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Imagining Infinity

1 May 2019

Rachel read Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford with illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska and thought about ways to make the conceptual more concrete. She also paused, simply to marvel at the infinite.

Tags: picture books, rachel read, training

I've been doing a fair bit of curriculum development lately, thinking about how to help people master some pretty conceptual stuff. It's easy enough to say, "Seek deep empathy" or "Be strategic," but what do phrases like that actually mean? Dictionary definitions and competency models aside, we dance around these big ideas, hoping that examples lead to understanding and that tools lead to skill.

As a math teacher's daughter, I can't really remember a time before I knew about infinity and its symbol, the sleepy eight. (As I learned from Hosford, that magical symbol is actually called a lemniscate.) But it's also true that it's a concept that’s hard to describe. Infinity and Me shares the story of Uma, a little girl who looks out at the stars and takes herself on a quest to understand infinity, all while secretly wishing that someone—anyone—would notice her new red shoes.

While my childhood definition of infinity was a pretty simple "always one more," it's pretty heady territory for a six year old. (Think about it: half of infinity is infinity. Makes perfect sense, except when it doesn't.) Concepts like that abound, some with far more frequent use in day-to-day business life. Just what is an insight? What is effective teamwork? What does it mean to design? Reading and seeing Uma's story made me wonder whether we grown-ups can be as tenacious as our six-year-old selves when seeking the answers to those questions. More importantly, it made me think about how I answer those questions in classrooms and conference rooms. I can only hope my responses prompt the satisfying clarity that Uma found. 

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In April, I practiced progress. Sometimes it came in dribs and drabs and sometimes in leaps and bounds, but progress was made. My word for May is free. So many good parts of spring are, quite literally, free: the warm sun on my face, the changing colors of the hills, the gradual lengthening of the days. So I'll look for what's free, and maybe I'll feel free, too.


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