Albert Einstein once said, "Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas." Math educators can consider how the logic of math can be supported by the logic of poetry. Each branch of mathematics has its own specific language, and poetry is the arrangement of language or words. Helping students understanding the academic language of algebra is critical to comprehension.

Researcher and educational expert and author Robert Marzano offers a series of comprehension strategies to help students with the logical ideas described by Einstein. One specific strategy requires students to "provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term." This priority suggestion on how students may explain is focused on activities that ask students to tell a story that integrates the term; students can choose to explain or to tell a story is through poetry.

## Why Poetry for Math Vocabulary?

Poetry helps students reimagine vocabulary in different logical contexts. So much vocabulary in the content area of algebra is interdisciplinary, and students must understand the multiple meanings of terms. Take for example the differences in the meanings of the following term BASE:

- (architecture) the bottom support of anything; that on which a thing stands or rests;
- the principal element or ingredient of anything, considered as its fundamental part:
- (in baseball) any of the four corners of the diamond;
- (math) number that serves as a starting point for a logarithmic or other numerical system.

Now consider how the word "base" was cleverly used in a verse that won 1st-place Ashlee Pitock in the Yuba College Math/poetry contest 2015 titled "The Analysis of You and Me":

"I should've seen thebaserate fallacy

the mean squared error of your mentality

When the outlier of my affection was unknown to you."

Her use of the word *base* can produce vivid mental images that forge remembering connections to that particular content area. Research shows that using poetry to show the different meaning of words is an effective instructional strategy to use in EFL/ESL and ELL classrooms.** **

Some examples of words Marzano targets as critical for the understanding of algebra: (see complete list)

*Algebraic function**Equivalent forms of equations**Exponent**Factorial notation**Natural number**Polynomial addition, subtraction, multiplication, division**Reciprocal**Systems of inequalities*

## Poetry as Math Practice Standard 7

**The Mathematical Practice Standard #7 **states that "mathematically proficient students look closely to discern a pattern or structure. "

Poetry is mathematical. For example, when a poem is organized in stanzas, the stanzas are organized numerically:

- couplet (2 lines)
- tercet (3 lines)
- quatrain (4 lines)
- cinquain (5 lines)
- sestet (6 lines) (sometimes it's called a sexain)
- septet (7 lines)
- octave (8 lines)

Similarly, the rhythm or meter of a poem is organized numerically in rhythmic patterns called "feet" (or syllable stresses on words):

- one foot=monometer
- two feet=dimeter
- three feet=trimeter
- four feet=tetrameter
- five feet=pentameter
- six feet=hexameter

There are poems that also use other kinds of mathematical patterns, such as the two (2) listed below, the cinquain and the diamante.

## Examples of Math Vocabulary and Concepts in Student Poetry

**First,** writing poetry allows students to associate their emotions/feelings with vocabulary. There can be angst, determination, or humor, as in the following (uncredited author) student's poem on the Hello Poetry website:

Algebra

Dear Algebra,

Please stop asking us

To find your x

She left

Don't ask y

From,

Algebra students

**Second**, poems are short, and their brevity can allow teachers to connect to content topics in memorable ways. The poem “Algebra II” for instance, is a clever way show a student shows she can distinguish between the multiple meanings in algebra vocabulary (homographs):

Algebra II

Walking through imaginary woods

I tripped over arootstrangelysquare

Fell and hit my head on alog

Andradically, I'm still there.

**Third,** poetry helps students explore how concepts in a content area can be applied to their own lives into their lives, communities, and the world. It is this stepping beyond the math facts— making connections, analyzing information, and creating new understandings — that enables students to “get into” a subject:

M ath 101

in math class

and all we talk about is algebra

adding and subtracting

absolute values and square roots

when all on my mind is you

and as long as I add you to my day

it already sums up my week

but if you subtract yourself from my life

i'd fail even before the day ends

and i'd crumble faster than a

simple division equation

## When and How to Write Math Poetry

Improving student comprehension in the vocabulary of algebra is important, but finding the time for this kind of is always challenging. Furthermore, all students may not need the same level of support with the vocabulary. Therefore, one way to use poetry to support vocabulary work is by offering work during long-term "math centers". Centers are areas in the classroom where students refine a skill or extend a concept. In this form of delivery, one set of materials is placed in an area of the classroom as a differentiated strategy to have ongoing student engagement: for review or for practice or for enrichment.

Poetry "math centers" using formula poems are ideal because they can be organized with explicit instructions so that students can work independently. Additionally, these centers allow students to have the opportunity to engage with others and to "discuss" mathematics. There is also the opportunity to share their work visually.

For math teachers who may have concerns about having to teach poetic elements, there are multiple formula poems, including three listed below, that require** no instruction on the literary elements (**most likely, they have enough of that instruction in English Language Arts). Each formula poem offers a different way to have students increase their understanding of the academic vocabulary used in algebra.

Math teachers should also know that students can always have the option to tell a story, as Marzano suggests, a more free-form expression of terms. Math teachers should note that a poem told as a narrative **does not have to rhyme.**

Math educators should also note that using formulas for poetry in algebra class can be similar to the processes for writing math formulas. In fact, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge may have been channeling his "math muse" when he wrote in his definition:

"Poetry: the best words in the best order."

## Cinquain Poetry Pattern

A cinquain consists of five unrhymed lines. There are different forms of the cinquain based on the number of syllables or words in each.

Each line has a set number of **syllables** seen below:

Line 1: 2 syllables

Line 2: 4 syllables

Line 3: 6 syllables

Line 4: 8 syllables

Line 5: 2 syllables

Example#1: Student's definition of function restated as cinquain:

Function

takes elements

from set (input)

and relates them to elements

(output)

Or:

Line 1: 1 word

Line 2: 2 words

Line 3: 3 words

Line 4: 4 words

Line 5: 1 word

Example #2: Student's explanation of Distributive Property-FOIL

FOIL

Distributive Property

Follows an Order

First, Outside, Inside, Last

=Solution

## Diamante Poetry Patterns

## The Structure of a Diamante Poem

A diamante poem is made up of seven lines using a set structure; the number of words in each is the structure:

Line 1: Beginning subject

Line 2: Two describing words about line 1

Line 3: Three doing words about line 1

Line 4: A short phrase about line 1, a short phrase about line 7

Line 5: Three doing words about line 7

Line 6: Two describing words about line 7

Line 7: End subject

Example of a student's emotional response to algebra:

Algebra

Hard, challenging

Trying, concentrating, thinking

Formulas, inequalities, equations, circles

Frustrating, confusing, applying

Useful, enjoyable

Operations, solutions

## Shape or Concrete Poetry

A **Shape Poem or Concrete Poetry i**s a type of poetry that not only describes an object but is also shaped the same as the object the poem is describing. This combination of content and form helps to create one powerful effect in the field of poetry.

In the **following example, the concrete poem** is set up as a math problem:

ALGEBRA POEM

X

X

X

Y

Y

Y

X

X

X

Why?

Why?

Why?

## Additional Resource

Additional information on cross-disciplinary connections are in the article "The Math Poem" From Mathematics Teacher 94 (May 2001).