As seasoned readers may know, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of math. (See here, here, or here for some examples.) Now that my job title is S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher, I have been looking even more for ideas on how to integrate math and art.
Math Craft is a great place to start. From mathematical knitting to Sierpinski Christmas trees, there is no shortage of inspiration on this site (though it is a bit heavy on polyhedrons). Not every post gives you instructions, as some of them feature work by professional artists – but you could always pose the question to your students, “How do you think they made this?” They may end up making something completely different, but equally as beautiful, along the way.
This post was originally published in 2016. I think it’s a fitting time of year to bring it back.
We all have things that scare us, of course. In the book that my 5th grade gifted students are reading, The Giver, the main character is “apprehensive” about an upcoming event. To help the students connect to the text, I asked them to list some of the things that worry or scare them. Using our green screen and the Green Screen app by DoInk, I had the students superimpose themselves on the image of Edvard Munch’s, The Scream. The students then used the WordFotoapp to add their specific fears to the picture. Here is one result. (You can click on it to see a larger view.)
When I looked closely at this student’s final product, I noticed the word, “division.” I was a little upset because I had told the students not to put silly things just to get a laugh. In my mind, division and multiplication would fall into that category, especially since this particular student has never had any problems achieving well in math.
“Why did you put this word when I told you not to put something silly?” I asked him as I pointed at his picture.
He looked at me solemnly. “I meant the division of people. You know, how war and other things divide us.”
If you teach older students who have their own phones, this might be a fun idea for an impromptu writing prompt. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has decided to make more of its artwork available to the public by digitizing it and allowing us to text requests. Only 5% of its entire collection can be viewed in the SFMOMA’s physical building, but thousands more pieces are accessible through this new feature. You can text the number 57251, and type, “Send me” followed by a keyword or color. There’s something suspenseful about the whole endeavor that makes it a bit addictive.
I tried it out by texting, “Send me kindness, ” and received the following, somewhat depressing, reply.
Maybe kindness was too abstract? So I tried, “Love.”
Now remember, this is the Museum of Modern Art, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the answer to my next request.
Not really sure what the museum bot was trying to tell me there…
Anyway, I soon discovered that trying to use this activity as a “pick-me-up” was a bit too unpredictable, especially after I received a sad portrait of the war in Iraq after I asked for “home.” However, my daughter and I did have fun using emojis and asking for pictures of bread and dogs. (It does work with emojis, by the way.)
Not to be outdone by artifical intelligence, I decided to end our texting communication by asking for something that couldn’t possibly be mis-interpreted in a bleak way by a computer. “Send me a rainbow,” I asked.
My 4th grade GT students study masterpieces each year. The story of the Faberge Eggs, annually created for the last Russian czar’s mother and wife, fascinates all of us – especially when considered in the context of the tragedy that later befell the family. I use this piece of history to discuss empathy – how Faberge displayed it with every detail of his intricate creations, and how the Romanovs’ lack of this important trait resulted in their demise.
Usually, my students create their own Faberge Eggs, and then design “surprises” to go inside a partner’s egg. They interview their partners and play different games with them to learn more about them. Then they have a week to make a design that will be particularly meaningful for the other person.
I have cried over some of the incredibly creative ideas that some students come up with for this project. One year, a student created a military medal for a student who had a soldier parent fighting overseas. There have been poems, clay objects, a message in a bottle, flags, snowglobes, and so many other little presents. The students scored each other on how meaningful the gifts were – and many of them made up for themselves in thought what they might have lacked in skill.
This year, egg designing season rolled around a bit later than usual. Since Mothers Day is just around the corner, I decided to have the students decorate their papier mache eggs for their mothers rather than their peers. They also created 3d printed surprises to put in each egg.
As generally happens when I try something new, there were some successes and some failures. Without the interviews and other activities we did in previous years, some of the “surprises” seemed to be less deep than in the past. (This could also be because of the 3d printing limitation.) Next year, I think we will need to do a few activities to help the students understand their mothers as people rather than just parents, and I will open the project back up to any hand-made surprise instead of only 3d printed ones.
Note: As I was looking up resources for this post, I realized that yesterday, the day that I introduced Guernica to my current 4th graders, was the 80th anniversary of its bombing. I’m sure I probably knew that somewhere in my subconscious, but it still sent a chill down my spine when I saw the date.
Every year my 4th grade gifted students study masterpieces of all types – literary, mathematical, and artistic. “Guernica,” by Picasso is one of the artistic masterpieces that we examine as we discuss the empathy that the visual arts often reflect on the part of the artist. It is a difficult piece to confront, particularly once you know the history behind it, but I think that it is important to study for many reasons. Picasso’s internal struggle as a man who disdained using art for political reasons but also a man who felt compelled to convey his emotions with every brushstroke make this painting into an engaging topic of conversation with my students.
Gavin Than recently created another one of his fabulous Zen Pencils comics dedicated to Picasso’s “Guernica,” illustrating a famous quote from Picasso about the piece. It would be a great way to start a debate in your classroom about whether or not the students agree with Picasso’s stance. Another philosophical discussion that stems from the painting is the love/hate relationship we have with technology, as symbolized by the light bulb in the center of the painting. The same technology that allows many people from all over the world travel to see this work of art by air also doomed the Spanish town to being blanket-bombed by the Germans.
So, here’s the thing. Unscrupulous people are always trying to figure out how to get things out of art museums. But what if you are a scrupulous person? And what if you are the producer of the Kid President videos? And what if you get invited to speak at THE Guggenheim museum?
Well, then, you smuggle art in, of course.
At least that’s Brad Montague’s plan. And he needs your help. He would like children from all over the world to send him art work. The pieces should be