.)

When those ideas ran dry, I started creating math curriculum about whatever was going on in my life. I wrote lessons about circus school, a cross-country trip, planning a wedding, traveling to Mexico. I even wrote a lesson about Otzi the Iceman after hearing a Radiolab episode about him.

But now I’ve been working for this company for over three years. I’ve started to worry that all my creative ideas have been used up. After all, there are only so many ways you can get kids excited about decimal division… right?

Tongue3

I also did a lesson about tongue twisters.

Thank god I found this: 500+ Things Kids Like. The list was composed by Tara Lazar, a children’s book author: “I hope this list gives a spark to your writing for children,” she says.

I don’t know if this is what she had in mind, but it’s been a treasure trove for my math curriculum! Now, whenever I’m starting on a new project, I scan the list until I see something that might have a math connection… (Just about everything does, you know.)

For example, the other day, I scanned the list and saw “babies” on there as one of the 500+ things kids like. Oh, yeah, I thought, babies get weighed and measured. That’s math. Plus, they grow inside the womb, doubling and tripling in size over time. That’s math. So I created a math lesson called Maternity Ward.

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Kids love babies!  (This is a creepy surrealist baby I made at the Hirschhorn Museum over the weekend.)

Just the other day I was watching one of the new episodes of Park and Recreation. The character Craig, when feeling stressed, lists great things about being alive, like “watermelon martinis, exposed brick, Keri Russell’s hair.”

That’s when it occurred to me that a) I should make a similar list to look at whenever I’m feeling sad, and b) I should be using lists not only for math curriculum but also for my own writing!

There are all kinds of lists I could make that might be helpful:

  • A list of characters – both real and imagined – who interest me.
  • A list of books I admire.
  • A list of interesting places, or jobs, or objects.
  • A list of random things I like to read and write about.
  • A list of every story premise I’ve ever thought of
  • And so on.

 

And even if the list does nothing for me now, I can always return to it when I’m feeling especially stumped and out of creative juices. Maybe an item on the list will spark an idea and get me writing.

I often fear that I’ve run out of creativity and have no more ideas  left for my fiction writing.  Yet, in the past three years, I have written over 150 math lessons on all sorts of topics. I continue to amaze myself (and my bosses) with my seemingly never-ending fount of creative ideas. If I can do that for math curriculum (which is something I do for money) I can certainly do it for creative writing (which is something I do out of passion). And if I can do it, then you can, too.

Now let’s get listing!

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Billy Eichner as Craig in Parks and Recreation.  Photo credit.  

 

Craig’s List of Great Things About Being Alive

  • watermelon martinis
  • exposed brick
  • Keri Russell’s hair
  • Martha Stewart’s apron line
  • my tomato plants
  • sweet potato pie
  • unlikely animal friend pairings
  • Jennifer Love Hewitt
  • Victor Garber
  • James Garner
  • Jennifer Garner