Fractal Kitty: Making Sense of the Abstract, is a blog created by Sophia Wood and edited by her daughter, where she shares an assortment of fantastic math content. What caught my attention was the great number of math illustrations (both in gif and comic form) and activities hosted on the website.
She is also the author of Marie’s Atlas, a middle-grade mathematical fantasy trilogy where the main character goes on adventures and solves math and science problems. The motivation for creating her website lies within sharing the educational practices have worked for her with parents and students, as she describes,
“This website is meant to provide parents and teachers with resources, ideas for exploring, and ways to have fun with mathematics. I have found through the years that I get a lot of parents and students needing various forms of help in math. I started this website to share what has worked in my practice. Growth mindset is a core belief for me. I truly believe that mathematics is a field of study that anyone can grow in. It takes time, but that time can be fun, full of passion, and integrated with projects and applications.”
An interesting feature for me was the list of 52-week hands-on mathematics activities compiled all through last year. Also, if you are a cat lover, you will enjoy the many comics featuring cats and math (see Figure 2).
The activities showcased in her blog touch many areas of math. In particular, I was amazed at the posts where she creates games inspired by mathematical ideas. For example, in a recent post, she discusses that inspired by the recent QuantaMagazine article, Math of the Penguins, she and her daughter created a board game, Hex-a-Huddle Board Game.
As described in Math of the Penguins, penguins tend to “arrange themselves as if they were each standing on their own hexagon in a grid” to keep themselves (and the huddle) warm. In this game, players have 13 penguins, a wind tile, and a hexagonal board (see Figure 3). In each turn, Wood captures the efficiency of the geometric ways penguins huddle for warmth by exposing the penguins to a wind chill, assessing the losses of ‘hearts’ on the board, allowing penguins to waddle to a new position, and recover (i.e. gain hearts). After two full rotations of the wind tile (i.e. full game), or one rotation (i.e. short game) the players with most hearts wins! I was so intrigued by the ideas behind the blog, that I reached out to Wood to know more about her work.
VRQ: Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your blog? What inspired the name, Fractal Kitty?
Sophia Wood: “I am a mother of 3 and work as a math specialist for Silvies River Charter School in Oregon. I have a BS in Math and have tutored for about 2 decades. I have also worked as a systems engineer for 11+ years specializing in analysis and algorithms. I started my blog a little over a year ago to start sharing activities, ideas, and horribly dry comics. My plans currently are to grow my generative art activities for Algebra students, post math-oriented world-building lessons for STEAM, and continue with the overall flow of comics, curiosities, and GIFs. I have recently been restructuring it for new content as well. My big accomplishment this month was to finish the 52 weeks of hands-on math activities that I set out to do a year ago when the blog began. My 16yr old daughter is my editor, and we often play with math and art as a family. Fractal Kitty came from the doodle you see (Figure 1). I am a spinner, knitter, and fiber artist and always feel like I am either tangled in math or yarn. I often doodle to think, and as I was planning this blog, Fractal Kitty was born. ”
VRQ: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned through blogging?
Sophia Wood: “I have learned that blogging pushes me to continue to play and innovate. I often start on one curiosity to find myself down a rabbit hole with the Cheshire Grin. These rabbit holes are what often guide me on life long adventures in learning. When I discover something new, I often go on the quest for who discovered it first – I have this picture in my mind of people rediscovering patterns throughout human history. Another lesson I have learned: I dropped posting for a while when my mom moved in for chemo in January through May. I cherish the time that we had together, and I would say to any blogger that ebbs and flows are part of life, so allow them to be part of your blogging as well.”
VRQ: What motivated you to become an illustrator?
Sophia Wood: “I fractured my skull in high school and went deaf in my left ear. With the deafness came an ambulance siren of ringing. It is always there and I will never hear silence again. To cope, I started painting, writing poetry, and playing music more. Hitting my head is one of those tests in life that I have 20/20 hindsight gratitude for. I think that without the hearing loss and tinnitus, I may not be who I am today. All those midnight art adventures have evolved into more.”
VRQ: Do you have any advice for others interested in creating their own blog/illustrations?
Sophia Wood: “There is never a better time than now. You never know who you will touch, inspire, or change (including yourself). I love how a growth mindset has changed perspectives on math, music, art, and so much more. If you put time into sharing your knowledge and creativity with the world, it will grow. I know it can make you feel vulnerable, but I often tell learners that with math we get comfortable by being uncomfortable”.
VRQ: After finishing the 52-week hands-on mathematics challenge, are there any new directions/projects you are thinking for the blog?
Sophia Wood: “So there are a thousand directions I’d like to go, but only so much time. I am hoping to post materials from classes I have facilitated, plan to facilitate, or am facilitating – (The 52 weeks is from a long time of facilitating hands-on math). I hope to have the following posts in the next year:
- Scripting Algebra (10 posts) – Algebra through the lens of generative art in p5.js. It’s not practical, but it’s beautiful. I think that beauty is what will attract more people to math.
- Worldbuilding (10 posts) – Build a world through maps, cultures, governments, and technology while integrating STEM. Learners’ worldbuilding can lead to a deeper understanding of math, storytelling, games, character building, and art.
- GIF design (5 posts) – How to make GIFs to demonstrate concepts, learning, and ideas.
- Math through Fiber (10 posts) – Spinning, knitting, crochet, wool appliqué, quilting, and more will dive deep into combining the beauty of math and fiber.
In addition, I plan to continue doodling, investigating curiosities and sharing my love of math. I am always open to suggestions or needs. I know a lot of kids (and adults) need meaningful activities right now. I hope to contribute. I would say that with blogging as with life, you go with the flow. I have no idea where my curiosities will lead me, but I hope to share them as I discover wonder in this world.”
Have an idea for a topic or a blog you would like for me and Rachel to cover in upcoming posts? Reach out in the comments below or on Twitter (@VRiveraQPhD).