Monday, January 11, 2010

Challenge: Write a Kids' Poem about Math

Back in September, Sean Nash wrote a post, over at his nashworld blog, about reading a book of Mother Goose to his 2-year-old daughter and not reading this one:
She's recognizing words, maybe he's lucky she let him skip it. I wonder what the rule of three was back then.

Reading the comments, including one from a dad who's encouraging his daughter to write science poems, got me thinking about what more we could do. So...

Here's the challenge: Write a little kids’ poem that’s as catchy as that nasty bit quoted above, and that tells of the beauty of math, or, that mentions math and challenge, both in a positive way.

If you start working on this, please let me know, even if you don't come up with something you like. I know I need to let this thought percolate for a while before I'll be able to come up with anything.


  1. This was a good distraction from class planning. I may have my el ed students try, too.

    = 24

    Two times two times two times three
    is the form that most pleases me.
    But even more, what I enjoy,
    Is that a number’s like a toy.

    Words are beautiful and do delight,
    But lack in metamorphing might.
    Numbers bend and twist and dance –
    They transform given half a chance.

    Two tens, four ones, a place to start,
    Two dozen (doughnuts) in the cart,
    Twice around the clock, a day,
    Enough eggs to make up six soufflé

    Thrice eight; half of 48 feet tall;
    4*3*2*1 (factorial);
    25-1 will easily multiply.
    24*8 would be good to try.

    Don’t wait on me, go find your own,
    A form of 24 unknown.
    Be clever, be brave, be strong, be bold!
    For 24, in carats, is pure gold.

  2. Wow! This is fabulous!

    I usually write poetry when inspiration strikes - I hope I can come up with something. What I'm hoping to write would be at a much younger level. More like that 5 little race cars story (or poem) that I talked about in this post.

  3. Okay, I'll give it a shot.

    In the meantime, the Rule of Three is a quaint-ish name for cross-multiplication to solve proportion problems.

  4. OK- see how great "challenge-based" tasks are for some people? John- I'm impressed. Wow.

    I'm rather excited to see this thread take shape. Let's see if we can't point a few more eyes in this direction.

    Nicely done.

  5. I heard of this challenge via Sean Nash. I am the "dad" you mention in the post who got his daughter to write scientific poems. I just wrote a blog post about this entire phenomena, please check out and best of luck with the Math-Po Challenge. I now have a new fun task for my kids!

  6. I just had to write one... not sure it meets all the requirements that you set out in your challenge, but check out
    Goldbach’s Conjecture, A Math-Po

  7. Well, we're going to need to set up a math poetry site, if there isn't one already. ;^)

    I've found fibetry, but that's very specific. Nothing else looked particularly promising.

    I posted a math poem before, here, but it's not a little kids poem. (I've also written a poem called Desire In a Math Class, which may not be appropriate for this blog...)

  8. Sue, see what you have done!! Your latest comment (and link to the poem on the square root of -1) inspired me to write one of my own. You may notice some elements from your writing in there as well (there was no way I was not going to use the "complex plane" idea). Anyway check out "The Mathematical i" at

  9. Nice! (Less plagiarism than in my 5 little race cars piece. I wouldn't have noticed.)

    Umm, I'll put the adult math poem I wrote long ago on my other blog. Come visit there if you want.

  10. Oh, I thought this was an exercise for children. Since the adults are joining in, my daughter and I both will both tackle it tomorrow during homeschool lessons.
    Will blog and link.


    i haven't doubled anything
    until i've doubled *one* time.
    and so i'll start with one
    and then go on to have a fun time.

    one and one are two (so few?)
    and two and two are four (that's more).
    eight (that's great!), sixteen...
    but wait!

    what *are* these calculations?

    "exponentiation" is a mouthful
    but all it means is "multiply by two".
    by two, by two,
    by two, by two:
    just "multiply by two".
    by two, by two,
    by two, by two:
    just multiply-by-two.

    thirty-two and sixty-four,
    and then one-twenty-eight,
    two-fifty-six... and so on...
    (they're fun to calculate).

    two-to-the-zero is one (why not?)
    and two-to-the-one is two (one two!)
    two-to-the-two is four (a lot!)
    and two-to-the-three is eight.
    now you!

    by two, by two, by two, by two
    just "multiply by two".
    by two, by two, by two, by two
    just multiply-by-two!


