Monday, March 08, 2010

The Next Alexander Calders

Back in January when our school was in intersession, one of the courses was a math class just for 9th graders. Students were selected to participate, with the goal that it would support struggling students. Of course, if you take the 20 kids who need the most help in math, they're probably also the kids who like math the least and are least interested in doing it for three hours straight every morning. Fortunately, the teachers are two of the most amazing math teachers I've ever met (and with no exaggeration, probably two of the most amazing math teachers in the country) who planned a class specifically around helping students grow their mathematical confidence and skills by providing them opportunities to engage with deep, difficult mathematics.

In addition to many other tasks and problems, the students had an ongoing art/math project that lasted for the entire month. Each student built a perfectly-balanced mobile using foam shapes. This was much more than just playing around with balance, but used some serious math that would challenge the average adult. First, students experimented to figure out the relationship between two objects of different weights and where they would have to be placed in order to maintain balance. Then they chose a theme for their personal mobiles and designed at least four pieces. The requirements stated that (1) all pieces would be built out of basic shapes (quadrilaterals, circles, triangles) and all shapes must be used at least once, (2) no more than one stick could have its string balanced in the middle, and (3) they would have to make all calculations and prove mathematically that their mobile would balance before they could actually start cutting out their shapes. Like I said, that's some serious math.

The results were amazing. The students were more creative than I could have imagined. They got really into the artistic aspect and nobody tried to "go easy" by just picking easy shapes. Some of the math they ended up using, and seriously improving at, included:
-Number sense
-Converting fractions to decimals
-Calculating areas
-Spatial reasoning
-Proportional reasoning (the balancing relationship is directly proportional)
-Working backwards
-Measuring area versus length
-Productive disposition
-Connecting mathematics to real-world applications

Okay, now the good part: the finished products. My mind was blown by these.

The Spider-Man mobile (the artist refused to pose with it, so I took her place):

Music theme: a radio, iPod, headphones, and a radio

Food theme: pizza, ice cream, pop, and a Hershey bar (obviously made my a growing teenage boy)

Three girls made this one as a gift for one of the teachers who is pregnant with twins

Another mobile for the twins' nursery

Clearly made by a teenage girl, but still extremely impressive in the way she used basic shapes to create very not-basic objects

Transportation theme: a rocket, a boat, and a tank (carrying Spongebob and Patrick, of course)

Lots of happy faces

This is one of my favorites (shhh, don't tell the kids). Partly because I love the Japanese monsters, partly because she used the shapes so creatively, partly because she made it for her brother, and partly because this is from a kid who I've never, ever seen excited about math (until this)

There are a couple others that are truly amazing, but I decided not to post them because my pictures include students. Email me if you want to see the girl whose theme was European landmarks.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Those are truly great. After an evening spent talking about the importance of the arts in school, I want to put this out for everyone to see the close connections. Bravo to the teachers who made math fun, challenging and relevant all at the same time. Yes, I want to see the European landmarks.