Saturday, November 1, 2014

When algebra and art meet...

One of the aspects of our curriculum design at Hobsonville Point Secondary is the way that our learning is presented in contexts. Forces and  scientific investigations are represented this term as rocket designing, megastructures or even paired with the physical education curriculum and biomechanics. I am however particularly excited about my maths module this term. Algebra of art. These two learning areas are not usually seen to cross over, hence when students can use equations to make sense of what they are seeing, they have a pretty radical new understanding of how we might make sense of the world with equations.

Thanks to the google art project with its gigapixel images of artworks from all around the world, my students were able to try their hand at generating equations to represent some of Sol LeWitt's artworks. The range of artworks mean that I was able to differentiate for the students with simpler and harder works. They were able to zoom in and examine the structure in intense detail, looking for patterns within the work. Where this wasn't enough, they also used a Minecraft video of the artwork to help. I have a few who are keen to build the next artworks we will be using and I am excited to see what they generate with their own equations too.

Through my work as an e-learning facilitator, I often hear teachers say that maths has been the hardest learning area within which to introduce e-learning. Within my own practice, I found that it was not until I shifted to teaching students maths in a context that e-learning really became relevant. The example above illustrates this beautifully. We could have looked at a pyramid that I had drawn on the board in in a textbook. Instead, by presenting students with a high resolution, manipulatable source of information and applying their learning in a way that helped them make sense of the world, students were incredibly engaged.

There is of course also the major shift that occurred in my practice after reading Jo Boaler's, The Elephant in the Classroom.  Increasingly, I have presented students with a problem rather than a method. And in the case of the art works above, as students were working, I could move around the room, prompting and teaching skills as they became necessary. The students are incredibly receptive to learning new methods when they are working on the problems as they can genuinely appreciate the "why are we learning this."