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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

So I don't usually do this, but...

This past weekend there was a write-up in the Jerusalem Post about an Israeli company that has patented and produced a nifty sets of pre-inked math stamps for math students.  The basic premise is that it frees students from having to do repetitive sketching in math class and lets them concentrate on the math. 

Keren Or Lalo, the owner of the company said the idea hit her when she made the transition from math teacher to math student:

"I really thought that the high-school students I was teaching just didn't like math or were too lazy to do the sketches right," she says. "But when I started taking courses in management and economics at the Open University and was asked to draw these figures myself, it suddenly dawned on me how hard it really is to trace the same shapes over and over again and to get them exactly right."

It's one of those ideas that makes you hit yourself in the forehead and go 'why didn't I think of that?' 

Apparently, up until now if you wanted to draw many of the common graph axis's, curves and formulas, etc., you either had to use one of those clumsy plastic tracing stencils or sketch the damned things by hand.

I'm guessing there is at least one math teacher out there among treppenwitz readers who is nodding along approvingly, am I right?

As if the idea wasn't attractive enough, the set comes nicely packaged in a convenient storage box:


Naturally, being the impulse shopper I am, right after shabbat I went onto the net and visited the URL that was mentioned in the JP write-up.  I then called up the owner of the company and had a nice chat with her about how perfect this would be for my kids and their friends since they were both at the age where these subjects are coming into play.

They have three different sets of stamps (click images below to see actual size):

The basic 'Student Set' contains these stamps:

Student_1 Student_2 Student_3

Student_4 Student_5 Student_6

The 'Algebra Set' that contains these:

Alg1 Alg2 Alg3

Alg4 Alg5 Alg6

And of course there's a 'Geometry Set':

Geo1 Geo2 Geo3

Geo4 Geo5 Geo6

Ms. Lalo explained apologetically that she is still getting her website organized (it's only in Hebrew at the moment), so for the time being the only place you can purchase these stamp sets is in the eBay store she set up as a temporary measure. You'll need to have a PayPal account... but hey, you should have one of those anyway (you can sign up for free!) if you do any shopping at all on the web! 

So if you want to set your kids up for some serious extra credit in math, or pick up some Bar/Bat Mitzvah gifts that will be appreciated long after the shine has worn off that crap silver-plated pen & pencil set you were thinking of giving... here's your chance to give something truly useful. 

I've already oredered all three for my kids and I'm thinking of stocking up for all those Bar Mitzvah gifts Gilad has to give this year.

You can buy one set... or all three, right over here.

And tell her treppenwitz sent you.   :-)

Posted by David Bogner on April 2, 2008 | Permalink


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While I certainly didn't say so then, looking back at school, I loved math. I took all the classes in high school and college but just can't remember ever drawing about half of those even once much less repeatedly. The bell shape in the student set...the triangle in the circle. What the heck are those for?

I however would be very curious to know what clever mneumonics other countries use to remember formulas or order of operations. Like FOIL (first, outside, inside, last). Ok, I'm done being a dork.

Posted by: Benji | Apr 2, 2008 11:49:16 AM

Sorry David but this sort of reminds me of the joke about how NASA spent hours of time and money researching and developing the ideal pen for astronauts that would work in zero gravity, upside down, extreme temperatures etc etc, the Russians just took a pencil.

What's wrong with a ruler?

Posted by: Skaj | Apr 2, 2008 2:51:04 PM

Interesting; I never thought that drawing those things took so much time as to be a bother. When my boys got to seventh grade they had to purchase graphing calculators (still a mystery to me how to use them), so maybe their curriculum doesn't depend so much on drawing those things out. Man, now I'm going to have to take a closer look at their homework and see what's going on.... thanks, I think.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | Apr 2, 2008 2:58:34 PM

Hey, I'm all for making the math stuff more interesting, and if this helps, by all means, go for it!

