Is It Really Math? · 30 May 2008

A friend and co-worker of mine is doing an art-math project. His students are making tessellations. Tessellations are, of course, patterns of tiling where the pattern repeats infinitely with no overlapping. I say “of course,” because naturally, I had to look it up to use the word intelligently.

Mr. R is no ordinary math teacher. Kids love him and they are getting to love math. While getting students to love a math teacher is not necessarily an extraordinary feat, getting them to love math is. Okay. Maybe love is a bit strong but the students in Mr. R’s room are understanding that they use math every day and that they need to know math just to survive in today’s world. With his tessellation project, they are getting yet another taste of this crazy math teacher’s methods.

Mr. R and I have the same lunch and preparation periods. And even though this is his first year as a teacher, we have become friends since he started a few years ago as a high school para-educator and middle school coach. We have talked about teaching and coaching. We have talked about God and country and family. In all those talks, Mr. R has been enthusiastic and passionate. When we have talked about math this year, he has been even more so. Which brings us back to tessellations.

Mr. R is a man of many talents. One of these talents is oil painting. Recently, he showed me a couple of pictures of his earlier paintings and then he showed me his newest creation. It was a tessellation of an eagle head. He painted a picture to show his students that math was not just 1, 2, 3, x, y, z, and calculating where two trains will meet if they leave their respective stations at such and such times traveling at this and that speeds. But the crazy thing is that he expects his students to learn that whatever they do, math will be there. Even if it is art. Or working in the yard.

When students in Mr. R’s class wonder why they need to know area, he rounds them up like the cattle he used to herd in his younger days and takes them out to the school grounds. They look at the flower beds and figure out the area so that they can determine how much bark they need. When they wonder why they need to understand perimeter, he makes them walk the fence line and talk about the guys who built the fence. The builders surely would not want to make 10 trips to the warehouse to get more material nor would they want to take extra material back with them when the job is done. Mr. R lets the students know through examples like these that math is part of life.

I have little doubt that the students get that math is part of life but will they understand that it is part of art as well? Will they get that ratios and proportions are necessary to make a drawing or painting look real? Will they get that tessellations are more than just cool patterns? Mr. R believes that they will. He has seen project proposals that let him know the students are understanding both tessellations and the math behind them. The student art-math projects are going to be shown in the Cedarcrest library on June 4, 2008. The students are excited about the project. Especially since they know that the public is welcome.

Regardless of what the projects look like or how many people come to see the show, the students and Mr. R will have succeeded. They will have done a great project that included both art and math. They will have learned that math is part of life and part of art. And the students will have started on a journey of their math education that they might never have had the opportunity to take if it had not been for Mr. R.

© 2008 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Published 29 May 2008 in The RiverCurrentNews



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