Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Beauty of Math and Art

I arrived in London at 6:00 AM and my class started at 10:00 AM - just enough time to get through customs, tube it across town to my hotel, check in, throw my stuff in my room and get to class.  I have never really had an issue with jet leg before - maybe it was the fact that I only got 4 hours of sleep the night before and probably only slept 4.5 hours on the plane but the last few hours of class were rough. I have been in that situation before and it is a good reminder to be sensitive to students who are tired in class - especially at our school when we start at an unhealthy hour for teenagers.  Any way... on to the fun stuff. 

I love teaching geometry and learning about Islamic Art and its origins is making me love the topic even more!  I think we have lots of great options to make the subject students favorite; Sheila Orr does some fantastic things with social justice and I have seen Stephanie Woldum us art an anchor throughout her geometry classes.   There's a lot of potential. What I love about Islamic Art is how it brings an alternative culture into the classroom.  

A lot of geometry (an honestly, a lot of other math) was developed in ancient Egypt.  Even when we look the word "Geometry" broken down "geo" and "metry", we see that the subject was made to measure the earth. Big problems were solved with geometry, like what the circumference of the earth was.  As a Fund For Teachers Fellow, I am looking at how geometry and Islamic art are connected.  Today in class we discussed if the artisans that actually created the art knew about the complicated math behind it.  While our instructor argued that they probably just did things they though were beautiful and worked to tile a space, I think an argument can still be made for the value of understanding the math behind these topics.  For example, when we look at what regular polygons can tile a plane, we've got only three shapes triangles, squares, and hexagons.  An extensions for this might be:
  • Argue that each of these shapes will tile a plane
  • Argue that there aren't any more shapes that will do that
  • What if there are two shapes that you could use together?  Then what could tile the plane?
This could all connect quite nicely to a unit on quadrilaterals to practice using interior an exterior angle measurements.  Moreover, really "arguing" (which students love) is a trick to motivate "proof" (which students... don't love). 

In addition there is a lot of constructions being done:

Hexagons are AMAZING!  These were divided up into kites.  I would love to do an "exploration" in math topics where we create tessellations, vote on the favorite, and then cut them out of wood on our laser printer.

A great example of radial symmetry. This is actually made out of the same core pattern as the hexagon above, just divided up another way.

And the dreaded "weave" - getting the over/under right on this was a doozy... especially with so little sleep! 

That's all for now from the class but more to come tomorrow!  As a side anecdote, in an interesting situation in customs, when asked what I was doing in London, I said I was taking a class on Islamic Art.  The customs officer didn't hear me or didn't understand and asked me to repeat what I was doing.  To be honest, I hesitated because I wasn't sure if simply saying the words "Islamic" would get me an "additional screening".  While it was all fine in the end, I cannot help but wonder if people who dress a certain way or look a certain way also feel uncomfortable in those situations.  I wonder if I would feel this way before the current political season where there is such a hateful rhetoric around the "other".  All the more reason to explicitly value ALL backgrounds in the classroom. 

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