On a Sunday afternoon when my family finally had a free moment, my wife took us to the Woodson Art Museum to view the Walter Wick exhibition. Walter Wick is the photographic illustrator of the I SPY series, and the author/illustrator of the Can You See What I See? series. This exhibit inspired me to think about new ways to teach hands-on math lessons through art.
My first inspiration came from a pair of photos called Balancing Act. The photos show many objects seemingly placed at random and balancing on a single LEGO. Wick has noted that it took more than a week and a great deal of trial and error to get these objects to balance. As I viewed the images, I thought about all the different ways you could use them to teach math concepts from 7th grade ratios and proportions to symmetry all the way through the upper levels of mathematics. A math lesson could be enhanced by having students replicate the balancing themselves using objects like these that are low-cost and easily accessible.
Wick’s Sorting and Classifying from the I SPY School Days provided further inspiration. Think about applying Venn Diagrams in mathematics. What if the class started with a photo of Sorting and Classifying followed by the simple question: “What is the purpose of the rings?” Instead of teaching students what the Venn Diagram is, allow students to discover its’ purpose by analyzing and replicating the art.
The image, Mirror Maze, is created by using mirrors in the shape of an equilateral triangle to make the maze. I sat in front of this photo for at least 15 minutes just following the reflections and identifying where I felt there could be inconsistencies while also looking for justifications of the inconsistencies. This is the type of thing that would make Geometry much more intriguing. The number of places it could fit in during the year is almost limitless.
All these are just pieces to a puzzle I have been trying to solve in my head and in the classroom for some time. Students are exposed to limitless stimuli that can distract them throughout the school day. Rarely do they find something that they could just stare at and be intrigued.
The other piece to these photos is not only the depth of the mathematics but the access to many other levels of math. For example, most standards in a typical Geometry course could be taught with just these three photos by connecting them to the mathematical concepts.
My thoughts now settle on the art that I am missing to further enhance mathematics. For our M.C. Escher enthusiasts, check out Going Up and Tricky Triangle. These are not drawings, which often lead students to find M.C. Escher “cool,” but not with the same curiosity as something real. These are photographs of real objects. Go ahead and find your own inspiration.