That being said, I don't see how many of these things are particularly useful... students still need to "plug in" values for the binomial equation, so they'd still need to write the thing out, and the basic graph stamps look to be too small to be able to label properly. Something that I learned much too late in my schooling career was that drawing a lot of math diagrams was much easier when you did them at large sizes.

To be honest, if a kid can't draw a "tic-tac-toe" board (do Israelis still call it "ix mix drix," or some such?), then I'd think there's much more at stake than his algebra skills...

Again, not to knock Ms. Lalo's work: it's been quite a few years since I've needed to use any of these equations or diagrams on a regular basis, and I've no doubt that pedgagogical methods have evolved in that time; if these stamps reduce some of the tedium of what should be fascinating topics (seriously: geometry and calculus are among the most purely intellectually satisfying studies that I've ever experienced), I can't complain.

Posted by: efrex | Apr 2, 2008 3:08:41 PM

ooh; pretty-y...

that is all.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Apr 2, 2008 4:49:43 PM

Hey, and I notice you've already got a stamp ad in the righthand column.

Posted by: Mark Patterson | Apr 2, 2008 5:33:11 PM

The last set would be handy for doing templates for patchwork.

I only managed to get the basic qualification in Maths to get into University (to do two Arts degrees - go figure).

Posted by: Noa | Apr 2, 2008 9:55:08 PM

I thought repetitive sketching was part of the process of learning Maths. Any mathematician out there?

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Apr 2, 2008 10:35:36 PM

As an engineer, I'm going to have to differ on this one.

I believe that while sketching figures and graphs and the like may not be directly relevant to much of the math kids in middle and high school will need, it is a VERY useful skill in the real world.

It doesn't require that one be an artist, but being able to draw decently enough to get across a concept is pretty important. In engineering, I can't tell you how many times I have had to sketch out an experimental plan or product design on a napkin or in a margin to get my point across. If I'd never had to laboriously make decent figures for my various classes, I'd never have developed that ability. We even had a modest drafting component for an introductory engineering design class in college, despite the fact that real drafting is all done on a computer, now.

The skills needed for a variety of subjects (not just science and engineering!) are pretty basic: issues of perspective, approximately straight lines, basic 3D sketching, projections, etc. But without any sort of practice, no one will get these skills. And, to be honest, except for some of the really worst classes I took (some statics classes - lots of truss and bridge and machine drawing), most of the sketching is fairly easy and doesn't really take that much effort.

Just my 7 agurot.


Posted by: matlabfreak | Apr 3, 2008 1:27:16 AM

I have to differ with you. I would not buy it for my kids, at least for now. I want to see first that they have an idea of how to draw all these, even if the first ones come out all crooked.


Posted by: David S | Apr 3, 2008 4:19:13 AM

I told Mr. B I'd be back after work, so here I am. It's 8:30 local time, I've got the 6-yr-old on the way to sleep, and I'm sitting in my #37 manager's uniform after watching my team learn a hard lesson by choking away their last preseason game by allowing 5 runs in the last inning and losing 10-6.

Ah; "character." Having it thrust upon you can be so traumatic at times.

After a relatively easy day of teaching maths to 7th graders and pre-cal, cal and stats to high schoolers.

And I like what I do, so you can say I'm a math teacher.

** ** **

As noted below, I have actually joked to my classes about making rubber stamps for certain very common forms, so I am tickled to see my joke come alive in the real world! I salute the inventor!

** ** **

Point (1): Can you guess why the second stamp in the 'student' set would be immediately popular with the boys? Excellent!

Point (2): I am gratified, as my expertise is in statistics, to see the normal curve represented twice in the basic 'student' set. A truly beautiful curve; the popular-with-boys figure is used for hypothesis testing -- think about how a jury has to evaluate evidence in court. Too many high schools -- far, far too many -- emphasize calculus over statistics. I teach both, and I can tell you: statistics is far more important if you want to expand your basic knowledge base.

Point (3): The inclusion of a stamp of a straight vertical line mystifies me. Isn't that taking automation just a step too far?

