Three Things I Learned From My Nephew



This week my nephew is on Spring break and visiting his Uncle Shawn. It is a busy week to say the least. During this week so far, we have engaged in several activities, three of which I thought I would share.

A frog, a snail and a cricket



One can only play Go Fish so many times before one wants to throttle one’s nephew.

Same for Memory.

But what if one plays Go Fish with Memory cards? How does that change the game?

The idea to play Go Fish with Memory cards was my nephew’s.

Go Fish with no pip cards is different. Uncle Shawn doesn’t know the names of the cast of Diego and Dora characters. He doesn’t even know the difference between a cartoon raccoon and a cartoon fox. (That’s funny, Uncle Shawn. Me: It is. I swear, folks, the fox has raccoon eyes!)



The first few games of Memory Go Fish with a cast of Diego and Dora character face cards were rather fun, and funny. One has to describe the card one is looking at without showing one’s opponent. And the opponent has to match the description to a card that might be in his hand. It’s like Picture Charades.

Then one plays Go Fish.

This game was fun for both uncle and nephew. But the lesson here is that kids can create rich, engaging learning opportunities on their own. Sometimes we teachers forget this.

By the way, the title of this section, A frog, a snail and a cricket, refers to the description of the face of one of the Memory cards. It was the most complicated card in the Memory deck, but the easiest to describe. Others are Girl Holding Flowers and Girls With Blue Dress and Book . Try to play Go Fish while describing cards like that.

Uncle Shawn is magic

So what does one do with a bundle of energy and curiosity after tiring of playing Memory Go Fish?

One calms him with magic!

Nothing like a Mobius Strip to entertain a six year old.

So, the second lesson I learned from my nephew: astound him and gain thirty minutes to an hour worth of focused exploration.



The trick, however, is to keep astounding him. If he wants more, you are doing well.

My nephew and I constructed the Mobius Strip together; I cut the pieces, he taped them together end to end. I twisted the subsequent strip, making sure he understood what I was doing; I marked the ends of the strip on the same side and held the marks together while he taped the final ends closing the loop.

Each time he asked what were we doing (now), I answered that he would see. Of course, if one is going to make such a promise, one needs to deliver.

Next, I asked questions. Will we get two strips if I cut the original in half? (Amazingly, the obvious answer, and his, is incorrect.) If I cut the new strip in half, will we get one, two or more strips? (Again, the logical answer is incorrect.) How many strips will we get if I cut this brand new original strip in three pieces (thirds)? (Don’t you hate “I don’t know” answers? Force him to give an answer; provide choices: one, two, three or more?)



Then get him coloring. When cut in thirds, the Mobius strip produces another Mobius strip half the arc length of the original and a two-sided strip twice the arc length of the original strip. Mark one side of each strip with one color and the opposite at the same spot with another color. Then let him go.

Concepts of number of sides and number of edges naturally evolve, making the entire exercise rich with play and learning.

Every subject has its Mobius Strips, things that draw the students into play and learning. One has to identify these “strips” and sell them. Delivery is the key.

A puzzle: Sophisticated abstract

Finally, I offer the following object that my nephew constructed yesterday. Think of it as a riddle.



What is it? When my nephew told me what it was, I was flabbergasted. I promise I will reveal what it is in a comment, but I thought I might get any guesses you might have beforehand.

I will give you a few clues.

  • The object is an abstraction of an abstract concept.
  • The concept is one I am interested in.
  • The object contains several recognizable real concrete components that are way out of scale relative to each other.

This is the third lesson my nephew taught me during his visit this Spring break. Kids can think and represent abstract concepts abstractly. Or is this concretely? We teachers need to allow our students to think and communicate in many ways. When we do, they can surprise us with their higher levels of understanding and communication.

And a final picture

What do you think? Another avatar for Stefras?



I would like to thank my nephew for inspiring this post.


One thought on “Three Things I Learned From My Nephew

  1. Revisiting the Abstract

    In the Sophisticated abstract puzzle section of this post, I offered a Toobers and Zots sculpture my nephew constructed, and challenged you to guess what he sculpted.

    Did you guess what he made? Did you use the clues I provided to help you study the sculpture?

    Solution: The Concrete in the Abstract

    Well, perhaps you can see what he saw, knowing that the sculpture is a representation of Nature.

    Can you believe that? He sculpted something his uncle loves dearly! Either that is amazing or it is calculating. I prefer to assume the former.

    Concretely, the long horizontal blue tube is a river. The yellow ribbon it winds around is prairie. The tall vertical tubes flaying upward from between the prairie and the river is grass. The blue sheet with peaks are mountains.The red rolling tubes about the mountains are hills, specifically foothills. And the horizontal grass-like tubes represent wind and trees. All these he recognizes as nature.

    He was very proud to tell me what the sculpture was about, and – knowing what it is – I am flabbergasted at his perception and representation. Even if this Nature sculpture was made ad hoc and with little overarching meaning, the fact is that my nephew at this moment considered the world he noticed around him and felt it worthy to express or represent in some form. The Toobers and Zots were available to him, so the representation took the form of a sculpture.

    I think that illustrates the creativity and curiosity of children (of all ages) in our lives and our students in our classes. It certainly shows creativity and curiosity actively developing and playing in my nephew.

    Enjoy. And enjoy the creations of the children in your life too.

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