April = National Poetry Month

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Shel Silverstein’s artwork

I can’t let April close without acknowledging National Poetry Month.  When I make our “April is the Cruelest Month” AP Calculus study guide in anticipation of the May exam, I always include a few poems on the reverse.  Of course I put a snippet of T.S. Elliott’s The Wasteland.  I usually put a Seamus Haney (Lovers on Aran), a Shel Silverstein (Early Bird), a Robert Frost (Two Paths Diverged in the Woods), and because this list seems like too many white guys, I include a poem by Maya Angelou or Langston Hughes.  Some of our seniors were recently griping about having to memorize a Shakespeare soliloquy.  I can still recite the first 18 lines of Chaucer’s General Prologue in OLD ENGLISH, because that was a rite of passage where I went to high school.  “If anything, it makes for a great party trick,” I told my complaining seniors.  The best I got out of them was an {eye roll}.

Our current principal puts a poem on the bottom of his weekly Friday Focus to all of the high school faculty / staff.  Often these are poets I recognize (Emily Dickinson, e.g.); sometimes I get to read something new.  Our principal also recites poems in faculty meetings and this is truly a treat.  To hear poetry out loud instead of in one’s own head makes it ten times better.

Speaking of hearing poetry out loud, I have an AP Calculus colleague who is just so cool.  His name is Jerome (he also goes by Tall Jerome and by Mr. White).  He recites his own self-penned math poetry at our AP Calculus Reading “closing session”.  After the five minutes is over and another math teacher is making her way to the stage to sing some sort of corny “Let it Go” parody, I sit there stunned, barely able to wrap my head around the poem.  His recitations go by so fast that I have to google “Tall Jerome” and listen again.  Click here to hear and see one of his math love poems.

When I first moved to Mississippi, one of my colleagues gave me this poem and it has been on my bulletin board ever since:

A Friend Should be Mathematical

They should multiply the joy, divide the sorrow,

Subtract the past, and add to tomorrow,

Calculate the need deep in your heart

And always be bigger than the sum of all their parts.

I am not sure who the poet is, but it is a good poem to reflect on the meaning of friendship.

Here is a poem a former student (now high school graduate) wrote.  I had her for precalculus and she opted not to take AP Calculus.  But at some point during her senior year she gave me this poem — perhaps she wrote it as an assignment?  — perhaps she wrote it for fun? In any case, I asked her permission to post it to my blog and am finally getting around to it.  I love the part, “I used to believe doing math problems bites,”

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Do you remember Magnetic Poetry?  I once composed a three-line poem on a refrigerator somewhere in Massachusetts and I remember 2/3 of it.

Chocolate Egg Ache

You Must Languidly Boil

I have been thinking that we need Magnetic Calculus to help students practice piecing together justifications on the AP exam.  Stay tuned for more details in a future blog post!

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