Point (4): The quadratic formula stamp (#3 in the algebra series) would be, to my students, more useful if there were blank spots in the "A", "B" and "C" positions so one could actually fill in values there. Also, I would want to see a "proportions" stamp -- which I have actually joked in class about making! -- that has two fraction bars on either side of an equals sign.

Point (5): The geometry set's most useful are the 45-45-90 right triangle; I would trade in the "AA" logo stamp for a 30-60-90 triangle, and I would trade in the inscribed circle-in-triangle stamp for a "unit circle" stamp (looks like the bullseye scope design at the beginning of any James Bond flick).

Point (F): My vote for most useful overall goes to the common ones, those stated above, and the number line, etc. I LIKE TO SKETCH, and by the way, I tell my students the "hand" part of the brain IS A SEPARATE PART from the "looking" part and the "talking" part, and the "hand" part can sometimes save you when the other parts fail. I have experienced that myself. I would not completely eschew practice on these forms, BUT I would, absolutely, like to design and order my own custom Wry Mouth Approved set for my students someday. I am off to check the site.

P.S. I *NEED* a Petach baseball cap! NOW! (you'll see me online, surfing for one soon -- my ma's family name is Petach)

P.P.S. My congrats to all Treppenwitz readers who humored those of us for whom this was perhaps more interesting than it should have been.

Everyone back to "real life" now! ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Apr 3, 2008 6:55:56 AM

P. P. P. S. to my students who don't like to make sketches, or whine about making them, and prefer to use equations or tables, I always ask: "do you prefer to watch television, or listen to your IPod without any video, just audio?"

They get the point immediately. As matlabfreak says above, in a different way, illustrations and pictures are ADVERTISING; they are COMMERCIAL. And boy do they sell your ideas!

Anyone remember why H. Ross Perot got so many votes in 1992? It was the graphs, baby!!

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Apr 3, 2008 7:00:10 AM

...am I the only person reading your comment who had to dig through the internet to find out what you meant by the 'AA' logo?

Posted by: matlabfreak | Apr 3, 2008 10:27:51 AM

I asked my ninth grader and she says she kind of enjoys all the sketching.

My younger, one, coming up the pike, has very poor eye hand coordination, so I think this would be useful for her.

Posted by: Baila | Apr 3, 2008 3:44:45 PM

I gotta throw my hat in with the bah-humbug crowd. My bachelors was in engineering. Even if i agreed with needing/wanting the stamps for simple sketches, why would you put formulas on stamps? copying the formula from your book or notes manually whenever you are using it is a great way to gently poke it into your memory. stamping it onto your homework is a great way not to remember it while convincing your teacher that you've gone insane. (Also, just to pick nits, the variables in the quadratic formula, and in algebra in general, are generally expressed in lower case. That's another problem with stamps -- any error on them will be propagated.)

If you're going to put a formula on a stamp just to memorialize it, i vote for my favorite, prettiest, most profound equation:

e^(pi*i) = -1

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Apr 3, 2008 4:35:24 PM

Doctor Bean:

That equation gets taken down five notches by being associated with the mathematician with the most illogically-pronounced name (how you get "Oiler" from E-u-l-a-r beggars the imagination. Lobachevsky might be harder to spell, but by golly, it's easier to pronounce [and fits into a Tom Lehrer song to boot!])

Posted by: efrex | Apr 3, 2008 5:55:35 PM

Interesting. That was the argument when they introduced the pocket calculator at schools here - redundancy, simplifying, focus etc. And boy, did it stir up a cloud.

Now, if they hand-cast/-carved the stamps themselves, they'd even qualify for Etsy.

Posted by: a. | Apr 3, 2008 7:16:49 PM

Sorry, matlab; AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) is so thoroughly ingrained into the history of the males in my family that I forget that not every family is riddled with drunks, ex-drunks, and teetotalers trying not to become drunks.

I'll leave it to you to successfully guess into which class I fall. I will also not emphasize the "fall" pun.


Posted by: Wry Mouth | Apr 4, 2008 6:23:39 AM

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