A teacher. But like many things that go viral on the Internet, that important fact has gotten less attention.
It didn’t take too much detective work to trace the photo back to its source, however, and last week I was able to speak on the phone with the photo’s creator, Alycia Zimmerman, a 3rd grade gifted and talented teacher at P.S. 33 Chelsea Prep in Manhattan.
“Students tend to struggle with fractions,” Alycia said, when I asked her about the photo. “And some were playing with Legos during free-choice time on Fridays, and I’m watching them play and I’m thinking this would be really great to demonstrate fractions. So if this is a whole then….”
The rest, as they say, is history.
She got some hand-me-down bricks from a neighbor, and then students brought more in.
Alycia posted the photo along with worksheets and other photos on the blog she maintains on the Scholastic website for Top Teaching. That was in late 2012. The post ran again a few months ago because it had become so popular.
Four or five years ago, when Alycia heard Scholastic was looking for new bloggers, she applied. Out of about 3,000 applicants, she was one of five selected.
But the fortuitous nature of the photo has even more interesting roots if you consider that Alycia did not start her career as a teacher.
As she says on her blog bio, “My calling to our esteemed profession came late.” While her parents and many family members were educators, “…it was initially difficult to admit that the “family business” was in my blood, too. “
After graduating from Princeton, she worked in academic publishing for several years. Then, finally admitting, as she writes, “….that a certain Ms. Fizzle was one of my role models…” she applied and became a New York City Teaching Fellow.
It was a sink or swim test of her merits as a teacher, learning many things on the fly while teaching in the South Bronx and going to graduate school at night.
Clearly, her abilities and “gumption”, as she calls it, prevailed, as well as her passion for teaching, which was evident when I interviewed her about her famous photo.
While I said she should be interviewed on late night television, the destiny of so many viral sensations that arguably have much less value to our culture, Alycia was more interested in making sure I understood the challenge inherent in explaining fractions.
It’s important, she explained, for third graders to realize fractions can be “part of a whole” or “part of a set”, which is division. And the size of a whole can change. One-fourth of a dollar is twenty-five cents, but one-fourth of five dollars is $1.25.
Maybe we need some Legos.
You can find Alycia Zimmerman’s original post and photos on her blog by clicking here.
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