  12. Anonymous?! Folks didn't sign their artwork in ancient times, but... but... I do hope you'll come claim some glory, anon. This is lovely.

    And little kids like doubling, a lot!

  13. i know i did.
    (it was that story about
    the vizer and the king
    and the chessboard
    that set me off; i
    doubled up to about
    a meg or so i imagine
    before i got tired of it.
    found it years later and
    sure enough there was
    a mistake...)

    owen thomas
    vlorbik his mark X

  14. I thought I had better play along...


  15. I blogged our poems. They are rather simple in comparison with some of the poems you've gotten already. But it is our small contribution. Thanks for the avenue for such mathematical creativity. My daughter and I tend to be more verbal than mathematical, so this was a perfect activity for us. I hope that some others will jump in after seeing my blog post.

  16. My first Mathematic discovery
    was 1 plus 2 would equal 3
    beyond that fact were many more
    like 2 plus 2 does equal 4
    soon I figured greater things
    like 100 birds means 200 wings
    and buying donuts in a dozen
    6 to me and 6 to my cousin
    fraction came in apple pies
    a part of the whole I just had to try
    to see the math in everything
    now all the numbers seem to sing.

  17. Thanks, Heidi! Pretty soon we'll have a bookful.

  18. Three, five and seven are fine,
    thirteen and nineteen sublime,
    and thirty-one,
    even just one,
    all of these numbers are prime!

  19. Hi Lee, that's a sweet one.

    But unfortunately, one isn't prime. I'll try to explain why, but if what I say doesn't make sense, please let me know.

    If you take a number like 12 and factor it all the way down to its prime factors, you get 2x2x3. If you allowed 1 as a prime, how many 1's would you put in the list? You can put none, or one (2x2x3x1) or as many as you like, it'll still multiply to 12. Since 1 doesn't help it break down into smaller numbers, we don't count 1 as one of the primes.

    I'm trying to think how you could fix it. If you said 'Even just two' (since two is the smallest prime, and is unusual being the only even prime), I don't know what would rhyme well in the line before.

    Anyone else have ideas for Lee for that line?

  20. How embarrassing. I wondered about one but didn't bother to look it up. You'll have to forgive me. My oldest child is nine. Haven't thought about prime numbers in years. Okay, no problem, revised version.

    Three, five and seven are fine,
    thirteen and fifteen sublime,
    two is fun,
    and thirty-one,
    all of these numbers are prime!

  21. Don't be embarrassed. If it's not something you're into, it's easy to forget details ...

    And you've added to a delightful collection we could all publish together someday. (Am I too optimistic?)

    Anyone want to try to write another poem about primes that says something about why we care?

  22. We've got about 10 poems. Can we come up with more? Any other math poets out there?

    On February 12 I'll collect everything here, try to find a few more, and post about it, in time for the next blog carnival.

  23. Oh dear, I'm just not succeeding at this, but I won't give up. Will these verses help?

    Then there is one, all alone,
    with no factors of its own,
    not even prime,
    but that's just fine,
    for from one comes most math as its known.

    A long time ago, just for fun,
    in order to name a sum,
    it had to be,
    so you shall see,
    the assumption of a unit one.

    I think it shows something of the beauty of math that it all comes down to one. You can't prove 1 + 1 = 2 without the assumption of the existence of one.

  24. here's some more metaphysics of "one".

    "green grow the rushes".
    *classic* children's verse,
    from wales, learned at
    my mother's knee. kind of.
    (she didn't know it well
    and i can't be said to know
    it at all. but i've just looked
    it up...)

    but *i* say math starts with *zero* not one.
    the earth was without form and *void*.

    let me pin this down outside the scriptural realm.

    *multiplicative* theory starts with 1.
    but *additive* theory starts with 0.

    corresponding to sue's "why 1
    shouldn't count as a prime",
    we *won't* count "0" when
    we count "partitions".

    4= 4
    4 = 3+1
    4 = 2+ 2
    4 = 2+ 1 + 1
    4 = 1+ 1+ 1 + 1

    and... ignoring "reorderings"
    like 4 = 1+3... this is *all*
    the ways to partition "4".

    but if we start allowing
    and so on, we have
    an infinite list of
    boring objects useful only
    for showing the need of
    careful definitions.

    same with 5= 5*1*1*1.
    1 is a "unit" not a prime.

