Math Mondays: Using art to teach math concepts

I was fortunate enough to spend a summer teaching a year of pre-algebra to students to get them caught up.  The purpose of the program was to give students an opportunity to catch up or get ahead in math.  Given the long days (6 hours a day all in one class) and the limited weeks, I knew I needed to bring in engaging and creative.  I first thought of tessellations as a first day hook.  They were such a a big hit, that I brought in art to teach our math concepts whenever possible.  Here's a look at some of the projects that captivated students' attention:

For sequences I brought in Fibonacci spirals to start. We started with an inquiry gallery walk in which students worked in groups to find patterns.  I love gallery walks to get students up and moving.  After analyzing the patterns, we created our own unique spirals.  It was easy then to transition into arithmetic and geometric sequences.  

Another favorite art and math intersection was in working with the art of Piet Mondrian.  Mondrian was a Dutch artist who is best-known for his use of blocks of primary colors.  Mondrian's art is also useful for area, perimeter, ratio and introductory statistics.  Students are surprised to walk in to class and begin with a slideshow of some of Mondrian's art.  Some students even ask when we are going to get to math.  I understand.  They don't think they are in art history class.  I introduce the project.  Students begin by creating their own Mondrian inspired artwork.  These squares are used for multiple math concepts: area, perimeter, ratios, statistics, etc.   Students compare ratios of colors and sizes.  Students calculate area and perimeter.  Students collect and analyze data of their own squares as well as from a broader population (the class).  They use this data to make statements about the broader population.  We talk about selection bias and more.  

Perhaps, my favorite is when we explore linear equations.  One principal that I find particularly important is reminding students to balance their operations, or what you do to one side of the equation has to be done to the other side.  I start with "what you do to one side of an equation," and the students finish with "you have to do to the other."  To introduce students to one-step linear equations we begin with Calder.  For those of you less familiar with Calder, Alexander Calder was an American artist well-known for his kinesthetic sculpture.  His abstract mobiles balance different sizes and shapes.  The students create simple versions using wire hangers.  The idea is that they must create balanced equations. We write equations for our mobiles as well.  In this summer course, we made more complicated mobiles (see video), but the hanger ones work just as well.

Incorporating a more creative side of math was a lifesaver in the summer course as well as all year round.  I find I never can have enough projects to bring life to math concepts, whether it is middle school math or Pre-Calculus.  You can find these and more S.T.E.A.M. projects and activities  below:

Circles and Area with Kandinsky
Fibonacci Spirals: scale and number pattern
The art of Fractals

Area, Perimeter and Ratio with Mondrian
Statistics with Mondrian
Geometry with Frank Stella

Rational and irrational numbers kinesthetic activities
One-Step Linear Equations with Calder Mobiles (Only available in S.T.E.A.M. bundle)

Math Mondays is a bi-weekly blog post (2nd and 4th Monday of each month) sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching math.  If you have questions or think there is something I should include, you can leave me a message in the comments section below or at the store in the question and answer section.



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