    (another well-known "unit"...
    in the integers, not the
    naturals... is -1.
    "x" is a unit [in a "ring"]
    if there's an object "y"
    satisfying "xy = 1".
    thus -1 counts because
    of course (-1)(-1) = 1.)

    anyhow, since *adding* is a more
    "primitive" operation than *multiplying*,
    and since 0-- the "additive identity"--
    plays the same role in addition
    as 1--the "multiplicative identity"--
    plays for multiplication...
    i now claim that 0 is
    *even more basic*
    to the number system
    than 1. (every ring-theorist
    knows this in their marrow.
    very few other people know
    it at all i imagine.)


  25. >Oh dear, I'm just not succeeding at this, but I won't give up. Will these verses help?

    My turn to say oh dear. I'm sorry. I definitely didn't mean to say there was anything wrong with your revised poem. I was more thinking along the lines that, since you enjoy thinking about primes, you'd enjoy a poem from someone else that comes from another perspective.

    And Lee, you're doing better than I am. I haven't yet added anything to the list here. I wonder why. I love writing poetry. Maybe I think of Mother Goose style as having stricter meter, and most of my poems are free verse.

    I'll start working on a poem today.

  26. I will read your poem when you post it. I'm not a free verse person at all. I do like math. I like formulas which is probably why I like limericks which tell me just how I'm supposed to put it together. :)

  27. A limerick, this time around

    Doesn’t it just race your heart to see
    These games with numbers and infinity.
    How can one stay aloof
    From the elegance of a proof
    Time to groove on mathematics’ and beauty.

  28. Love your poems. I wrote a few too, for example:

    If you click on Math Poettary, you will find a few.

    Keep writing.

  29. OK, I blogged about your challenge but failed to take it myself...until one of my readers pointed out the error of my ways. So I have added my own poem to the pot.

    Thanks for the great idea!

  30. Do our poems have to be made new for this post? If not, here's an old favorite of mine.

    Mental play.
    Archimedes shouts,
    “Eureka! I figured it out.”

    From Fibonacci poetry = fun!


  31. Nope, no need to make a new one. I said I 'd collect them on the 12th. That's today, and I'm on a deadline. I'll do it sometime next week (I hope).

  32. I'm working on a wiki for these, but wanted to get each person's permission to post there.

    Heidi, I have no way to contact you. If you see this, please email me (suevanhattum on hotmail) to let me know whether I can post your poem there.

    I'm posting them all for now, and will delete any that don't give permission.

  33. Hi Sue,

    Take some of mine too if you like. But many of them go with Punya's ambigrams. Here is one on doing math.

    The scientific training,
    teaches how to discover.

    The artistic training
    teaches how to uncover.

    The mathematician uncovers,
    only to discover --
    new things to uncover.

  34. Ok, here's one:

    The Pleasure of Struggling

    I can’t get this.
    It doesn’t make sense.
    What are they talking about?

    I will never get this.
    It’s crazy.



    If I put this with this…


    Oh my!
    Look at that!
    How cool!

    May I have another, please?


    And now I'll put up a new post about this.

  35. Oh, brilliant, thanks all! I'm starting a maths class for the first time next year and a few of these (with poet credited) are definitely going up on my wall.
    Perfect, as I'm and English teacher, too.

    (PS: & thanks for the wiki, Sue.)

  36. to all. Was doing a search for younger children Math poems. Things like: "2, 4, 6, 8, who do you appreciate?" Poems that i can use in daily activities with young children (& autistic kids) to have the memorize skip counting of 2's, 5's, and 10's. Does anyone out there know of any? I want to use them when cleaning up, or other transition times in the classroom.

  37. I'm a teacher, and I'd like my kids to create math poems and post them to a site. Do you know how I can go about it? Thanks!

  38. Jill, I wrote a post about a month after this one, about the wiki I set up for math poetry. You can add pages to it yourself. (Feel free to ask for help. You can email me at math anthology editor without the spaces, on gmail.) That's one option. Another is using google sites ( Or you could start a blog and set up a page on it for the poetry. There are probably other good options, too, that I'm not thinking of.


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